I use this program to write first drafts of large projects, like articles or chapters. I wrote my dissertation in Scrivener. It works much better for me than other more traditional text processors, especially in the first phase of writing, since it provides you with different ways in which you can look at your content. I am more visually-oriented when I try to grasp an overview, so I make a lot of mind maps and schema’s. Scrivener gives you the option to make an outline on a virtual cork board, it lets you shuffle around your paragraphs, without your document becoming a mess. It always keeps the ‘big red line’ of your writing project in sight, so while you are working on the details you can see how it fits into a bigger whole. Apart from that, I love the fact that when you close Scrivener, it opens up at exactly the place where you left: say goodbye to scrolling through endless amounts of pages to find that one paragraph.
This is basically a technique, not a program (although there are numerous apps that can help you implement the Pomodoro Technique, such as Focustime, which I use). If you need some focused work, but find it hard to concentrate, try the Pomodoro technique: set a timer to 25 minutes and work on a predetermined task, when the timer goes off, take a 5 minute break away from your desk and then start the next Pomodoro. It is really simple, but it really helps! For me, there is another reason why I use it: during the first year of my PhD I got a Repetitive Strain Injury on my right wrist and ignored up till the point where I needed a 3 month break from my computer! I never want that to happen again, so in order to keep my muscles from cramping I need to schedule regular breaks away from my computer.
I have only just started to work with this bibliographical system, but I love it already. It orders my reference articles, with attached PdF’s in groups (I arranged them according to the articles and chapters I am working on) and I can link it to Scrivener to import all of the bibliographical data that I need. That can easily save me up a couple of days worth of compiling my bibliography at the end of writing an article: a brain-numbing task, which on top of that is very bad for my RSI!
I know that probably every academic who co-authors articles knows this tool, but still I think it is worthwhile to mention here. This tool allows you to work with multiple authors in one document simultaneously. It works so much better for me than simply sending documents back and forth over e-mail! With the build-in chat function you can communicate real time (or in the margins, so your co-author can look it up later) with your collaborators while you are working on different parts of the same document. As I live in Germany and work with colleagues in The Netherlands and Canada, this is a very useful function.
While others might not agree that Twitter is listed as a productivity-hack, I think it deserves a spot here. Twitter helps me to keep track of and stay in contact with colleagues I meet at conferences and lectures. Apart from that, Twitter is a great resource for any kind of problem you might have while conducting your research behind your computer, on your own. Having trouble getting your statistics software to work? Type in your question in Twitter and chances are within minutes you will receive an answer. That’s another thing: Twitter makes me feel part of a larger academic community that helps each other out. We all know how lonely the job is sometimes and to be able to reach out to an international community wrestling with similar problems can be really comforting. To give you an example: I started to use Twitter during my third year of the PhD, when I needed to get a lot of writing done. I read about AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month), an initiative of PhD2Published, in which every year in November people can sign up to work towards a self-set academic writing goal (eg. 20.000 words on your dissertation, the introduction to your article, anything..). The idea is to make yourself accountable to someone other than yourself: by declaring your goal to a larger online community and checking in with them during the rest of the month via Twitter (or other social media), you feel more peer pressured into actually doing it. I felt a lot of support from other AcWriMo’ers on Twitter that year and since then participate every year.