Organizational Habits: What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?

A couple of weeks ago, a blog post entitled, "A Letter to My Younger Self" made the rounds in various academic settings. Published on the career advice website, Vitae, the post was written by University of Pennsylvania PhD candidate Elizabeth Hallowell. In the article, Hallowell thanks her younger self - the age at which she started her doctoral program - for being organized in terms of library research. Her writing constitutes some advice that any academic should consider:

  1. Pick a citation management tool. Hallowell picked the "not perfect" Zotero, but points out that it doesn't matter so much which software you choose, as long as you choose one and get started. Citation management software allows you to keep citations and even PDFs organized and facilitates the actual writing and citing process. Options include EndNote, Mendeley, RefWorks and Papers. Look over our reference management guide for some ideas on which you might select.
  2. Tag your articles, and be consistent. She refers to saving PDFs on your computer as tagging, and certainly coming up with a system of naming PDFs with the authors' last name and year would make it easier to find them. Even easier is using EndNote, which can store your PDFs for you tied to the citation. Within EndNote, you can then create groups or make notes on citations for future findability.
  3. Summarize everything. This is brilliant suggestion that takes discipline. Basically, once you read an article, write a 3-4 sentence summary of it and stick it in the same place - maybe an annotation on the PDF, maybe an ongoing Word document, maybe a research note in an EndNote field. Regardless of format, this summary may prove priceless when you try to determine which articles to choose for your dissertation or thesis.
  4. Back up your documents. Most of us have been through a hard drive crash and have learned this the hard way. Back up regularly! maybe check out Duke's newly licensed Box service for easy online storage.

What do you want to thank your younger self for doing? What do you wish that younger self had done??