Dissertation Hours Log / Timesheet

I just wanted to share about how I stay on track with my dissertation and keep my spirits up by reminding myself of my progress. It’s such a long process that it can feel endless; this feeling itself can lead to feeling depressed and lost. But whenever I start to feel that way, I spend some time with my admin files, and realize that things are actually going fine. (What a relief!)

While this post is written around a timesheet system set up for a dissertation, you could use it for any situation where you need to keep track of your time spent on various projects and activities, for your entrepreneurial business, your self-care routine— anything at all, really.

There are two main components to my system: a timesheet and running log of hours, and a master file (to be covered in a separate post).

Some benefits of keeping a dissertation log and timesheet:

  • helps me stay on track and realize that I’m actually making progress (otherwise it feels like the time just floats away and is lost)
  • keeps me motivated and happy
  • helps me know where I’m putting my energy, and if I need to shift my time commitments

My time tracking system has 2 parts: a running log and a timesheet.

The Running Log

I make timesheet entries as I go in a text file. For example, working on this project garners a timesheet entry:

Running Log Entry

It has a start time, a hyphen (the end time will come after that when I’m done), a code (Do), and a description.

Here is what it looks like with some other things I did earlier today:

Running Log Entries

Once I finish the task, I put the end time in. I like to divide on the quarter hour. (I also like to use 24-hour time.)

But what do those two-letter codes mean? Here’s the whole head of the document:

Running Log Entries and Codes

This shows the codes I use. Nowadays I mostly remember them without looking, but I had to think about them a lot while I was putting the system together. The first code is an uppercase letter which designates the project; the second code the type of task I was working on, shown by a lowercase letter.

The present task is encoded D (dissertation) o (other). Blogging and documenting my dissertation process doesn’t quite fit into any of my other categories, but I still want to keep track of it, because I think it’s handy.

Ok, here’s the whole first page:

Running Timesheet Top

I use TextWrangler, a powerful free text editor for Mac that has lots of great text manipulation tools. Other options include Sublime Text, Atom, and even WordPad. Something basic works fine; TextWrangler is one of my workhorses for keeping things organized, mostly because it’s easy to use and well-designed.

I write using Markdown, which is why you see the funny blue # signs. This allows me to elegantly preview my files in the Finder using QuickLook (highlighting the file and pressing the spacebar, although you might need to install a Quicklook module), and in TextWrangler it also enables me to fold different file sections at the header (the triangle next to the # signs in the left margin).

This view shows my work over the last week; the entire file has 964 lines and goes back to August 2015. (So I’ve been using this part of my system for almost a year.)

This running log file is where I collect all my work periods; when I split time between projects, I record them as separate items. Like the July 2nd example.

Once I have my time entries in the bucket, at least once a month I total the times up and enter them into the timesheet.

First I entab the entries for that day to show that I’m in the process of counting them. In TextWrangler this is made easier by selecting several lines, and then striking Command-] (Right Bracket) to entab to the right.

Then I total each different category by day, and write the total and codes under the day block.

Running Log Entries Totaled

I do this for all entries for the month.

Then I transfer the data from each entry to the timesheet, and mark an x to the left of the entry to record that fact.

Running Log Entries Totaled X'ed

The Timesheet

I use the timesheet to keep track of what I’ve been working on, to know how to direct my energies, and to remind myself that I’m actually making progress. Otherwise I end up getting into a catastrophizing frame of mind, think I’m wasting my life on the dissertation without making any progress, and generally end up in a funk. Each time I fill in my timesheet, I actually feel really relieved and reinspired to keep working on it. It took me about 5 hours to set it up and tweak it; since then, I probably spend an hour a month actually maintaining the timesheet system. A small price to pay for peace of mind!

I use LibreOffice, the free office suite, to maintain my timesheet, but you can use whatever spreadsheet software you want.

