Research tools: what I use

Time for a new series – this one on keeping track of reference materials. In this post, I’m going to talk about a couple of different aspects. Then, in future posts, I’ll be looking at some specific tools to keep track of references, like Zotero (one of the citation management programs.)

Research tools: an astronomical device opens up like a pocket watch with many tools

Why have a system to keep track of things?

If you’re only managing a few references, or a few sites (for values of ‘few’ that go up to about 50), you probably don’t need a big system – you can keep track of a few dozen things in a word processing or text file pretty easily.

But once you get over a few dozen, it gets harder to keep things organised. Our brains have a harder time processing a long list: it’s easier to miss something, or duplicate entries, or otherwise have housekeeping errors. Different people will have different length limits, but somewhere between 20 and 40, you’ll probably hit your personal ‘this is too long’ .

The same thing goes if the items you’re keeping track of fit into multiple categories. It’s one thing to have a list of items you need to read – but what happens when you want to list things as “to read” and then by the type of content. How do you file things? Do you list it every possible place? That makes for a much longer list.

Either way, if you want to keep track of lots of things, you need a system.

What kinds of options are out there?

For many people, the system that works best will depend on what you’re trying to keep track of. You may need a different approach for websites than for print books, or a different way to handle ebooks.

I suggest that you think about the difference between what you own, and what you use as reference material. You may want to own a book (and keep track of the fact you own it), but not care about it as reference material. You might have a system for keeping track of books, and a different one for tracking reference material. Having multiple systems can be annoying (and potentially confusing) but not if you’re clear about why you’re using a specific tool.

Here’s what I use:

What books I have copies of: LibraryThing

I use LibraryThing to keep track of everything I own – print and ebooks. Items get entered in the catalog. I have a collection of print books (so I can just search things I have in print), or ebooks (just things that live on my phone.)

Everything also gets content-specific tags like genre, or when it’s set if it’s historical, or topic. I keep my tags edited, so that I can search them easily, and I refine them regularly so that I don’t have tags with only a couple of items unless it’s really necessary. (I am not a fan of lists overwhelming for me.)

You can add books with a simple form or by importing a spreadsheet if you’ve been using a different tool, or by scanning the back of books in many cases with a tool in the mobile app.

If they’re print books, they also get assigned a tag that indicates where they’re shelved (so I can find them again.) The shelving tags are really simple – I have the IKEA cube bookshelves, so I do A1, A2, A3, A4, B1, B2, B3, B4, etc. Each cube only has about 12-15 books, so it’s easy to spot once I’m looking in the right place.

The actual ebook files are managed through Calibre. This means I can search or tag and manage files much more easily, or save files to a different place if needed.

Costs: LibraryThing has a fee for over 200 books in an account. The fee is $10 for a year, or $25 for a lifetime account. (Obviously, one of these is a much better buy if you expect to keep using the site.) Calibre is free, but they appreciate donations!

Websites I want to share: Pinboard

Pinboard describes itself as “a bookmarking website for introverted people in a hurry.” (It’s also been described as anti-social bookmarking, in contrast to social bookmarking.)

I have a personal account, and one for coven links. My personal account is private and where I put things I want to find later, the coven site is public. You can set tags, group tags, and do some additional things.

I use Instapaper as an interim tool to keep track of things I want to save, read later, or think about reading.

Costs: There’s a yearly fee for new Pinboard accounts ($11 a year right now) and it’s well worth it if you want to share bookmarks, keep track of more items than your web browser’s bookmark tools will handle easily, or access bookmarks from multiple browsers or devices.

Instapaper is free, and there are other similar services (Pocket is the other big one)

References (books, websites, PDFs): Zotero

Zotero is one of a handful of widely used citation management programs, and the one I’d recommend for most people – it’s free, has an add-on for Chrome, and has other benefits. It will help you keep track of references, and you can produce a formatted bibliography with a few clicks (though you probably still need some human review. Citation styles are tricky!)

If you’re in academia, you may have access to other options through your school. Your library (or the library website) probably has more information. (There are certain advantages to using the same system other people in your institution are, and if you’re working in a research lab or closely with a professor or researcher, you may not have a lot of choice about which tool is used.)

Costs: Depends on the tool, but Zotero is free. If you want to store PDFs on their site, you’ll likely need to pay for additional storage if you have more than a few.

Notes and writing: Ulysses, 4theWords, Scrivener

My briefer writing is sometimes a little tricky, because Ulysses is a Mac only app, and I can’t access it at work. You can have lots of folders, tag items, create smart folders, and much more. There’s even a publishing option for putting things into WordPress (and a few other tools).

I’m also using a site called 4thewords which is exploring a gamification approach to writing. You battle various monsters and win by writing a certain number of words in a span of time. As you do quests, you can earn items for your avatar or other game objects. As I wrote this sentence, I won a battle of 500 words.

It also keeps some stats I’m finding more useful than I expected about how long I was actively writing a given piece. (And I’ve found the battles a certain incentive for doing just another hundred or two hundred words, several times.)

Scrivener is where my long-form writing lives, and it is amazing for being able to move things around, save a piece you cut but want to keep just in case, and has a lot of tagging and drafting tools to help.

Costs: Ulysses is a subscription (it’s also currently part of the SetApp subscription option, if you’re interested in other apps they offer, which includes Aeon Timeline, a popular timeline app) and 4theWords has a month free trial and then is $4 a month.

There are obviously lots of free options in this space: I use Google Docs for sharing word processing with other people, and especially for editing that we’re looking at together. It’s also my go-to for things I may want to add to during lunch at work.

Come back next week.

Join me next week for part 2, things to think about when choosing tools.

If you use other tools you think I should look at, I’d love to hear from you – the contact form is probably the best way.

RSS feeds and you

I’ve seen several people talking about a resurgance in independent blogs and RSS readers recently – so it’s clearly time for a post about what they offer and why you may want to make them part of your research and learning process.

Green leaves curling up around the word "productivity"

What are independent blogs?

This is a term used for blogs that people host themselves, that are not part of some larger social media network. That means that they control what gets posted, they can determine the layout of the site, and (other than some actual legal limits and the site host’s terms of service), they can decide what they include or don’t include.

The good thing about this is that if a site changes its focus, or gets bought, or changes its focus, you still have all your own content, under your own control. And modern tools make it pretty easy to share what you create on other social media sites.

Blogs are also great for putting up longer thoughts or posts (like this one) even if you then quickly reference them in a site where long discussions don’t work as well (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram are all designed to share things other than long-form content at a stable location you can return to and review easily.)

Back in the early web, you had to remember to go check blogs and see if they’d posted anything new. That meant loading lots of pages, and could get really annoying really fast.

What is RSS?

RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. Basically, it looks for a particular kind of content on sites (a ‘feed’) and gathers all of that information in one place.

That means instead of loading all your different sites and checking them manually, you open the RSS reader, and you see all the new posts in the RSS reader. It’s particularly great for blogs that update erratically or rarely – you can be sure you’ll see posts when they happen.

