(1) Starting & Staying Organized

April 16, 2014 Update: I am using OneNote to organize EVERYTHING. It is WONDERFUL. I share and discuss a downloadable, customizable OneNote binder I created for academic researchers/writers here: http://wp.me/p1XRia-Df. Video included. Because I am now using OneNote, I have been able to phase out some of the steps discussed below. NOTE: OneNote is now available for Windows, Mac, and Android devices.


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!


Page Last Updated: January 12, 2014 (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 start and stay organized. Organizing your reading, note-taking, writing, materials, etc. is of the essence, given the amount of information you will handle throughout the course of your research. This page will continuously grow as co-authors and commenters add content.


FEATURED STRATEGY #1: Think about and research the ACTIONS entailed in dissertating or thesising, and make sure you have the tool, resource, or organizational system/strategy to engage in each action.

Here are some of mine, for example (yours will be different to match your personal needs and your personal ways of working):

  1. ACTION: STASHING SOURCES (e.g. an article that I encounter that looks good, perhaps from the title, but that I don’t presently have the time to analyze or read to ascertain its usefulness.) I don’t want to lose this article/resource if it’s good. And just collecting articles in this way can quickly become a bad, bad thing. What to do? My solution to this issue is to practice the art of stashing “responsibly.”
  2. ENABLER/RESOURCE: Mendeley or Qiqqa. As I mentioned, If I’m stashing, that means I found something at a time when I don’t have the time to properly store or note the resource systematically. For me, the key to stashing “responsibly” is to label the article with the tag “stashed” and with at least one OTHER tag such as “stashed:use this as theory?” Later–when I have time–I can click on the keyword “stashed” and view the subgroup that is all things stashed. Groovy. At that point, I can properly tag the resource and put it into the proper group/folder/subcollection.

Related Video:

  1. ACTION: STASHING MY OWN NEW THOUGHT, IDEA, EPIPHANY (and the like) (especially when one arises at the most RANDOM OF TIMES, like when I’m exercising or driving)
  2. ENABLER/RESOURCE: a digital audio recorder app on my smart phone that I can start safely, even when driving; Idea Mason or Citavi when near my laptop
  1.  ACTION: REFINDING SOMETHING USEFUL I READ WHEN I DON’T REMEMBER WHERE (on those rare occasions [wink] that I am lax enough not to safely note or quote something)
  2. ENABLER/RESOURCE: Again, Mendeley or Qiqqa. I don’t really care if Mendeley isn’t the best bibliography generator or bibliographic data matcher yet. (NOTE: I wrote the sentence before this on on 6/13/2012, so if you are reading this afterwards, all may be awesome with Mendeley!). I do, however, care GREATLY that Mendeley has the most thorough, deep, COLLECTION SEARCH ENGINE I have EVER seen. If I have placed a copy of the resource or note in Mendely, and if I can remember a few words from it, Mendeley will enable me to find it. NOTE: In Mendeley you can search through the WHOLE collection of your saved articles at once, a SUBCOLLECTION of your saved articles, or the text of one PDF.
  1. ACTION: DISTILLING (as in, obtaining ideas and quotes or inspirations from a resources)
  2. ENABLER/RESOURCE: Citavi. I just love it. For my thoughts and video demos of Citavi, please search this blog. (You can do so by clicking on the word “Citavi” in the category list of this blog).

Related Video:

  1. ACTION: When prewriting in order to draft and write, keeping a paper’s  old, related freewrites, mind maps, outlines, prior versions, drafts,etc. RIGHT NEXT TO THE LATEST VERSION of the paper and not somewhere in lala land  on my computer
  2. ENABLER/RESOURCE: Idea Mason or Scrivener. While I do discuss Scrivener a bit at this blog some, SO many people blog about Scrivener, and Scrivener’s website is so detailed that it’s best to google and read that information about Scrivener. I didn’t want to redo what’s already been done very well and probably better than I could–that is, to explain, illustrate, display, and demo Scrivener. IMHO, Scrivener is one of the best things to happen to long-project-writing since . . . computer text editors? Yeah: It’s that good. January 14, 2014 UPDATE: For zeroeth drafting (i.e. writing the raw draft that precedes the first draft), I have replaced Scrivener with Idea Mason. I discuss the reasons and my workflow in general here. April 14, 2014 UPDATE: Idea Mason does’t work well with Windows 8.1+ on my laptop so I have moved BACK TO SCRIVENER.

