Organization and Getting Things Done

Like many scientists I can be a bit ‘scatter-brained.’ Stereotypes are sometimes, true after all. My brain is usually always ‘on’, thinking about a million different things (or sometimes locked onto something specific) and I can easily loose track of things. I started really working on my organization, time management, and productivity skills a few years ago during my Post-Doc. It started out of necessity, I had a lot of standing meetings to go to for our project because it was a large multi-group, Genome Canada funded project and I was the sole Bioinformatician. So I had my subset of Exome sequencing projects that I was following all the way through, but I was also doing all of the initial data analysis for all projects before it got passed on to another post-doc or graduate student for further study. As the only Bioinformatician (even among PIs), I was also involved in lots of the higher-level planning and meetings as well. Coupled with normal post-doc life I really needed to start living by my calendar. I also needed to start learning some work-life balance skills in terms of answering emails at 1am that could easily wait for morning. Later during my post-doc I was also involved with some friends in getting a start up going. I’m not involved with that anymore, except in an occasional advisory capacity, but it definitely made organization even more important. I was doing a few hours in the offices every morning before heading to the lab, a few hours in the evening at home, and some random meetings either on Google Hangouts or in person on some days. My calendar became even more important, but so did things like time tracking and task tracking tools.

##I still experiment a lot with different productivity tools, but here is what I am currently using and why I use it:

  • Toggl I really love Toggl, this is my time tracking software that I use to keep track of how much time I spend on different projects. It is also great for initially showing you how much time you spend actually working during the work day versus doing other things. I find it great for that. Toggl can accomodate groups and organizations, or just use it as a single user for free. You can export reports, organize tasks by project and client, etc. I currently split it up between my Academic (University) and the Hospital in terms of time alotments and have projects like Teaching, Education, Meeting, as well as all of my research or work ‘projects’.

  • FreedCamp This is what I am currently using for my project management tool. I’ve used Basecamp before in the past, and I used Trello quite a bit for awhile too, but eventually fell away from using either very regularly. I currently use Freedcamp primarily for long-term objectives and setting due dates for tasks. The calendar views and different ways of looking at projects and tasks is nice compared to Trello. We will see if I stick with it.

  • Github Of course I use GitHub for managing all of my code, writing this blog, and in some cases organizing code and materials for publications.

  • A good notebook and pen. For my day to day task lists, notes, thoughts, etc I love an old-fashioned, analog notebook and pen. I’ve done digital notes in the past and haven’t found them as satisfying to do. I actually enjoy putting ink to paper. I am currently using my own slight modification of the Bullet Journal method, and find it quite satisfactory. I have a few pages set aside for indexing at the back of the journal: one for collections, one for month start pages, and one for week start pages. I then do two page spreads with the left hand page for “notes” and the right hand page for daily tasks. More than one day may appear on the page, and the note space is shared for all of those days on the spread. Collections, when they need to be created or expanded, go on the first available two page spread. Entries in a collection can be dated if desired, but this isn’t absolutely necessary and I usually don’t do it. I skip the monthly date pages and such that are part of the Bullet Journal method and find this pared down method works best for me. It is basically a combination Bullet-Journal/Lab book.

Those are some of the tools I am using right now. Maybe I’ll write some more about this sort of thing in the future.

Written on February 12, 2016