Depending on a vareity of settings (some on your end, some on the blog’s end) you may see a short summary or beginning of the post, the full text of the post, the full post with any graphics, or something else. You can always click through to the actual site if you want to see the post in all its glory.

As you can guess from that, RSS readers can also be great if you want a simplified reading experience (just the text without graphics or flashy designs or ads), or if you have bandwidth concerns.

Keeping things in order

If you’re like me (or lots of other people, I gather) you read different sites for different reasons. You may want to group things in your reader to make it easier to keep up. Some things you may care about reading all the time, others you may dip into when you have some spare time, but mark as read when you’re busy.

Many people find it helpful to divide their feeds up into groups, to make it easier to find things, or to skim things they’re sometimes interested in, but don’t read all the time.

Here are my folders (and an explanation of the less obvious categories)

  • Academia
  • Authors (blogs by authors)
  • Business (blogs about business things – mostly small business or writing focused)
  • Comics
  • Divination
  • Food (recipe blogs, mostly.)
  • Legal issues (mostly copyright and intellectual property issues, since that’s a particular thing I’m interested in.)
  • Libraries
  • Pagan
  • Practicalities (where I put advice, finance, and lifehack type blogs)
  • Stories (authors focusing on folklore)
  • Technology
  • Thinky (see below)
  • Voluminous reading (also a see below.)

“Thinky” is my category for long-form writing I usually want to think about more. Longform.org is a good example (they link to three or so long-form articles every day), or John Scalzi’s blog Whatever (even though he’s an author, it goes in the Thinky category because a lot of his posts are things I want to chew on or take some time with.)

Voluminous reading is where I stick things that produce a lot of posts, or posts I mostly want to skim past and just read the ones that are interesting. Some people find very active blogs frustrating, because they want to read it all. I feel like that unless I put them in a special section that’s labelled so I know I’ll be skimming through. Metafilter feeds go here (they can produce 20-50ish posts in a day, depending on how busy things are.)

And then two sort of special categories:

  • Tumblrs
  • AO3 subscriptions

I find the Tumblr interface frustrating, and I also do a lot better reading through individual people’s blogs in order, rather than everyone’s posts intermingled (why this matters to me on Tumblr, I have no idea, because I’m fine with it in other contexts). Handling it this way lets me have a space to read a particular person’s Tumblr easily.

AO3 are my feeds for particular tags for fanfic on Archive of Our Own – mostly specific canons that get intermittent posts but not always very frequent. That way, when there is something new, I can check in.

Want more ideas?

There’s a great discussion post on Metafilter about one of the articles about RSS coming back, which has recs for different apps and tools, if you want more ideas.

How research has changed: citation managers

The last in my current series on ‘how research has changed’ is that I want to mention citation managers.

This is not intended to be a guide to how to use them – I haven’t had the time or focus to work that up yet! Instead, consider this a starting point for learning more about them.

Massive pendulum clock (from the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studios) with the text "Times change"

What’s a citation manger?

It’s a piece of software that helps you keep track of what you’ve found and where you’ve found it.

Specifically, they allow you to enter articles, books, and in some cases webpages into the manager, format the metadata, and do things with it. Some of them allow you to save PDFs in the software, but even if the manager you choose doesn’t do that, it will help you keep track of what you have.

Metadata?

Metadata is the term for information about content – for a book, the metadata includes things like the author, title, or publisher.

A better explanation might be this one from Scientific American’s blog, about 5 years ago, where Bonnie Swager explained metadata using Santa Claus’s naughty and nice lists.

(Whatever you think of this particular story and mythology, it’s a much more fun example than a lot of the ones out there, and she does a great job explaining different kinds of metadata with it.)

This information helps you sort and filter information. Maybe you want all the things by a specific author, or all the things written around a particular time. Or maybe you half remember the title of something, but know you read it and put it in your system at a particular point – if your metadata includes the date an entry

If you want a more detailed explanation of metadata, including a number of standards sets for managing it, there’s a PDF that Bonnie links to at the end of her article that is a dead link there, but can be found on the National Information Standards Organization website: Understanding Metadata

What are the options for citation managers?

There are several different widely used citation managers out there. Some of them cost money. If you’re a student at university or work for one, you may have access to an institutional subscription, but if you aren’t, there are a couple of free options (or free + a fee for additional storage space).

The big names are RefWorks (usually needs a university subscription), EndNote (in a couple of versions), Mendeley, and Zotero. The University of Minnesota has a handy chart comparing the last three in detail (they discontinued their RefWorks subscription for cost reasons).

If you want a really detailed comparison, here’s another chart (which has multiple pages) from the University of Wisconsin Madison.

All of them should have methods for exporting and importing data (important for academics, since different institutions have often picked one or two to focus on or provide rather than others, and people do move institutions.)

I’ve tended to gravitate toward Zotero, for the combination of cost and the fact it works best with online sources, but I’m still working out my best workflow for managing materials. There’s a web extension for Chrome that allows you to connect between the desktop app and the browser.

Fee for space: One place these managers charge fees is to store materials. Just storing information about an item is a small amount of plain text (which takes a tiny amount of space on modern computers). If you want to store full PDFs in your manager tool, however, you may need more space.

If that’s a problem, you can always choose to save your files somewhere (cloud service, your computer, a backup drive, whatever makes sense. Ideally more than one of those as a precaution!)

What can you do with one?

Even if all you do is make a list of resources in there, that’s probably a big win. You can tag or organise your entries in all sorts of different ways, marking things you’ve read and things you want to read, different topics, and much more.

However, citation managers become invaluable if you’re doing any kind of formal writing where you might need to produce reference lists, bibliographies, end notes, or footnotes. They can take all that metadata and do most of the work of putting it in the correct format.

(You may need to do some review and minor editing: computers are great at this kind of task, but sometimes need help with which words are capitalised or unusual entries.)

If you’re serious about research, or you’re managing a lot of complex files, you owe it to yourself to check out citation managers and other research tools. They’re a lot less awkward and clunky to use than they were just a few years ago, and they can really make your life much easier if you spend a little time keeping on top of them.

How research has changed : digital work flow

Penultimate in the current series on how research has changed, I want to talk about digital-only workflows.

Massive pendulum clock (from the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studios) with the text "Times change"

Electronic workflow

I don’t know about you, but a whole lot of how I get information starts digitally these days. Having a workflow that works for you is critical if you’re doing larger projects.

There are a fair number of resources out there to help you get a grip on tools that work for you (I’m going to talk about my current setup here, but there are lots of other ways to do this.)

I find the Prof. Hacker blog, a collective blog focusing on tech tools and resources, a helpful read. A lot of the tools aren’t things I need, but they highlight things I want to know about fairly regularly, and I find it interesting to know about other tools. The already mentioned Productivity Alchemy podcast also brings up interesting tools regularly, on a less academic front.

