(2) Accountability | Focus

April 16, 2014 Update: Please view this workflow PDF, check recent blog posts, and visit the Tools pages in this blog’s menu to see updates to my approach as I make them.

January 12, 2014 Update: Please view this workflow PDF and check more recent blog posts to see my evolved thinking regarding some of the below. Best regards!

Last updated: January 12, 2014 (form revised; videos and links added; some material updated, removed, and augmented to reflect my new experiences and knowledge)

Page description: This page contains resources, tips, ideas, uploaded documents, etc. to help you stay focused in your research-related planning, reading, organizing, and writing. This page will continuously grow as co-authors and commenters add content.


The webinar “How To Stay Focused and Get Things Done”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5VyXlgzcoE. This is an older video of James Hayton’s, and he has many other, new videos surrounding this topic at his site, 3MonthThesis.

Keeping Focusing Lists in View

I use Liquid Planner for this, but Kanbanflow.com and Orkanizer.com work for making focusing lists as well. They each have their advantages. Liquid Planner’s advantages are its timer that allows you to learn how long it REALLY takes you to do things, plus its Gantt chart that functions as your very accurate, dynamically-updating reverse calendar. Kanbanflow.com’s advantage is that it marries the kanban philosophy (basically, a philosophy that acknowledges that you can only do so much at one time and helps you to avoid bottlenecks but keep the bigger picture in mind). You do lose a sense of “the looming deadline” in Kanbanflow, though. Orkanizer.com’s advantage is that it allows you to challenge yourself to work more briskly: You start to visually see non-briskness as it occurs. Like Kanbanflow, in Orkanizer, you do lose the sense of “the looming deadline.” Below are a few related videos:

Video: The Liquid Planner Checklist Feature

Video: Official Liquid Planner Video Explaining the Liquid Planner Gantt Chart and Daily Task Management

TED Talk Inspiration

Also, these might inspire:


  1. Make a reverse calendar. Gantt charts are great for this. I use Liquid Planner and LOVE it (a free educational use subscription was still available as of January 10, 2014). Open Project and Comindwork also support Gantt chart creation.
  2. Regarding the computer environment as both cause-and-cure: You have to work on your computer in order to make progress, but by the same token the computer is where the DISTRACTORS live!! What’s a blossoming academic to do? Try free Zenware such as the one I (Mickey) use: Omm Writer Dana II. Powerful on its own in terms of helping you increase your focus, when used in conjunction with a simple timer that records your goals and on-taskness (such as the Pomadairo described in point #2 below), often much more efficient drafting happens! Yay! If you try this, please post a comment at this page to let us know how these products fare for you. Thank you!
  3. Learn about and use thePomodoro technique for tackling a task and overcoming procrastination.
    1. The free (and paid) resources at http://www.pomodorotechnique.com can get you started (click on the Resources and Testimonials link).
    2. Commit to and privately track, time, and document your “tomatoes” (pomodoro activities) at
      1. http://orkanizer.com (added here January 10, 2014)
      2. http://kanbanflow.com (added here January 10, 2014)
      3. http://pomodoro.ugolandini.com (web-based)
      4. http://mytomatoes.com (web-based)
      5. https://code.google.com/p/pomodairo (for your desktop)
      6. http://pomodoro.ugolandini.com (for Mac)
      7. http://itunes.apple.com/app/pomodoro-timer/id325610693?mt=8 (for iPhone)
  4. Though this can change over time, It is important that you know the one-sentence summary of your study/research once you have a research question. Being able to articulate this helps you to focus your efforts. If you have a research question but do not know the one-sentence summary of what your study does/accomplishes, then prioritize figuring out and articulating the one-sentence summary. If you don’t have a research question yet, keep reviewing the literature and how it speaks to your passions/interests/concerns, and keep developing your research question with your advisor. Then figure out how to articulate that one-sentence summary. 😀
  5. Try distilling your proposal or dissertation/thesis chapters onto PowerPoint slides. This gives you an overview and helps you to see where you need to focus your efforts.
  6. Similar to item #3, create a content or mind map of your proposal using Docear or  VUE (http://vue.tufts.edu), or some other mind mapping software. I prefer Docear, because it allows me to easily toggle between a branching tree layout of my mind map a linear, hierarchical version. This is extremely useful. Your brain starts imposing order on it in the hierarchical view, but first your brain is free to flow in the branching view. Try it!
  7. Maintain an in-person support group, supplemented by an ONLINE support group if that would help. At PhinisheD, you can submit monthly, weekly, or daily goals in a community of support.
  8. An important set of three questions to ask and answer at the start of each research day:
    1. What is the ONE best thing that I could do today regarding my research, to advance it along? (Examples: 1. Ask my adviser about ______. 2. Get PDFs organized once-and-for-all. 3. Search the key terms ______ and stick the resultant PDFs in a file folder with the same name, etc.)
    2. When, where, with whom (if anybody) and with what resources should I do that ONE best thing that would advance my research along?
    3. What 2-4 things follow behind as the SECOND best and the THIRD best and the FOURTH best thing that would advance my research along?
  9. To download a re-orienting, thought-provoking MS Word document fill-form, click the following link or image: “Reorienting: Reconnecting with My Priorities and Reviewing My Mindset. (Here’s a PDF version).

Reorient Form Page 1

NOTE: This page is constantly being augmented and updated. Please check back often!

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