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Horses for courses: Voodoopad, Tinderbox, Curio, Devonthink, etc

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Posted by Prion
Mar 1, 2013 at 07:01 PM

 

Hi
first post from me but I have been lurking for a long time here. In real life I am an academic and as such am involved in many projects, some are in the acquisition phase (gathering information about funding agencies, collecting calls for funding programs etc), some are in the experimental phase (collecting and analyzing data), some are in paper writing stage, some involve only myself, some a few other people from my lab as well as other collaborators elsewhere, some involve expeditions, others conferences, students I supervise, theses to read, reviews to write, note-taking, idea-capturing, duration of projects ranges from weeks to years or decades…..you get the picture: THE perfect habitat to get hopelessly lost in. So far I managed to keep my head above the water but there must be better ways especially when it comes to choosing the tools to stay organized.

I know lots of you have experience with some of the programs I am using or evaluating in order to help me tame the chaos.
I have already tried the two extremes and found out that neither of these approaches work for me:
1) know one program well and use it for everything, even despite some weaknesses here and there
2) pick THE best software for each job and use each of these programs (and possibly more)
3) pick a really geeky program and get lost without getting anything done (actually, I achieved that goal pretty well, but now I know that I cannot master org-mode)

What are your suggestions for a good balance between points 1 and 2?  I’d love to hear about lessons you learned from wrestling with similar problems, what are the fundamentally different tasks that you accept using different tools for?

Looking forward to hearing from you
Prion

 


Posted by Dr Andus
Mar 1, 2013 at 10:50 PM

 

Prion wrote:
>I have already tried the two extremes and found out that neither of
>these approaches work for me:
>1) know one program well and use it for everything, even despite some
>weaknesses here and there
>2) pick THE best software for each job and use each of these programs
>(and possibly more)
>3) pick a really geeky program and get lost without getting anything
>done (actually, I achieved that goal pretty well, but now I know that I
>cannot master org-mode)
> >What are your suggestions for a good balance between points 1 and 2?
>I’d love to hear about lessons you learned from wrestling with similar
>problems, what are the fundamentally different tasks that you accept
>using different tools for?

Hi Prion - welcome to the forum. As you say, it’s horses for courses. But, here are my 2 cents, as a fellow academic type…

I think the balance lies in abandoning the focus on the tools and concentrating first on the workflows that need to be taken care of. Although the tools of course can’t be separated from the workflows. However, a given workflow can be supported by different tools and toolchains (several tools strung together to take care of a workflow), and once you have worked out the workflows (process flows), individual pieces of the toolchains can be replaced.

So the questions are:

1) What workflows need to be set up to carry out your tasks?
2) How to model and construct process flows?
3) What tools are required for each workflow?
4) How to select the right tools for each workflow?

I’d suggest that it’s also necessary to model/construct an overall hardware-software infrastructure (desktops, monitors, handhelds, input devices, software utilities etc.) to support the workflows. And I think there needs to be one overall general framework to take care of the overall backdrop and generic tasks.

E.g. by general framework I mean: What is the way new data gets into the system (email, browser, Dropbox etc.)? How are tasks created and tracked (calendar, todo list manager)? How are data captured, organised, labelled, retrieved (file managers, desktop search engines, databases)? How are projects identified, created and managed?

And then specialist (such as academic research, writing etc.) workflows and corresponding toolchains would need to be designed and strung together for each task.

Ideally of course one would want to have as few tools as possible, to make the process efficient. But it’s unlikely that one tool can take care of the general infrastructure and project and data management and also of all specialist tasks.

How to model workflows and design toolchains? It can be drawn by hand or by using some kind of a concept mapping software like VUE. I like to save my VUE concept maps as PNG files and insert them into my database of choice, ConnectedText, so I don’t forget them.

How to find the right tools? Through a lengthy process of search + trial. One needs to enter the CRIMPer life cycle. It can even take years of trying out different types of software until the optimal system and workflows and toolchains emerge and fall into place. Then the trialling and shopping can stop, and one enters into a stage of stabilising the system, tinkering on the edges, occasionally replacing tools or steps in the workflow (until the next crisis or technological paradigm change).

 


Posted by Dr Andus
Mar 1, 2013 at 11:05 PM

 

Dr Andus wrote:
>How to model workflows and design toolchains? It can be drawn by hand or
>by using some kind of a concept mapping software like VUE. I like to
>save my VUE concept maps as PNG files and insert them into my database
>of choice, ConnectedText, so I don’t forget them.

Actually this for me is critical. Dealing with complexity and chaos means that the workflows and toolchains to deal with them also tend to be complex. I found out the hard way that if I don’t record my process flow for a task that I have cracked, I might totally forget it (e.g. when I go on holiday) and have to keep wasting time with reinventing the wheel…

So I’m talking about the conscious maintenance of a meta level awareness of one’s systems and having those systems visually modelled and recorded. These workflows and toolchains of course will keep changing but their evolution can be facilitated by managing this process consciously.

 


Posted by Cassius
Mar 3, 2013 at 01:01 AM

 

Some things to consider:
1.  Few is better than many.  (Do you really have the time to learn how to use a bunch?)
2.  If you may need to use some material in the future, then the tool you save it in must either
  a) Be able to export to some universal standard format that will always be updated for new
      OSs.
  or
  b)  Be a tool that has a long expected future—one that will be updated for new OSs.
3.  Before committing to a tool, check our archives to make sure that it doesn’t have problems
    or seems to be on the verge of dying or is essentially dead. (E.g., Notemap on both counts.)
4.  If you’ve read about what the people in this forum use, you know that virtually everyone uses
    a different combination of tools.  (Some, I think, use far too many.)
5.  If you are going to use several tools, then Dr. Andus’ workflow suggestion is important.  You
    don’t want to spend half a lifetime searching for an item that you can’t remember where you
    put it.
6.  Use consistent nomenclature, whether in a tree or in tags.  Also, it is sometimes useful to
    append to an item a few words describing its important content.  This may make searching
    a lot more productive.

 


Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
Mar 3, 2013 at 08:44 PM

 

Prion, first of all welcome, it’s great to see long time ‘lurkers’ come forth. Apparently, this forum is bigger on the outside (to paraphrase Dr Who).

I don’t have much to add to Dr Andus and Cassius’ very good advice, other than to take a look at the recent thread on people’s top 3 tools. I believe you’ll find some great suggestions there and, most importantly, in context rather than in isolation.

 


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