Basically, though, you want a way to collect things, and then a way to organize the things. If you’re like me, many of your things may be webpages or sites.

My basic workflow

This is what I use for all online content I want to save – it works for me, but it’s not the most elegant option. What I like about it is:

1) I can use it from any device

I use a Mac at home, a Windows machine where I can usually add browser extensions but not apps at work, and an iPad when travelling. Because this relies on extensions (or the iOS ‘send to this app’ option) it’s pretty easy to use anywhere I happen to be.)

2) The management can be sporadic

Obviously, there are benefits to keeping on top of it, but the way my system works, it’s okay if I get behind on moving from the collection point to the organisation part.

3) I can usually find the thing I’m looking for.

This is key. If I couldn’t find things, it’d be a bad system. But I usually know which place to look for it, and the search tools work well enough.

Steps

I rely on two tools, Instapaper and Pinboard. Instapaper is currently free (but is owned by Pinterest, so changes are possible in the future). Pinboard has a small yearly fee ($11 currently) but is run by someone independent, Maciej Cegłowski, who designed and runs the site. There’s also a full page archival option for another $25 a year.

(There are plenty of other tools out there for saving things as you read them, but I really do recommend Pinboard for organizing them once you’ve got them.)

My actual steps look like this.

  • Read or find a thing I want to save.
  • Use extension to save it to Instapaper.
  • Periodically, go through Instapaper and move new items to about 8 folders in Instapaper for later sorting.
  • When I’ve got time and feel like it, put things into Pinboard with much more useful tags.

Right now, I go through Instapaper every two weeks, a few days before I start doing my newsletter for the fortnight. I have a folder where I put the links I want to share in the newsletter, so I can work my way through writing them up efficiently.

My other folders include recipes, links related to my day job, writing, Pagan topics, writing, and business things. I have a catchall folder (cleverly called ‘links’) for anything else I want to save. I also have folders for things to read (which is where I save books I want to read), and things to watch or listen to.

Every so often, I make a point of churning through links and tagging them in Pinboard – it’s a great project for when I don’t have a lot of focus to write and have a thing I want to watch.

I usually can remember if I’ve moved something to Pinboard yet, so I also usually can figure out where to look for something.

Having a two step process also helps for saving things to read later (especially when I’m travelling and have less time or internet access), or weeding out highly aspirational recipes I’m never going to actually consider making.

I use this process for all my links, but it’s pretty easy to see how to adapt it for research work. You could have a folder for each big project, or make a point of moving those to a bookmarking service more frequently.

Or you could use a citation manager. Which will be my final post in this series, coming next week.

Looking ahead to research: part 3

Making a plan for larger projects

Here we are at part three of making a plan for larger projects. How do we break down a big project into something more manageable, when we’re not quite sure what we’re going to be finding once we start?

This post talks about five questions you can ask yourself. The final part of this series, next week, will talk about a couple of examples.

Looking ahead to research : view of rocks looking out toward a twilight ocean.

Questions

What do you want to accomplish?

Different kinds of goals have different outcomes. The kinds of information that will help you most if you’re designing a ritual may be quite different than those that help for non-fiction writing, fiction writing, or designing a divination tool.

One way to start is to figure out what your end result looks like or will be used for. That will help guide some of your questions and resources.

Another part is figuring out what you’re hoping to answer or learn about. Here are some possibilities (and there are many more I’m not listing…)

  • Answering a specific question (How did they do that thing, why does it work like that, how did something develop?)
  • Looking for a new direction for your path (much more open ended)
  • Finding resources that are like ones you’ve found and liked.
  • Beginning to learn about a new topic.
  • Deepening your understanding of a topic where you know some of the basics.
  • Connecting with people who have a lot more experience in that thing (experts, leaders in the community, people with specialised skills.)

Each of these will have different ways you might want to go about it.

These questions can also help you begin to figure out how much time this might take – or how deeply you want to get into a question.

For example, you might be writing a ritual that includes a deity or story you’re not as familiar with. Different people will have different feelings about how much research is needed, but there’s often a way to create a meaningful and respectful ritual that works with resources many people can access relatively easily (public in-depth info) and with 5-10 hours of focused work (plus some additional time for thinking about it, maybe, while you’re doing other things.)

And yet, someone else might decide that they really want to dive deeply into that same deity or stories, and that be a much more involved process requiring translation of texts, learning how to make sense of particular styles of art or styles of writing, and much more.

Here’s a way to try framing your goal: I want to understand X so that I can Y. (Examples below.) Try replacing ‘understand’ with ‘learn’ or ‘explore’ if that helps.

Do you have a deadline?

One really pragmatic question is ‘when do you need this by’? Some questions have harder limits than others.

If you are doing research to write a ritual, you need to have the information before the ritual and probably not the day before, either! You’ll want time to create the ritual and get the things you might need or want for it! Usually you’ll want to be done with your research at least 2-3 weeks in advance if not more.)

Other projects might take months or years or even decades! (Serious long-term study of Tarot or runes or astrology, for example – any complex system with many moving pieces, materials in multiple languages and from multiple cultures, and with many layers, is going to take you a while to get a grip on.)

With these huge projects, you should be realistic that they’re huge, and also figure out a way to break down the huge project into small pieces, so that you can feel like you’re making progress.

A good framing for your goal is: In the next X months, I want to Y. (Where Y is related to your specific research goal.) p

Are there subgoals in your project?

Often, once we understand our actual desire (what we want to do this research or learning for) it gets easier to break it down.

Maybe there are stages in our project – we have a thing we need or want to do first, and then continue later. Maybe our project is very big, but it’s clear we probably want to start with an overview of the topic in some way. Maybe we can do part of it on our own, but then we’ll likely want to find a way to get deeper and draw on other people’s expertise, like a course or talking to someone who knows that thing much better.

Are there resources that might help?

There are so many options here. Start a list.

It doesn’t need to have answers on it. It can have things like “Something that explains what this thing is” or “A book that gives me a general overview of what was going on here that century.”

(In my day job, I have had several questions come up in the past few months that deal with different parts of India, and while I can pick up specifics from a variety of sources, I have added a couple of books that give an overview of Indian history or a good look at current social issues there to my to-be-read list. Figuring out that would be helpful was one step, finding the books is a second, and reading them is a third, and it’s okay to pause on any step if you need to.)

Similarly, you might identify skills that would be helpful. These can be partial skills, not becoming expert.

For example, maybe becoming just a little bit better at some research skills will open a lot more doors for you (like learning what academic writing focuses on, how to make the most out of articles, or how to find academic sources.)

Maybe it’s learning a little bit of a language – Duolingo can be great for giving you an idea how the language works, some key vocabulary, even if you never remotely become fluent. And if nothing else, it may make it easier to understand how names or some customs work in that language or culture.

(I might or might not be working through sentences in Welsh and can say that I am a dragon and I like leeks, at the moment. Though I had to check and see if I like leeks plural, or if I’ve learned the singular yet.)