This is the basic layout of the timesheet:

Dissertation Timesheet

The projects and codes from the running log are reflected here. At left is each day of the month; each tab at bottom shows a different month (the format is YYMM). The red stripe down the middle separates the two columns, but also contains a formula that counts the total in each row from the left column and the right column, and if the totals are not the same, it displays a not-equals sign. This is just a basic accounting flag I put in to keep my data entry on point.

Here’s how it looks with unbalanced columns:

Unbalanced Columns

There’s also a column with a running total of hours worked, and a monthly target that this counts against. Right now my monthly target is 40 hours.

Monthly Target

When I do the data entry, I put the TextWrangler and LibreOffice windows side-by-side, and just transfer data and x out each line item in TextWranger as I go. When I get to the end of the sheet, there’s a total by column and a grand total, which lets me know how I’ve done for the month:

Dissertation Timesheet and Running Log Totals

I can’t tell you how relieving and satisfying it is to see the total add up at the end of the month. And in June, I spent most of my time working on my proposal, either writing or editing. It’s easy to see at a glance how I’ve been spending my time.

And the final sheet on the tour is the totals, which uses formulas to gather values from all the sheets in the file, and presents them in category and cumulative totals:

Dissertation Timesheet Totals

Seeing that I’ve spent more than 330 hours on my dissertation in the last year is really relieving. I might need to step it up soon (it’s only about 28 hours a month on average), but it’s a far cry from the no-progress, no-end-in-sight attitude I had just an hour ago. Huzzah!

Scholarship as Spiritual Practice

In my own path as a scholar, I’ve come upon the challenges of integrating spirituality and scholarship. This is both because I’m in a spiritually-oriented graduate program 1, and because my own interest in spirituality entails bringing spiritual practice to all aspects of life.2 This essay is just some of my reflections on scholarship as a spiritual path, and how that is distinct from a more conventional sense of scholarship. I’ve come across a little of what others have written on this topic before 3 4, but here’s what I have to offer.

Three Main Qualities


One of the most important aspects of my own spiritual development through scholarship is a sense of humility. Through exposure to others’ scholarly work, I see the fruits of thousands of minds through the centuries and understand the smallness and simplicity of my place in that community. In attempting to encompass that vastness of mind, heart, and effort through activities such as literature reviews, critical engagement, and simply pulling the threads on the books and articles I read, I begin to understand the vastness of scholarship, the limitless potential of the mind, and the inconceivable variety of creativity in the universe. By recognizing my own limitations, and in particular my incapacity to intellectually encompass all those ideas (or even just the ideas in one literature review), I cultivate humility and begin to reckon with how to work with my own limitations.
Humility also comes through seeing where my own skills and discipline are lacking, and how much more development my ideas need to pass muster. So many of the skills of scholarship are built upon earlier foundations of reading, writing, and critical thinking, so anywhere my development has skipped a few steps, I need to go back and trace over them to make sure they’re okay. Even where my foundational skills are strong, there’s much more to learn in terms of managing larger projects, sifting through bigger piles of data, and finding my own voice and location in relation to these many realms. In this sense, scholarship and professionalization by doing is where it’s really at— doing the slow, hard work of building my skills by finding my growth edges and engaging them. There is a toilsome quality to this that is humbling, engaging, and wholesome.


Being true to myself, true to the ideas, and true to knowledge are essential points of scholarly integrity. In this sense, scholarship echoes and embodies the spiritual path. Scholarly work requires a commitment to truth and knowledge, both for its own sake and in relation to the values it embodies and enacts. Rather than a supposedly values-free science, scholarship as spiritual path demands engagement with values and ethics, and the continual searching out of new value formulations and scholarly embodiments of that. A living spirituality implies an ongoing evaluation and evolution of ethics, and a penetration of deeper meaning and values in a lifetime of service. Scholarship can be one form of that service, and for it to be so demands ongoing integrity to the process of bringing forth that which flows from one’s spiritual values.
Integrity also demands being true to oneself, as an embodiment of spirituality and a living spiritual process. Knowing one’s own limits and preferences, trusting oneself, and yet being willing to go beyond one’s limits and preconceptions— these are paradoxical demands of integrity to oneself.
Integrity towards the ideas means not twisting other’s ideas to serve one’s own interpretations, but meeting them with a fresh gaze and on their own terms. This is similar to Gadamer’s hermeneutics5– we will always bring our perspective and our interpretation, but if we are to have integrity, we must still approach the voice of a text in terms of what that voice might want to convey, in a process of honest conversation. Such an approach is also valid on the spiritual path— meeting texts, practices, and sources of spiritual authority requires a similar kind of integrity.


