Lyn’s favourite things: Keeping organised

Lyn Lavery In case anyone missed our recent research webinar series, I thought I’d do a rundown of my favourite tips, starting out with what I use to stay on top of the huge pile of information, ideas, literature, and data that comes my way. I think I sometimes give the impression that I’m a seriously organised and efficient person, but my colleagues will attest to the fact that being organised isn't something that comes naturally to me – I definitely have to work at it, and these are the things in my research toolkit that assist with this.

I use Trello to organise the projects and tasks I need to complete. It’s like having a giant wall with different coloured post-it notes that you can constantly re-arrange depending on their priority. Tasks can have due dates and other information assigned to them and you can organise these tasks to suit. Trello becomes particularly useful when you’re working in a team, as everyone has a central place to see what needs to be done, and as it’s online, everyone in your team can access it. Trello is free or you can subscribe for additional functionality and storage.

Evernote is my “go to” application for storing information such as meeting notes, snapshots of webpages, and reminders of project-critical information that I might need while I’m out of the office. The thing I love the most about Evernote is that I’ve never not been able to locate a piece of information I needed. You can tag information with keywords and store within customised notebooks, and the powerful search function recognises even the messiest handwriting. There is a free version of Evernote, but once you start using it you’ll likely be hooked and want to splash out for one of the paid subscriptions.

XMind is a mind mapping application that I use for notetaking and tracking the light bulb moments I have as a researcher. I use it for a range of purposes, for example, to help me take notes at a research team meeting, plan a chapter I’m going to write, or even just brainstorm for an upcoming project. There is a free version with reasonable functionality, or you can pay to upgrade to XMind Pro.

Zotero helps me keep my literature organised – importing information into my account is a breeze and once it’s there I can easily organise it within custom collections or with tags (keywords). My PDFs are neatly linked to the citation they relate to and I can take notes on each article that are attached to the item itself. Zotero is open source so you don't need to pay for it, but there are costs involved if you exceed the basic storage capacity.

Lastly, NVivo is my software of choice when it comes to managing my qualitative data. Not only does it keep my coding nicely organised, but I can use memos to keep track of my own reflections, I can ask it to track every action I make in a project, and its search capacity helps me track down that great quote that I just can’t seem to lay my hands on. I might have conducted my qualitative analysis with highlighter pens and scissors in the past, but now that I’ve used NVivo there’s no going back – it makes my life as a researcher significantly easier. There is a price tag attached, but check with your organisation as to whether they have an existing license you can tap into.

Use the links above for further details about each application. If you're interested in learning more, we have training courses for both NVivo and Zotero and you can book in for a consultation with me to learn how to best use XMind, Trello or Evernote.