Final part

In the final part of this series, I’ll look at some different kinds of projects, and how I break them down.

One spreadsheet to rule them all : tracking 2018

Why track things like this?

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I kept a somewhat absurd spreadsheet in 2017, and updated it for 2018. (2017 part 1 here, part 2 over here, and initial 2018 thoughts here.)

Why another post?

I had a question from someone wanting to know if I could share in more detail (so here’s a sample you can copy and save as a Google Sheets file – it has a week of data in it so you can see how it works.) Also a few improvements in layout.

I’ve made a few advances in layout since I wrote the most recent of those posts, so here’s a more complete explanation. (I am still using the same tracking apps as in the first part of the 2017 posts, so I’m not duplicating that info here.)

In addition, I had some thoughts (useful to me, and maybe others) about how to give incentive to the things I want to do more of.

Green leaves curling up around the word "productivity"

What changed in 2018?

Going into 2018, I thought about what I wanted to track better, or make more of a priority.

How was my day?

In 2017, I was tracking on a 4 point scale to get a rough idea of my day. In some ways, this was very helpful – I learned that about one day in 4 or 5 is a not good day for me (I feel lousy, don’t get much done, can’t focus) which is very helpful to know in terms of long-term planning. (It also suggested that I should be more consistent about sleep in a couple of specific ways.)

But four points isn’t very nuanced. I wanted a system that gave me more nuance, and maybe more incentive for doing more of the things I wanted more of in my life. So this year’s is seven, with some variations possible.

(I should note that I expect it to be very rare to get only 1 or 2 points.)

More writing

I joined two online writing communities, with two different commitments. I was already tracking what I was writing, but one of the communities I signed up with a habit pledge (number of days writing) and the other is words.

My words goal is actually well under what I did last year, but the number of days is a significant stretch. (Last year, I wrote on about 150 days, and I’m aiming for 240. That’s a big jump.) Last year, I had a lot of days in which I didn’t write, and then would do 1500 or 2000 words at once. This year, I’m experimenting with more consistency but maybe hitting smaller totals each day.

Besides those communities, I want to track what I write to see patterns in what I’m working on (especially the fiction / non-fiction divide and how long it takes me to do things like write course materials.)

More reading

I’ve always been a big reader. My number of books has dropped off significantly since there has been a lot more content online (even through college, I was at about a book every 2 days). In 2017, I read 77 which is significantly fewer than I wanted.

I also wasn’t happy with my tracking. I was tracking in a separate wiki, and in practice I would get behind on updating (and especially the data entry part of that.) So this year, I’m trying a plain list that has author, title, genre, and then a link to more about the book.

Mid-length goals

I’ve mentioned that I was thinking a lot about this post from Shawn LeBlanc about using an 8 week cycle for projects.

I’m Pagan. And specifically, a kind of religious witch who celebrates 8 Sabbats. Four fire festivals, two solstices, two equinoxes. So, for me, it made sense to split my year into 8 (slight uneven) segments for planning over about 6-7 weeks. Each cycle, I’m going to pick 3-4 longer-term goals (which might not be complete projects) in different parts of my life.

Use it for other useful data

Since this spreadsheet is almost always open in the browser for personal stuff (email, Todoist, and then this sheet, usually), I have decided to use it for other stuff I want to keep handy.

Topics for blog posts, for example, so that whenever I think of a new one, I can stick it there and skim when I want something to write about.

Reference lists, like my cataloging terms for LibraryThing.

Knitting. (That sheet doesn’t appear here: I’m working on a project which is ‘make lots of smaller objects’ that will eventually be joined, so that tracks how many of which colour I’ve made.)

What I don’t track

I try to keep my tracking to things that I, personally, am motivated by but not obsessive about in the way that doesn’t help. I don’t track food things in general because I get into a bad place about it. If I need to do it temporarily, I use an app or use a new file. I also try not to double-track things. I’ll enter data from apps that are tracking it, but I try to only have to track it once.

Points

Seven point system, with some possible adjustments.

  • Did I get at least 30 minutes of physical activity (not exercise: this includes walking around at work, light housework, etc.)
  • Did I take my meds? (or take my meds + have a health-related appointment?)
  • Did I get both more than 7 hours sleep and more than 70% sleep quality?
  • Did I write any words?
  • Did I do more than 4 large tasks. (see below for description)
  • Did I do my daily spiritual practice? (More on that on the spirit sheet)
  • Did I do anything creative? (Writing isn’t counted here, because it gets counted elsewhere, but drawing, knitting, etc. all count. Going to a concert or theatre would too, but I don’t count routine TV/movie viewing or reading.)

Adjustments:

  • Extra point for more than 1000 words.
  • Minus one point if I have anything in the ‘sick’ column.
  • Plus one point if I declare a rest day (to encourage me to take a day easy without messing with points averages.)

Note that it’s possible to get more than 7 points (which I did January 1st.) The additional point for days I feel sick is to make sure I get a more accurate account of days when I’m not doing as well, even if I turn out to be reasonably productive.

I also hope it’s clear that I don’t expect to get all 7 points every day. Two are pretty easy for me to do (take my meds, and do the very brief spiritual practice that is what I track with ‘North Star’.) I fairly reliably don’t get the points for movement at least one day on the weekend (and sometimes that’s very deliberate, because I’ve overdone it on previous days.) I’m hoping to get the points for writing every day, but I know from experience I will have days where I don’t manage it.

I basically consider everything from 4 points and up to be a reasonable day, in terms of feeling good I did things that are priorities.

Overview

The file has a number of different sheets within it. (I’ve deleted a couple that have personal data or lists: knitting, the list of cataloging terms I use for LibraryThing, etc.)

Here’s the sheets in order, with a brief explanation. This is from the sample sheet, so I’ve removed a couple of more personal things as described above. You can click on the image to get the full size version.

Screenshot of summary page: described in text.

Summary (image above) : Overview of entire calendar month, with rating for each day. Columns where I have gotten a point are light gray. (Sleep is a little different: it shows me where I’ve hit my goal, but I only get the point if both meet my requirement.)

The type of day columns allow me to get a count of rest days, unusual days (not my usual schedule), days with errands, and days I was sick. (R, U, E, and S). And then of course notes, so I can say things like “snow day”. I’m also noting weekends this year, to see if those are a pattern.

Body : Tracks overall activity, minutes of exercise, then category. (Human is my tracker. Other activity is usually household chore stuff.)

Doing : Tracks tasks done – I track in Todoist, and use the Potterverse money system for size of task, because a completely non-metric system works better for me than dithering over the difference in size.

In practice, knut is something that I read or reviewed quickly (like reminders), sickle is a task that takes 10-15 minutes (like a straightforward reply to an email) and a galleon task is something that takes me an hour or more or involves a significant effort. (If it’s multiple hours, I count it the appropriate number of times.) They calculate a total.