If we are honest with ourselves, we don’t have any idea what is going on, but we are still going to give it our best shot. For me, this message is existentially accurate, and also comes from the lived experience of doing scholarship and training in being an academic. The entire process of writing a dissertation (and I am only at the proposal stage!) seems to be an exercise in not-knowing, and in having to face up to one’s own truths and demons about knowledge, discipline, integrity, community, and working with others. In this sense, the scholarly process can be one of unmasking— seeing oneself more clearly as one is, seeing the world more as it is. Rather than hiding behind ideas or rote knowledge, there can be an ongoing engagement with the scholarly process in a way that is radically honest— about not-knowing as well as one’s own shortcomings.
Honesty also extends to our relationship with others— colleagues, committee members, students, and future readers and consumers of our research. To the degree that we are honest about our intentions and earnest in following through on them, to that degree our posterity will be able to find their own relationship to our ideas and research. By being forthcoming, we ease the way for future generations to make their own way as scholars and spiritual practitioners.

Buddhism More Specifically

This section relates scholarship more specifically to the Buddhist path, although some of what I have to say may well be useful to folks who practice in other traditions.

Acknowledging Conceptual Limitations

A major part of my own path is scholarship is understanding my own conceptual limitations. Knowledge and traditions are so vast that it is inconceivable that a person could master conceptual knowledge. Spiritual and scholarly lineage streams crisscross unendingly, and the orderly genealogical trees in some of our academic and Buddhist lineages belie the complicated and untrackable interaction of thousands of minds upon each other, many of whom might not even make it into the footnotes.
Going beyond conceptual mind is, in some sense, the foundational practice of the Buddhist path— “don’t believe everything you think,” as a popular dharma bumper sticker proclaims. Getting caught in believing in thoughts as real is a big problem, because it traps us in our preconceptions and makes us vulnerable to acting out whatever idea comes along. If we really look at our mind in the way that meditation and other practices train us to, we have to acknowledge that there’s a lot that’s going on that has very little to do with these ideas that swim through like so many minnows shimmering in the light. But to mistake the fish for the ocean is a great misunderstanding; so too to try to use practice to achieve a fishless ocean, a mind without thoughts. Thus, it is not that ideas are limited and therefore they are bad and we should get rid of them, but rather that ideas are merely one aspect of experience or awareness, and we should not mistake ideas or thoughts for all of experience.
Scholarly work also achieves this because the sheer cognitive load of scholarship exhausts the conceptual mind. Doing the heavy lifting of so much reading, writing, and synthesizing can be like lifting weights to exhaustion, and while this strengthens one’s scholarly skills, it can bring that rush of blissful calm that also comes to the gym rat— finally, the exhausted conceptual mind can rest. After a suitable recovery period, it’s time for the next session.

Aspirational Bodhicitta

Scholarship is good training in aspirational bodhicitta— the compassionate wish to be of benefit to all sentient beings. On one hand, the work of scholarly training, continually refining one’s skills and expertise in order to be able to help, is an ongoing practice that can be fueled by this profound wish. On the other hand, scholarship itself is in many ways an aspirational practice. Many scholars never implement their ideas or see concrete projects realized from them; to a large degree, idea generation and research is separate from practice and application in the contemporary organization of scholarship and knowledge production. Insomuch as this is true, scholarship is an aspirational practice, and a good training in aspirational bodhicitta6.