So, while this is just a partial list, it does illustrate the need to be realistic about the life, tasks, and demands of the graduate student regarding managing reading, thinking, researching, and writing along with the REST of life. I don’t know about you, but I am CONSTANTLY on the move and sometimes have to stash something momentarily, whether a source or idea. I don’t about you, but I get ideas at the strangest times–all the time! It only makes sense then (right?), to acknowledge this phenomenon and be prepared to capture the thought or idea so it doesn’t get away! I think this is the way to capitalize on one’s thinking to progress with flow: If you are only capturing ideas that came to mind when you had lots of open time, I dunno . . . you’re losing stuff that could function to keep your momentum going, I would think.

FEATURED STRATEGY #2: Create a REVERSE CALENDAR in Liquid Planner, Comindwork, Project Office, Moovia, or another Gantt chart supporting software. In KanbanFlow (or Orkanizer, or Trello, or something similar), create a PATHWAY of TASKS that will render you FINISHED with your thesis or dissertation.  

*** Videos and pictures are below *** Obtain your department’s list of required components in a thesis or dissertation (whichever one you are doing). Translate this thesis/dissertation component list into a reverse calendar in Liquid Planner (you can subscribe for free, educational use). As you go along, put a to-do list in KanbanFlow.com (or some other project management program). NOTE: I recommend KanbanFlow because it combines project boarding WITH the Pomdoro technique. BE FOREWARNED: KanbanFlow, as of the creation of this tip, is still in BETA. This means that technically, there might bugs still being worked out. I’ve had no problems with it crashing or anything thus far, and it is quite frankly the best project management tool I’ve found thus far. So I use it and just make SURE that periodically I use their printout feature to print a physical backup copy.). Remain aware that writing the thesis or dissertation is an incredibly iterative and dynamic process: You will be deleting, augmenting, and modifying subtasks for each to-do item. For each task and subtask, note what the DELIVERABLE (physical thing or digital thing that can easily, INSTANTLY be made physical via printing it out) resulting from the task or subtask will be. It may feel redundant, but it’s not. Example:

Subtask: Identify databases to search from which I will obtain empirical studies to review for my literature review.

Related deliverable: Printout sheet containing a table listing the databases I will search to obtain empirical studies to review for my literature review.

NOTE: If you maintain a research binder, collecting your deliverables in it will feel SOOOOOO good. Eventually you will have a book of these deliverables. Also, give yourself the IMPORTANT freedom to recognize that it’s okay (and probably necessary) to jump around regarding the order of what part of the “pathway” (i.e. task list) you work each day.  Lastly, when doing thesis or dissertation work, estimate how much time you think each task or subtask will take, record the time estimate in Liquid Planner or KanbanFlow, and then run the embedded timer. You will IMMEDIATELY get INSTANT knowledge of where your work time goes, how efficiently you work, and whether you need to get MORE out of each 25-minute segment of time that you devote to a task or subtask. If you can do this just about WHENEVER you are working on a thesis/dissertation task or subtask, you will see the time put in pretty accurately. Your brain and heart need this info for all kinds of reasons! 😉 Click the photo to enlarge it another browser window. It is my Writing Methodology Kanbanflow board.


Video: The Liquid Planner Checklist Feature http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrqHP7oDU5c

Official Video Explaining the Liquid Planner Gantt Chart and Daily Task Management http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-KhGGJZ0ds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVCo7bj5p28

FEATURED STRATEGY #3: Have Citavi as your HUB academic research software tool.

Citavi projects are best when they are designed to correspond to topics, in my opinion. I have a Citavi project entitled “[0] THESIS HOME BASE.” It’s where my master task-list resides and where the 500+ references I’ve collected over the years reside. However, I then have SEVERAL Citavi projects (remember, read project as “topic”), such as:

  1. Citavi project “[1] Working the Crotty Text” (in this Citavi project, I apply to my study the Michael Crotty’s book “The foundations of Social Science Research”)
  2. Citavi project “[5] Methodology–Explanation and Justification in Brief and in Full”
  3. Citavi project “[6] Conceptual Framwork (i.e. Review of Share-Worthy Literature)”

I am hoping to create a blog post–complete with video and photos–that demonstrates how helpful and comprehensive Citavi is. And it’s free, ya’ll, as long as you have under 100 references. It’s a MUST check-it-out item, for sure. Here’s are three pertinent links for those researching Citavi:

  1. Citavi’s homepage: http://www.citavi.com
  2. Citavi’s features page: http://www.citavi.com/en/features.html
  3. Citavi’s slideshows and videos page: http://www.citavi.com/en/support.html#videos

FEATURED STRATEGY #4: Your Personal, Private Researcher’s Journal To Hold All of Your Ideas and Keep You from Going In Circles, Losing Good Ideas, etc.

There are many possible ways or combinations of ways to maintain your personal, researcher’s journal. Your researcher’s journal is defined as the personal journal you maintain to organize your thoughts, plans, and reflections throughout the process from beginning to end. Some form of this is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL for mental organization and thus success. Here is a partial list of tools, in order of BEST option to OKAY option (from grad student Mickey’s experience).