Writing : The left column is the total number of words. The columns are specific projects, broadly defined. At the right, I calculate total number of days written, and have links to the communities I’m doing challenges for this year. And the average words per day so far.

Read : What books I’ve read. I’m not tracking days, but am tracking number per month, and genre. (More on data validation in the next section.)

Spirit : These are spiritual/religious things I want to keep track of doing. My actual daily practice at the moment is listening to at least one song off a playlist I set up that has about 65 songs in it. (I hit shuffle a couple of times), and the list in my working sheet pulls the titles in when I start typing them.

Ritual is to note if I did anything that was more involved ritual. Creativity is what I did that was creating something (as described above.) The next three columns are my Tarot summary column (colour coded by suit) and then the cards for the entries. The last column gives me totals for the month.

(Note that on the sample I’ve replaced the songs with ‘yes’ when I did them, and removed the actual card names from the Tarot reading column. Some things feel like oversharing.)

Week : This is the week by week summary – I use this to see if there are any broad patterns I should be aware of (big changes in activity or exercise for a not-obvious reason).

Month : Same deal, but for months. (The calculations for this are more complicated because they involve total days in the month.)

Goals : Sheet for the mid-term planning.

Written : Tracking sheet for writing details – the samples should give you an idea. (This is helpful for seeing what specifically I was working on.)

Topics : Parking place for possible blog posts.

Archive : At the end of each month, the entire month’s summary gets pasted here (use paste special -> values!) and it will do a running count of quality of day.

Cyclical planning : My math on how many days are in each cycle. Entirely ignorable (and deletable) if not applicable to you.

Goals : Template for the mid-term goals. Year goals go at the top, as I finish cycles I’ll past them in rows below.

Finally, two sheets for calculations and validation, which I’ll describe below.

Calculation

Last year, I ended up doing a lot of the calculation semi-manually (getting the totals from the individual sheets, then scribbling them on a piece of paper to transfer to the week or month.)

This year, I wanted to set it up so I could copy and paste the week and get the totals. (The month is calculated on the month summary sheet already.) This meant a bunch of careful alignment of columns.

This is why there’s a ‘days written’ column in the daily summary, when it’s not really necessary. It’s so that when I do larger totals, I have that space filled.

The books category needs to be manually entered (that’s why it’s highlighted in gray) since I need to look at the actual dates. (Writing this has made me realise I really should turn that month into a proper date. Right then!)

I’ve caught a couple of glitches in the calculations, so there may be more lurking. It’s sometimes hard to proof these without a certain amount of variable actual data.

I pull the month onto the calculations page since it’s sometimes handy for proofing and just as a comparison.

Data validation

This sheet does two main things. At the top, it does the actual calculations for each day’s points for the month. (Usual for checking it’s working right.) The gray columns are the ones that actually give points.

(“Both good” counts the total for sleep time and quality, and “total” gives me the point if that number is 2. “More words” is for the extra point for more than 1000 words.)

The bottom of the sheet contains data validation columns for different things. There are two benefits to this – one that you can get a drop down menu for the things that are more complex (Tarot card names, song titles) and second that you can do counts for things like Tarot suites more easily without worrying about typos.

Summary

Obviously, much of this can be edited or adapted to your needs – if you’re doing data validation, you may need to double check that the range is correct (this is on the sheet that references it).

Questions welcome, either here or through the contact form. (I’ll likely see the form a bit faster.)

Looking ahead to research : part 2

One of the complicated things about research is that you never quite know how long something is going to take you.

Oh, it’s possible to group projects into ‘probably short’ and ‘very long’, and some spaces in between. But ‘probably short’ can range from 3 minutes to a couple of hours (depending on how many Internet rabbitholes one falls down) and ‘very long’ can be 10 hours or 10 years.

Which makes planning rather tricky.

So, let’s look at some things that affect how long research might take, and then some ways to help plan. Many of them are not only individual to you as a person, but may be specific to particular projects. Unfortunately, there’s no simple solution, here!

Looking ahead to research : seekknowledgefindwisdom.com

Things to think about

Speed of access

One big factor is obviously how quickly you can access what you’re looking for. For example, reading faster obviously helps with some kinds of research, but it’s not a skill everyone has.

Some people have lives that allow them to spend regular time on research – this can save time over a long project because you spend less time remembering where you were, or what you were focusing on.

Others have jobs or commutes that let them get through a fair chunk of new information through podcasts or audiobooks, even if they have to spend some focused time on things they can’t listen to at other points.

And of course, some of this may be about other access needs. If you have a slow internet connection, or limited time to be online, some things are going to move a lot more slowly than someone who has a speedy connection or more time.

Getting materials

If you happen to be at an academic institution, you likely have very quick access to a wide range of databases and to interlibrary loan resources that can get you many articles or books very promptly (in many cases, articles will come within 24 hours, and books within a week or so). That’s true in most places even if your job doesn’t have anything to do with research.

For the many of us not there, there may still be options. You may have regional or state services that provide some of the same options. For example, if you live, work, go to school, or own property in Massachusetts, you can likely get access to the electronic resources from the Boston Public Library.

(Some states and regions and places fund their library services – especially on larger geographic levels – better than others. Sorry, I don’t run the world, or I’d make that possible a lot more places. But in a lot of place, you have to dig a little to find out about these options, and I encourage you to ask and dig a little when you get time.)

Some of these options take more time and planning than others. Electronic resources like journals are usually available when you’d like, but ebooks may be limited to one user at a time. Interlibrary loan books usually have fixed loan periods, and you need to send them back promptly.

It can take some practice to figure out how to time when an interlibrary loan arrives with having enough time from other parts of your life to work with the materials before they have to go back.

And of course, you may want to own materials, but need time to get the money in your budget to buy them, or need to wait for a copy of an older text to show up at a vaguely affordable price.

Grouping similar tasks

Some kinds of research tasks go faster if we do them all at once. For example, if you’re looking at the history of words as part of research on a topic, looking them all up at once in a really good dictionary is going to be faster than doing one, going away, doing something else, and then coming back and having to open up the dictionary (whether that’s physically or electronically), and do more searches.

Similarly, you can

What tools can be helpful? (Todo list that lets you tag by amount of time something will take or whether it can be done while you’re doing other things.)

Special situations

Not every research question has a simple solution. Sometimes you need a source that is only available a few places (or is in something like an archives or historical society collection.) Sometimes materials will be in languages you don’t read, or not available where you live.

These can be so frustrating – most people can’t go off to every corner just to read a book or find a source. And we certainly can’t be learning every language we might be curious about.

There are some solutions out there. For example, finding people who know or can access the thing you need. This can include hiring an independent researcher to go look at an item local to them, getting help from people working on similar topics, or finding people who read the language you need and figuring out a suitable arrangement for a translation or notes.

This is the hardest – and least predictable – category to solve, but fortunately, as long as you’re making some progress with your research in other ways, you can get traction here. Every time you talk about an ongoing project, you have a chance to connect with people who can help you further (or who know someone who can help.)