Actually Helping Other Beings

At the same time, many scholarly skills entail developing the capacity to actually help other beings. Clear writing, for example, can convey ideas much better than convoluted prose, but it requires work to develop. In this sense, the writer takes on the task of helping other beings up front, by having the discipline to write well so that others can understand more easily. In this sense, every effort the scholar has made at honing their skills pays off in the present, in presenting ideas clearly and powerfully so that others may benefit. My own academic training, then, is something of an accrual process— development and mastery of skills culminates in greater flexibility and capacity to be of service.
Another traditional aspect of academic work, along with research and teaching, is service. Although service is often less respected by a university’s administration and tenure committees, it is a real opportunity for scholars to put their expertise to work in order to bring benefit. I’m speaking a bit out of my league here, because at this point in my scholarly career I haven’t really engaged in service in this sense. Still, volunteer posts, internships, fellowships, advising student groups, and serving as a community resource in other ways are excellent ways to practice action bodhicitta.
Still another way to actually help other beings is in one’s social world of personal relationships, colleagues, students, and staff. By being a basically kind and nonviolent person one undercuts many of the sources of suffering that arise in the world. Continual scrutiny of and emancipatory practice of engaging with socialized forms of oppression— sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, and all the rest— is a powerful way to benefit beings by confronting the social forces that do harm. Such practice is a continual growth edge, no matter one’s position or stage of development as an emancipatory practitioner, and represents a vital way to be of benefit and reduce harm. Emancipatory practices are applicable in written scholarship, research design, relations with colleagues near and far, and in working with students, staff, faculty, labor decisions, the wider community, and all beings.

Training in the Practice

Training in the practice of scholarship as a spiritual path may benefit from a few key points. (These are written as much as reminders for myself, as well as for what benefit they may bring to you, dear reader.)

Letting Go

Letting go means letting go of a particular outcome, of clinging to a particular idea, or even being in control of the process of scholarship. Letting go means that creativity can occur and new understanding can arise. By holding only to what is known and what we can control, we limit the possibilities of reality and we constrain ourselves only to what is already established. In this we we prevent growth. By letting go of our positions, preferences, and need to know and be in control, it is possible to cultivate wakefulness, openness, and freshness. These are the ground of spiritually engaged scholarship.


Discipline refers to habits that develop the skills of scholarly and spiritual development, as well as the habits of mind, body, heart, and spirit that let go of fixed forms and cultivate goodness. Discipline could look like getting up on time, sticking to a daily writing commitment, and maintaining one’s spiritual practice despite the ups and downs of committees and publishing deadlines. Discipline also relates to a sense of decency towards others— not letting one’s own hang-ups and bad moods upset others, but acting intentionally and forthrightly in one’s social sphere.
There is a relationship between letting go and discipline, in that they mutually encourage each other. Trungpa Rinpoche 7 emphasized the sense of letting go within discipline as an ideal process of development in meditation. I believe this logic extends to scholarship as a spiritual practice as well— letting go within discipline brings precision, and discipline within letting go provides rigor which is carefree and without struggle.
Discipline may be the path of scholarship as a spiritual path— both in the sense of cultivating what one wishes to bring about, and in the sense of coming back to letting go and trusting in a spiritual kind of knowing that is quite beyond concept.


Courage is what develops from letting go and discipline. It is the courage to live one’s values fully, and to confront injustice and oppression. It is related to fearlessness 8, in the sense of going beyond fear. Courage does not mean that fear does not occur, but rather that one is big-hearted enough to welcome fear and then do it anyhow. Courage also means having trust in one’s spiritual practice, that one can find one’s way. When a research project or piece of writing is not going as one planned, courage makes it possible to stay open-minded and big-hearted— rather than contracting and getting small-minded, one can relax and ride the situation, rather than be ridden by it. It also means owning up to one’s mistakes, and being accountable to others.
Courage is the activity of scholarship as a spiritual path— how one manifests one’s values and stays present to things as they are.