  1. PERHAPS THE BEST AVAILABLE TOOL FOR CAPTURING THINKING AND PLANNING IF YOU DON’T HAVE A DIGITAL TABLET THAT ALLOWS INKINGLivescribe PULSE Smartpen (WARNING: Avoid the Echo version of this digital pen until they work out the very bad bugs): This option combines the “good old-fashioned paper notebook” option (see choice 4 below) with backup-able and  share-able digital and web capabilities. It features the linking of audio to real-time writing in the notebook. The writing and audio can be played back from the notebook ITSELF or on the computer both offline and online. Pages are uploadable to email or the internet in many forms. The entire notebook can be backed up. Click here to view a sample pencast (i.e. a writing+audio video) of an interview I conducted for a first-year class assignment. I simply gave the student the pen and notebook, and this video resulted. Imagine using it as your researcher’s journal: Yeah. This tool is the BOMB!
  2. THE BEST AVAILABLE TOOL FOR MEMO-MAKING, PLANNING, COLLECTING, and ORGANIZING: Citavi. HANDS. DOWN. Please refer to the information on Citavi above under “FEATURE STRATEGY #1.” Citavi’s homepage is at: http://www.citavi.com.
  3. REALLY GOOD FOR MEMO-MAKING, PLANNING, COLLECTING, and ORGANIZING: Microsoft One-Note. Is the digital version of a NOTEBOOK (as opposed to a spiral). Great on organizational features (tabbing, nesting of notebooks, etc.). Can link or embed PDFs (e.g. research articles) near your notes. Can save audio to pages. Not as universally-accessible unless backed up or linked via file sharing capabilities.
  4. GOOD FOR CAPTURING THINKING AND PLANNING: Penzu: Secure online journal. Pay the small yearly fee for an unlimited number of journals. Is the digital version of the NOTEPAD (or several notepads for a small fee). Provides for posting to your journal(s) via email. Web-based, so accessible from ANY internet-connected computer. DRAWBACKS: If you lose your password, all your ideas and notes are GONE FOREVER. Also, you cannot embed or link PDFs.
  5. GOOD FOR CAPTURING THINKING AND PLANNING: Good old-fashioned paper notebook. Drawback: Once lost, it’s GONE. Also, you cannot link or upload PDFs to it, as with options 1-3. If you prefer this option (many do), consider typing up your important notes in an email you send to yourself or into a file that you save into a backed-up folder.

Visitors, please do share as well!: If you have relevant tips/aids to share, please augment this list via posting into the comment box below (at the bottom of this page). Thank you for sharing your hard-won wisdom and knowledge. You are a blessing!


Books, Websites, and/or Tips That Contributed Greatly to at Least One Blog Co-Author’s Ability to Start and Stay Organized


  1. NOTE: This list is under continual construction, as intended. Please check back frequently! Thank you, and happy writing!

Tips (Pitfalls to Avoid, Actions to Take, Strategies to Use)

  1. Purchase a portable USB drive that you can attach to your KEY CHAIN or WALLET. Carry it with you just about ALWAYS. Back it up frequently.
  2. More tips to come!


  1. NOTE: This list is under continual construction, as intended. Please check back frequently! Thank you, and happy writing!

A word of encouragement to all, especially for the (momentarily) weary:

There are people right now praying for your success in your endeavors to design, conduct, and write-up the results of a workable, sound study! Understand that you can get there, no matter what your feelings are doing at any given moment. So stay the course. Close your eyes and just visualize the victory — stapling that final, finished version of this section/paper, and then running your hands over the top page of it in satisfied celebration. Proceed, understanding that your research is important: It enhances a conversation that is important.

So please don’t forget to remind yourself: If you give your best day by day by day, then by definition there is NOTHING more that you can be doing. You’ve done you’re BEST and that is ALL that you can ever offer. Good deal! The really helpful reflection: Giving your best allows you to trust in TWO things: growth and time: Giving your best causes you to grow, and the more you grow, the better your best will be and the more it will effect your success. So at this moment, you can psychically rest and know that this particular piece of the work will be done just then: When. It’s. Done. To reiterate: The key is to be able to know in your heart: “I have been genuine in my intention and effort to work both smartly and effectively at this, so regardless of how long it takes, the truth is . . . it can’t be done until it’s done. Giving my best each day means time is on my side..”

BEST wishes!


4 thoughts on “(1) Starting & Staying Organized

    • Hi, Suzie! This is Mickey. My apologies for the late response. I’m so glad this blog has been useful to you! Thank you VERY much for the feedback. Many blessings regarding your research and writing projects!

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