Tools to help

So how do you keep all of this manageable? A really good project management system and notes are a great start. One of the most frustrating parts of research projects is when you know you saw a post, or an online article, or a mention of a book, and if you could just remember what it was, it had something you needed. But now you can’t.

This is a place where tools help. Start by writing down your actual questions. For long-term projects, your questions may be fairly vague at first. If so, focus on what you know about what you want to do with the information when you find it. That will help you plan your time better.

More on that in part three, so you can see a couple of examples, but start with whatever you know right now.

  • Do you have a specific thing you’re trying to answer?
  • What do you want to do with the information when you’ve got it? (Use it somehow? Share it with others? Whatever you know is helpful.)
  • What do you already know about the subject?
  • Do you see any particular limitations you want to start thinking about early? (Needing specific materials, or languages, or sources?)

Then, as you begin to gather information, keep track of it, so that you can look at what you have and what you would like to have in one place. There are tons of different possible systems about this (and I’ll be talking about the details next post and in future posts.)

Next part: Breaking down large projects and getting a grip on how long they might take.

Looking ahead to research : part 1 : asking questions

It’s the beginning of a new (Gregorian) calendar year, and that makes it as good a time as any to think about the research projects that might be ahead in the coming months. Welcome to part one of a (probably) three part series on planning long-term research projects.

  • Part one: asking questions (this part)
  • Part two: planning the unplannable and useful tools
  • Part three: ways to break down larger projects

What’s long term?

If you’re reading this, you probably do dozens of little tiny research projects every week. Here’s a few I’ve done recently :

  • Finding a recipe for a particular thing I wanted to make.
  • Looking at what kinds of things other people track in their long-term tracking.
  • Looking up information on a book series.
  • Reading reviews of books to see which books on sale I was particularly interested in.
  • Research for the fiction project I’m working on (which involves 1920s England plus magic.)

Most of those are pretty short and sweet – I’ve got a good idea what an answer’s going to look like, even if I don’t know the details. And they mostly don’t take too long, usually well under an hour a piece.

But what happens with a longer project? For example, that fiction project is spawning a lot of little questions, but they tie into each other, and it’d make sense for me to tie it all together in a useful way, wouldn’t it?

Or what about my desire to learn astrology at a deeper level? That’s a huge goal, and it’ll take years. How do I break that down into something more manageable? (Also in this category: learning a new language, a lot of ‘write a book’ projects, or developing multiple year career goals.)

Ask yourself questions

Take a few minutes and sit down and brainstorm. Are there things you’re interested in learning about or working out this year? What are they?

Here’s mine:

  • Astrology (with the goal of getting a good grasp on the basic concepts).
  • Building a repertoire of recipes and foods I can put together to meet my specific needs (living alone, and with some specific medical issues.)
  • The fiction writing mentioned above, and tracking it in a more useful way for future projects.

I’ll probably come up with more, but that’s a good start. If you don’t have any right now, think about how you could keep track of eventual projects, as you go along. (I have a space in my todo list projects where I make notes like that.)

What time and energy do you have?

Questions only you can answer! One of the things that’s been a sticking point for me is that my work eats a lot of my brain, so I get home from work and am not up for more intellectually demanding work. (Sometimes I am. Often I’m not.)

There’s also a time limit. I get home from work around 5pm and go to bed at 10pm (and really, it should be more like 9 or 9:30.) I have to eat dinner, do at least some household tasks, and also do other things that matter to me but aren’t research or writing.

In practice, I have about 2 hours of time I could possibly use at most. And lots of things can affect even that time – I was taking a significantly time consuming online class last spring, for example. Errands or appointments eat into that time.

I have more time on weekends, obviously, but that depends on other commitments, what they are, and whether I end up sleeping in or napping to catch up on sleep.

I bet you have your own restrictions. Whatever they are, think about where you have a little space, and where you don’t, and where you might, if you moved things around a little.

If you poke at your life for a bit, you may find different things.

  • Maybe there’s a chunk of time you can repurpose.
  • Maybe you really do need to focus on things that can be broken down into smaller chunks.
  • Maybe you need to focus on learning and research you can do while commuting, or exercise, or while you’re doing something else you have to get done too.
  • Maybe you schedule research days once a month or a quarter, and do your big projects then.
  • Maybe there’s some other solution I haven’t thought of here.

Realistically, maybe big research isn’t a thing you can do a lot of right now. Which is not much fun, if you’ve got big projects in your head, but sometimes it’s the truth.

(When might it be particularly true? Any time you’ve already got big changes going on – buying a house, having a child, starting or finishing formal education, making big career changes or moves, starting or finishing religious training, dealing with complex health challenges. If you notice, a bunch of those come with non-optional research demands in various ways, and definitely make demands on your time and energy all over the place in both expected and unexpected ways.)

What resources do you need?

The other big thing that can limit our research is access to resources. There are a lot more things available than you may realise, with a bit of time and patience (for example, you can often get books or articles from interlibrary loan that aren’t available in your own library, or are very expensive to buy.)

Figuring out what materials or skills or tools you need can be a great way to make use of smaller chunks of time before you have a longer chunk to dive into a big project. Finding articles, books, resources can be done in smaller pieces many times. You may find you need an overview of something before you can really use it for research. This is part of why thinking about your bigger projects in advance is so helpful.

Part 2

In part 2, we’ll be talking about how to plan for the unplannable (how do you figure out how much time or resources a big topic will need?) and about some resources to help you organise your research.

Productivity roundup

It’s the time of year when people start thinking about being organized next year, isn’t it? Here’s a roundup of thoughts about productivity. Here’s a recommendation for the productivity geeks out there, a few thoughts on planners, and my spreadsheet for 2018.

Productivity Alchemy

If you do podcasts at all, and you haven’t dipped into Productivity Alchemy, I highly recommend it.

It’s done by Ursula Vernon (writer and artist – her stuff is fabulous!) and her husband Kevin Sonney (programmer, for his day job), and together they have been exploring all sorts of different productivity approaches, tools, and techniques.

The podcasts are a great mix of Ursula and Kevin talking, Ursula as Wombat Test Subject for trying out different techniques (or refusing to try some out, as the case may be), Kevin interviewing other people about what works for them, letters from listeners, and other tidbits of their lives. They are funny, thoughtful, and interesting.

One thing I particularly like is the focus on talking to people who have a wide range of different kinds of needs and goals – the interviews include a lot of people doing arts or freelance work, as well as people with demanding office-based jobs.

They’re also great about including people who’ve got chronic health or mental health issues that make figuring out what to do or getting it done more challenging. So much productivity geekery focuses on doing more, more, more, that it’s really refreshing to have people focusing on ‘how do I get the necessary stuff done so I can do more of the things I really enjoy or want to do or feed my soul.”

Looking for a planner?