“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”9

Learning to live the question, rather than search for answers; letting go of what you know, rather than only elaborating upon the known; turning towards the presently knowing openness of immediate experience, rather than clinging to thoughts— these have value. The essence, perhaps (and also, paradoxically, the fruition) of scholarship as a spiritual path is don’t-know-mind, the open empty mind of the beginner, the primordially fresh mind of present-moment wakefulness. Coming into honest relationship with that, having integrity with regard to that, and being humble about oneself in light of that, may be some keys to the spiritual path of scholarship.


I have presented some of my own ideas on scholarship as a spiritual path, based in large part on the inspiration I have received from others. I’d be happy to know more what your findings are, dear reader. Please feel free to get in touch.

  1. The East-West Psychology PhD at the California Institute of Integral Studies 
  2. Secular mindfulness as a ‘spiritual but not religious’ practice, Vajrayana Buddhism, and mahamudra/Dzogchen. 
  3. Simmer-Brown, J. & Grace, F. (Eds.) (2011). Meditation and the classroom: Contemplative pedagogy for religious studies. New York, NY: SUNY Press. 
  4. Ferrer, J. N., Romero, M. T., & Albareda, R. V. (2005). Integral transformative education: A participatory proposal. Journal of Transformative Eduction, 3(4). 
  5. Gadamer, H.-G., Weinsheimer, J., & Marshall, D. G. (2004). Truth and method (2nd, rev. ed). Originally published 1960. New York, NY: Continuum. 
  6. Gyatso, T. (2009). For the benefit of all beings: A commentary on The way of the Bodhisattva. Boston, MA: Shambhala. 
  7. Trungpa, C. T. (2005). The four foundations of mindfulness. In The sanity we are born with: A buddhist approach to psychology (pp. 24–42). Boston, MA: Shambhala. 
  8. Trungpa, C. T. (1984). Shambhala: The sacred path of the warrior. Boston, MA: Shambhala. 
  9. Suzuki, S. (1990). Zen mind, beginner’s mind. Originally published 1977. New York, NY: Weatherhill. 

Software Tools for Writing Projects

This is a list of tools for writing projects. If you’ve ever grappled with long documents, pulled out your hair due to persnickety bibilographic style requirements, or struggled with getting those first few ideas down, you’re in the right place. Hopefully some of this software can ease your pain and open the way to more productive writing activity.

I have also created a webinar on four of these tools (Scapple, Notebook, Scrivener, and Zotero), which you can check out here.

Research Management & Outliners

These tools are great for collecting and organizing research, planning your writing hierarchically, and keeping track of what you’ve read for use in literature reviews and research.

Circus Ponies Notebook

Circus Ponies Notebook is a cute, powerful, handy swiss army knife of a notebook application. I use it for a digital journal, for my total bibliography, and for several topic notebooks. It helps me outline my lit reviews, organize my annotations, and take class notes. The skeuomorphic style (i.e. it resembles a paper notebook) makes it easy to use– I love books, so I feel right at home. You can link between pages, search throughout your database, and follow a linear page order to organize your documents– and employ all these strategies at the same time. There’s no end to how long an individual page can be, or how deeply its outlines can nest; yet it still feels wieldy due to the table of contents, divider tabs, and automatically-generated multidex. Check it out!  (Mac only, $39.95 for students.) Update: Regrettably, as of Jan 2016, CPN is out of business. A real pity! Seems like OmniOutliner might be the best migration solution (CPN -> OPML), although linked images and diagrams will not carry through.


Evernote has had a lot of success branding itself as the cloud service to dump all the details of your life into. I have friends who love it, and who have pretty much gone the digital archive route with Evernote. There are free accounts and paid upgrades, and it’s a cross-platform solution (there’s even a Linux client, and a ‘more aesthetically refined’ Mac client). As a hybrid sci-fi-luddite, I love the writing software, but I prefer to keep it local– so this cloud-based solution is not for me. But check it out– you might like it. (Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, iOS. Freemium.)

