Monthly Archives: January 2012

Ducks in a row

In addition to setting some goals, the beginning of the semester also seemed like an opportune time to re-assess and re-configure some of the tools I rely on to make those goals happen. I started things off in the most indulgent way possible–by buying a new computer.

My MacBook just hit three years, and is starting to show its age. Rather than drive it to exhaustion and then replace it whenever it finally gave up the ghost (a decent, if inhumane, strategy that’s seen me through the last three laptops), I decided to switch to a desktop for most of my work, prolonging (I hope) the life of the laptop and giving me a beautifully expansive screen to write on.

That means I now have (and this is sort of embarrassing, but bear with me) an iMac, a MacBook, and an iPod touch. Assuming my laptop continues to chug along, I’m planning on using it for on-campus work once I’m back to teaching next semester. This means I need to keep my desktop and my laptop synced up so I’ll always have the most recent version of whatever I’m working on.

I’d been using Spideroak to back up my important files to the cloud, but their file management application freaked out when I moved my data onto the new computer, and after several unsuccessful attempts to unfreeze the program, I threw up my hands and went hunting for something else. In the process, I tested out nearly every cloud backup service out there (at least, every one with a free plan). There are a lot of good options. I’ve used Dropbox in the past, but I don’t like having to move files into the Dropbox folder. I have a fairly meticulous (or compulsive, depending on who you ask) file architecture, and I don’t want to have to mess with it by constantly moving things into and out of the Dropbox folder.

Syncplicity looked promising, since it lets you select folders to sync, rather than making you move files somewhere else, but the folder selection option was all or nothing–that is, I could sync my entire dissertation folder, but I couldn’t unselect the subfolders that I don’t want to keep synced (several of the research subforlders have some pretty enormous pdfs that will quickly exceed the 5 gb limit).

I finally settled on SugarSync, and so far I’ve been really happy with it. SugarSync starts you out with 5 gb of free storage, which is pretty standard right now. They’ve got an iPhone/iPad app, as well as an Android one, if you’re into that kind of thing, and a fairly user-friendly desktop management application. You choose which folders you want to sync from each machine you add, and you can unselect subfolders that you don’t want to have synced. There are features for sharing folders, although that’s not something I tend to need. I understand SugarSync lacks some more advanced features that Dropbox offers (more on that here), but all I really want is something that will keep the files I’m working on current on both machines, and SugarSync seems to fit the bill.

Having three devices that I use on a regular basis has also forced me to finally abandon my beloved, but limited, Things (more on why I love(d) Things here). As many of its fans have bemoaned for quite a while now, Things has no cloud support. This wasn’t much of a problem when I only had the one computer and the iPod–I just synced the devices via wifi whenever I needed to. But syncing three devices to each other is considerably more complicated, and borders on a pain in the ass. I wanted something that would do that for me.

Enter Wunderlist. Does almost everything Things does (the biggest shortcomings: no repeating tasks, and no sublists), looks good, has iPhone and desktop apps, syncs to the cloud, and, amazingly, is free. Things has been promising cloud support for well over a year, and when (if) that finally comes through, I’ll consider switching back, but right now I’ve found Wunderlist a strong substitute. And on top of that, the folks at 6Wunderkinder are getting ready to release an even more robust task-management platform called Wunderkit that looks like it’ll support all those things I’ve been missing (along with a bunch of social networking stuff I don’t need, but I’m reserving judgement until I see it).

I’m still in the honeymoon phase with the new computer, but so far the extra screen real estate has been something of a revelation, as has the improved ergonomics of a desktop. Being able to look up and ahead at what I’m writing, rather than down toward my hands makes a significant difference. I’d also forgotten how nice it can be to use a mouse. If only this thing could do the writing for me…

Spring semester reboot

One of the benefits of the academic calendar is that each new semester provides a convenient point to reassess how things are going and start fresh. The spring semester doubly so, because it comes on the heels of new year’s resolution-making. I generally try to separate my yearly resolutions (which are almost always related to keeping my house cleaner) from my academic goals, so while I made a few personal resolutions at the beginning of the year (again, focused almost exclusively on being less of a slob), I’m just now sitting down to set some work-related goals.

This is especially important because I’m on fellowship this semester. No teaching, no office hours, no staffing the writing center–just me and my dissertation, all day, every day. Every time I tell someone I’m on fellowship, the immediate response is, “How will you manage your time?” My interlocutor usually follows this question with a fairly lengthy description of how much trouble he or she would have getting anything done with so much unstructured time. After the fifth or sixth conversation like this, I found I’d developed a fairly reasonable-sounding set of answers, which serve as the basis of my semester goals/don’t-squander-my-time-on-fellowship plan:

1. The first thing on the list is to keep doing what I’ve been doing, only better. I’ve done a pretty good job over the last year of devoting my mornings to writing and writing-related tasks (outlining, note-making, etc.). My best energy is morning energy, and I need to keep taking advantage of that. This means maintaining a consistent schedule that gets me started by or before 8 each morning.

2. Find out how best to use my afternoons. When I’m teaching, I schedule as many things as I can in the afternoon, when I don’t have as much focus and won’t be as productive in my writing. Stepping into the classroom always gives me an adrenaline boost, so I’ve taken to requesting afternoon classes–that way the adrenaline counteracts the afternoon lethargy. There are certain stages in my writing process when I can work straight through the afternoon and into the evening, but there are other times, particularly early in the drafting process when every sentence is like pulling teeth, when trying to write in the afternoon is a terrible use of my time. With that in mind, I’m going to try to save email, reading, research, and possibly blogging for the afternoons.

3. Set deadlines. That one’s pretty obvious, and it’s something I’ve been doing for the past year or so with a lot of success. Between my writing group and my dissertation advisers, there are plenty of people I can be accountable to.

4. Set ambitious goals. Having been given all this time, I want to make good use of it. On the one hand, I want to forestall any self-flagellation that’s likely to come mid-semester when I start tallying up what I have and haven’t accomplished, so I’m deliberately marking these goals as ambitious, best-case outcomes. If I fall short, it will be because I set a high bar, not because I got lazy. But I need urgency to get things done, and in a semester of unstructured time, I’ll have to manufacture that urgency. With that in mind, my goals for this fellowship semester are to get two chapters drafted and last semester’s chapter revised.

On that optimistic note, I declare the semester officially begun. Bring on the lounge pants and endless mugs of tea!