Episode 23 of Productivity Alchemy reviewed several planners (links are in their show notes, even if you don’t want to listen to the show.)

The Simple Dollar had a nice roundup of twelve planners with info on what they focus on that included a few I hadn’t seen before. (Also, in rummaging around later links in this post, I found my way to Rachael’s 52 Planners in 52 weeks series, which highlights some other approaches.)

I’ve also been thinking a lot about this post from Shawn LeBlanc, about working on projects in an eight week cycle: six weeks of focused work, a week to wrap up loose ends, and a week off. Specifically (being me, and with my religious life running on a Sabbat cycle), I am thinking about how to apply that.

(In my case, it would not be for work projects, because this model is not a great fit for librarianship or other jobs that are reactive to questions, and also because I don’t have final control of a lot of long-term project choices.)

I’m finding the Momentum Planner’s approach (which I discovered from the Simple Dollar roundup) might be a way to bring this together, and let me do some longer term planning. They have free versions you can check out over here, and you can buy a full year’s version with additional tools for $12.

If you’re the kind of person who really wants to build your own, I came across Agendio. That looks very promising for people like me who need some things in a planner, but not, for example, a major task list or daily schedule. I’m eyeing this as a thing to build, but haven’t tried it yet. Also very customisable in terms of colours and fonts.

Also in the mix for my personal planning is Briana Saussy’s Book of Hours, “a planner for sacred artists” that includes astrological information, brief but illuminating questions for particular events. You can get the questions and brief date info from her 2018 Astro Rx page, but the planner is gorgeous.

I put the questions for last year into Todoist, where all my actual tasks live, and I’m looking forward to taking a little more time this year to sit down and actually write.

My tracking for 2018

I’ve been working on updating my tracking spreadsheet for 2018, and it’s got some new categories, and a new layout.

Summary :

The first sheet pulls in the month’s data from all the other tracking sheets, and gives me a score for the day (out of 7, but it’s technically possible to get a total of 9 points). This helps me see if I have a run of especially good days or especially bad days, so I can make some corrections.

Embodied life:

Physical things, or relating to my physical body.

  • Physical activity
  • Exercise
  • Upkeep (did I take all my meds? Or was it a day I had a health-related appointment?)
  • Sleep time
  • Sleep quality

Several of these are tracked with apps (Human for activity, Sleep Cycle for sleep) as before. I get a point for at least 30 minutes of activity, and having more than 7 hours and 70% sleep quality. Also a point for doing whatever the necessary upkeep stuff is.

Doing:

  • How many words did I write? I get a point for any words, and an additional point for more than 1000, because I would like to do a lot more focused writing this year.
  • Tasks (total number of tasks, using my calculations for small/medium/large). I get a point for doing the equivalent of at least 3 large tasks.

Spirit:

  • Daily spiritual practice : space for me to track what it was, and I get a point if there’s anything in that space.
  • Did I do a creative/artistic/crafting thing today? What was it. (I get a point if there’s anything entered.)
  • Tarot card of the day.

Type of day:

This year, I’m adding a set of three columns. One for a rest day (if I decide I need a day to recover.) I get an extra point for any day designated as a rest day. (This is meant to make up for losing points on the ‘tasks accomplished’ because I want to encourage myself to rest when I need it.)

It also has space for unusual days (like travel, or other times my usual routine is knocked around) or if I’m sick. For the latter, I put in what kind of sick it is, so I can see any patterns. I lose a point for sick days, because even if I actually manage to get things done, they are not great days.

Summary

At the bottom, a set of 7 rows counts up the number of days with each set of point totals. Now that I’ve added in two points for things I should be able to do almost any day (the basic daily practice and taking my meds), it’ll be interesting to see how the adjustments go.

Additional sheets

I have summary sheets by week and by month (to help me see larger patterns), a sheet to track what I’ve written, a sheet where I store things I want to write about (since this spreadsheet is often open and handy).

And then the two I mention above, for tracking goals, and looking at them across seasonal blocks of time.

Productivity : Tarot spreadsheet

Last post, I talked about what I track in my daily spreadsheet. Most of the things I count are pretty straightforward (at least if you’re comfortable with spreadsheets), but the way I set up the Tarot sheets is a bit less intuitive.

One of the things that’s really true about spreadsheets is that they can do a ton of things, but it’s often hard to see the potential until you have a thing you want to track (and play with it) or can explore some examples.

It relies on a couple of more complex formulas, and has three basic sheets. I’ve made a copy of it so you can see. You won’t be able to to edit it, but if you have a Google account, you can make a copy for yourself – go to File and ‘Make a copy”. I left a week’s worth of card draws there so you can see how it works, but you can delete those (just delete what’s in the B and C columns)

I’m also going to explain the basics of how it’s set up, so you can play with it in Excel or Numbers or LibreOffice, or another spreadsheet tool if you like. (These other programs use the same formulas, though some of the syntax may be slightly different.)

Image of spreadsheet screenshot showing different coloured totals. Text says: Productivity, Tarot spreadsheet

What I track

While I love having a Tarot deck in my hands, I discovered I often don’t remember to check for a card of the day before I get myself out the door (that’s the downside of an early start time and an early morning). Via the app, I can check when I get to work, easily and conveniently.

Sheet 1 : Daily cards

This has four columns:

  • Date (in whatever format you prefer)
  • Card
  • Suit or Major
  • A column that combines these.

Screenshot of spreadsheet showing daily Tarot card readings : described in text.

Here are the daily cards for the first week of this year: The Heirophant, Page of Pentacles, The Wheel of Fortune, the Page of Swords, the Ace of Pentacles, the Star, and the Four of Pentacles. The name of the card is in the second column, the suit in the third, and the combination of the two in the third column.

You can actually just enter the card name manually (so long as you are completely consistent) but I use two optional tools to discourage random typo errors. Typos will mess up your statistics, because this spreadsheet is only going to count things that exactly match what you tell it to count.

I use data validation on the second column to verify the card names. This looks at a column of the card names on the “data validation” sheet and will only allow me to enter names on that list. As a side benefit, this means that as you start typing, you get a drop down menu of the choices that match that card. If your deck uses different names for some cards, you can adjust the text on the data validation sheet.

The third column is suit : I used conditional formatting to change the color based on the suit, because I like to be able to glance at it and see the difference. In this case, highlight the column, and then set up five rules, one for each suit plus the majors. Conditional formatting looks at what’s in the area you select and changes the formatting based on what’s there. In this case, it does a different background colour for each suit. On the stats page, I did something a bit more complicated with conditional formatting. We’ll get there in a minute.

I use the fourth column to automatically generate the statistics consistently. This uses the concatenate function which combines text strings. In this case, it combines the thing in the second column (B), a hyphen and spaces (the thing in the quotes), and the thing in the third column (C).

It looks like this as a formula:
=Concatenate(B2,” – “,C2)

The results will then say things like “The High Priestess – Major” and “Six – Cups”

Once you set up one row, you can click, hold, and drag it down the entire column to copy the formula line for line (or if this doesn’t work for you, you can edit it manually.)