Microsoft OneNote

Lots of people swear by OneNote for their note-taking. I tried it out and liked the free-form canvas, but I don’t really like storing stuff in the cloud, or signing up for a service that the provider warns might be taken down at any time. That said, if you trust Microsoft (and hey, who doesn’t?), OneNote could be a really great tool for you. Check out this blog post about note-taking and outlining with OneNote. (Mac and Windows. Freemium.)

Notational Velocity

This little gem lets you build a big text database and easily filter by searching. It’s designed to be minimalist, keyboard-driven, and hassle-free. The original version of Notational Velocity is Mac-only, as is its modifed brother NValt. I use NValt, which has some great extras, like MultiMarkdown preview, tag support, wiki-style links to connect notes, and other enhanced thingies. (Some of this may exist in the original NV, but I’m not sure which.) For Windows and Linux users there’s the python-based nvPY, which has the same basic functionality, but is uglier. (Windows users may need to use these special install instructions.) I also used nvPY on Linux, and later ported my ‘database’ to OS X– which is pretty easy, because it’s just a folder with text files in it. (Making NV perhaps the best future-proofed computerized database around. It is also possible to store your notes in a strongly encrypted format.) I mostly use NValt to manage my to-do lists and little fragments of text, but you could use it to manage a whole plain-text research database. (Free!)

More Outliners

Wikipedia has an extensive list of outlining software.

Brainstorming & Planning

Need to organize, brainstorm, plan, and discover structure? These visual-spatial tools help you build basic structures, generate new ideas, and understand connections among them quickly. Those who (like me) thrive on maps will find these quite beneficial.


What I love about Scapple is that it’s cheap, really easy to get ideas down on the page (screen), and it doesn’t force you into a hierarchical format. For mindmapping tools, this is by far the best in my book. When I need linear nesting, I’ll go to an outliner; but for non-linear complex connectedness, Scapple is where it’s at. Adding a new item is as simple as double-clicking and typing; to connect two items, just drag one onto the other, and a line appears. You can drag and drop images, URLs, and documents from your computer to embed or link to them, and color controls offer flexible styling. Literature & Latte offers a 30-day trial, so take it for a spin. (Mac and Windows. $14.99.)


FreePlane is a free, cross-platform, powerful mind-mapper. You can create vast maps, link to different parts, manage sub-nodes, style things however you want, and export in multiple formats. It has filtering tools to find specific items in your mindmap, and you can customize some hotkeys to make buried menu commands more accessible.  For hierarchical mind-mapping, it can be a really great tool. That said, its Java interface looked pretty clunky on my Mac, and the fonts just didn’t antialias smoothly. I’m pretty sensitive to GUIs, and hierarchical mindmapping still just isn’t my thing– I prefer roughing it out and then getting it in to shape. So I decided to return to Scapple and Notebook for my needs. But if you like large ramified trees to connect your information, you should definitely check FreePlane out.

Pen and paper

The classic! There’s nothing quite as satisfying as thick notebooks, huge hand-drawn diagrams, and sticky notes every which way. I’m a big fan.

Other Mind Mapping Tools

Wikipedia has an extensive list of mind-mapping tools, including handy feature comparison tables.

LifeHacker rated the five best mind-mapping tools in 2013.

Delineato Pro is a mapper and diagrammer with a lovely aesthetic, but the interface isn’t that natural for me. (Mac and iPad, $7.)

Composing & Managing Writing Projects

These software products help you concentrate on your writing, organize longer texts, organically grow the structure of your writing, and keep your writing projects on track.


The premier software tool for writers, Scrivener offers robust features, a strong user community, and a mature product. I can’t say enough about how great this product is, and neither can this enthusiastic academic. The longer I use it, the more I learn about how great it is. Really. Scrivener remains under active development, and they’re working on an iOS version, too. Definitely worth trying out– free 30 day trial. (Mac, Windows, and Linux. $45, academic discount available.)

Ulysses for Mac

An alternative to Scrivener, Ulysses is particularly suited to composing in Markdown. As I refuse to update to OS 10.10 Yosemite because of how it looks on non-retina Macs, I have not tried it. (Mac and iPad, $44.99; Mac version requires OS 10.10.)