The quote marks indicate that text should be inserted. You can put anything you like in there, but the – mark is nice and consistent, and lets me count both majors and suits easily.

Sheet 2 : Statistics

This is the more complicated one, since it counts automatically from things on sheet one. Basically, there are six columns. Four suits, the Major Arcana, plus a general statistical count of type (suits, numbers, court cards). I use additional columns to make the spacing attractive and more readable for me.

Screenshot of Tarot statistics sheet, described in text

The basic formula looks like this: =COUNTIF(‘daily cards’!C:C,“Major”– this is an example from the first count, for Major Arcana cards. 

  • = tells the spreadsheet that the next thing is a formula.
  • COUNTIF is a formula that counts only if an entry in the identified range matches the identified text “Major” in this case)
  • The part up to the comma tells it where to look (up to the comma). In this case, it is a range. You can click and identify ranges in other sheets in most spreadsheet apps, so this is looking at column C on the ‘daily cards’ sheet.
  • The thing in quotes is what it’s looking for. “Major” in this case. (This is why consistent terms are important.)

Here are some other examples:

  • The specific card “The High Priestess” : =Countif(‘daily cards’!D:D,“The High Priestess – Major”
  • The specific card “Six – Swords” : =Countif(‘daily cards’!D:D,“Six – Swords”)
  • All Pages : =COUNTIF(‘daily cards’!B:B,“Page”)
  • All Cups : =COUNTIF(‘daily cards’!C:C,“Cups”)

Different columns for different goals:

Note that these look at different columns, depending on whether you’re looking at for a class of card (Pages, in column B), a suit (Cups, in column C) or the combination (column D). This is why the first sheet is laid out like it is – it allows for much more elegance in counting the stats.

Color formatting:

I’ve also applied conditional formatting so it’s easy to see at a glance which cards come up more often. There are an absurd number of variations possible in how you set this up, so find something that’s pleasing to you. Here, I’ve chosen colour scales relating to the suits (with purple for the majors, and blue for my generic statistics because I like blue.)

These scales weight the colors, so you can see that there are differences depending on the totals. (In this case, I’ve set the midpoint colour to be 50% of the highest number in the range.) This means the shades will change as you enter more data.

Looking at smaller amounts of time

This spreadsheet looks at everything in the main sheet – so in my case, it’s all the cards I’ve pulled from January 1, 2017 to July 31, 2017. (Because it’s still the middle of August, and I haven’t put August’s data in.)

What happens if I just want to look at a month? Or three months? In that case, I can easily look at a smaller portion with just a couple of steps (though I should be careful to avoid deleting the data I want later.)

  • Make a duplicate of the Daily Cards sheet. Maybe move it to the end where I won’t accidentally click on it.
  • Edit the daily cards data to just show the time period I want.
  • Look at the statistics and save a copy.
  • Copy the data from all the days back to the Daily Cards sheet.
  • Delete the extra duplicate sheet I made in step 1.

If this sounds too complicated, you can just count manually. If you want to have months separate, you can make duplicates of both the daily sheet and the stats sheet, rename them (for example : June 2017), and then edit the part in the formula that says ‘daily cards’ to the new name you’ve chosen, i.e. ‘June 2017’. Obviously, this is sort of a pain in the neck.

One more example of spreadsheet power

After writing the last post, I did some more fiddling with my stats sheets. I have multiple chronic health things, so part of why I’m charting things is to see how I’m doing, and whether there are any patterns I should be aware of.

Screenshot of tracking spreadsheet: described in following text.

Here’s an example from the week I took vacation in July (I stayed home and set up this site, mostly.)

  • Column A : The date
  • Column B : Number of items in the next columns that qualify as ‘good’ or better.
  • Column C : Moon phase (it turns out I do usually do a bit worse over the full moon. Good to know!)
  • Column D: How much activity I got (general movement + exercise).
  • Column E : How much exercise I got (in this case, I walked downtown a couple of times).
  • Column F: How long I slept (I color code particularly long nights so they stand out)
  • Column G : Quality sleep (a percentage my tracking app gives me)
  • Column H : How many words I wrote
  • Column I : How many tasks I completed.
  • Column J : Tarot card of the day (colour coded in text.)
  • Column K and L : Notes for unusual days and if I was sick.

What you can’t see in this screen shot is a set of columns used to generate the number in Column B.

  • Column M : Total number of “good” or better for that day.
  • Column N : Uses CountIf to count if activity was more than a certain level. (30 minutes, in this case)
  • Column O and P : Count sleep info, using CountIf (more than 7 hours, more than 70%)
  • Column Q : Adds them, so I can do the calculation in Column R.
  • Column R: Looks at the total in column Q. If they were both good (i.e. the total is 2) it uses CountIf to give me one point. If the total is less than 2 (i.e. I didn’t sleep enough, or not well enough) it doesn’t count it, so no points. I figure that if either one was below my fairly generous margin, I didn’t actually sleep well.
  • Column S: Did I write things? Counts if I’ve written any words that I track (not casual discussion, but anything lengthy)
  • Column T: Was I reasonably productive? My baseline here is 3 or more big tasks.
  • Column U: Uses CountIf to count if there is anything in my “Sick” column

This part takes a little explaining. For Column U, I wanted to note why I was sick – a cold? A migraine? Feeling generically lousy (multiple autoimmune issues means that happens to me sometimes). But I wanted it to count that I felt sick no matter what the text was. So, I used what’s called a wildcard – something that will match any text in that cell. In Google Sheets, * (an asterisk) is the usual wildecard.

Here’s what that looks like for a day I was sick (May 9th) : =Countif(L130,“*”)

The total (column M) adds up the good points (Activity, decent sleep, writing, tasks), subtracts a point if I was sick (otherwise it just subtracts 0.)

Then I just had to drag the formulas down the screen so they covered the entire year, and there we go! I’ve got another sheet that calculates percentages of how the days went (so I can tell you that I had good days about 3 days out of 4. Which is useful to know – and useful to know that about one out of four days, I can expect to not get as much done as I hoped for, whether that’s because of a cold, a migraine, or feeling ill in other ways, or just plain lack of brain. (My stats also tell me that I was ill about half those days, so the other half are my brain just not working well.)

Total spreadsheet geek

As I said last time, if you’re baffled by how I did this but want one for yourself? (Putting the data in is so much easier than setting it up!) That’s the kind of thing I’d love to help with as a consulting project.  Get in touch from that page if you’d like to talk about the options.

I’m also very glad to answer questions here, or via the contact form, if you’re just trying to figure out how to do a specific thing.

Want more stuff like this? My next set of posts coming up are going to be about copyright and some related topics, but I’ll be circling back to productivity in the not too distant future. Check out my newsletter which will have occasional links about it as well as other things I’ve found interesting in my travels around the net.