Citation Management

Use a citation manager to create your personal bibliographic database, annotate documents, insert citations into papers, and automagically generate bibliographies.


Zotero is an excellent, robust, mature, well-supported cross-platform citation management tool. This will be the savior of many an academic and grad student, for it assembles bibliographies in a snap, and stores all your citation information at your fingertips. Definitely requires some work up-front to populate and curate the citation database, but after that, it’s all dividends, in terms of time saved and hassle avoided. It can sync your citation database to the cloud, let you share your library with others, and offers the option to pay for extra storage space (i.e. for synching your whole PDF library). It integrates easily with Word and LibreOffice, and with a little extra effort, can be made to play well with Scrivener. Zotero is available as a browser plug-in or in a standalone version. (Free, open-source, cross-platform.)


I haven’t used EndNote, but it’s there. Maybe the price tag is an issue? (Mac and Windows. $250 for one license, $115 for students.)


RefWorks is a web-based citation management tool. It’s costly, but many universities offer it free for their faculty, students, and staff. It remains to be seen what will happen to your account after you graduate! Hopefully you’ll be able to export to BibTex or something.

For CIIS readers who came here from my July 2015 webinar, know that CIIS offers RefWorks to its academic community. Visit the library’s Resources page and see the RefWorks link under “Academic Tools.”


Bookends integrates with Scrivener and Nisus Writer Pro (my main composition tools), but I can’t get over the interface, which seems clunky to me each time I try it. Again, I need aesthetic as well as functional elegance, but not all of us are so finicky… (Mac only, $60)


Mendeley is designed to provide a PDF research environment, a citation management database, and an academic collaboration platform all in one. I am cloud- and freemium-phobic, and I don’t like reference managers that require you to become part of their social network. (Again, my tech-savvy Luddite position.) All that to say that I don’t have much more to say about Mendeley, except that I tried it and found Zotero and my other solutions to be satisfactory. But hey, maybe it’s your cup of tea! (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android. Freemium.)

Software Efficiency for Graduate Students

These sites give some great tips for evaluating and using software in grad school.

Personal Knowledge Management for Academics and Librarians is a haphazard data pile of a blog that reeks of gold, if only you have the patience to mine it.

Catherine Pope’s Digital Researcher offers some nice posts about software tools for academic research, including 7 habits of highly effective researchers.

Crystal Renfro has curated a nice set of articles offering Productivity Tools for Grad Students, which I have only just discovered but will begin to plumb forthwith… just as soon as I finish that lit review, and get back those proposal comments, and finish writing this blog post… 😉

Organizing Creativity

Daniel Wessel’s great blog and book Organizing Creativity really helped me grapple with understanding and designing my research workflow. Check it out! It was really super-helpful– I crafted a workflow, learned about a bunch of these tools, and really began to understand the cycle of research. In fact, most of what I’ve presented above, I came to through Daniel’s work. His blog covers a lot of the ground of using digital tools for academic research workflows, but it’s also applicable for people working in fields other than academia. His book is helpful for writers of any kind, and really for anyone involved in any project that requires that new ideas be created, collected, organized, and implemented. You can download his book for free, and you should— and if you like it, you should buy it.

I hope these tools help you in your writing projects! Please give me a shout out in the comments if you’d like to let me know.

Personal Kanban: A Simple Tool for Tasks

Recently I moved from the Bay Area to Seattle, and I was in a crush of details– so many boxes needing to be moved, so many pieces of paperwork to be managed, and all the little things left right at the end of a move that don’t fit in any particular box. I felt overwhelmed and chaotic, paralyzed with too many details, and couldn’t choose which thing to do first.

Enter Personal Kanban. I found this technique on the web, and I immediately felt drawn to its simplicity and flexibility.

Three basic steps:

  1. Make a board (corkboard, whiteboard, software tool, whatever) with three columns: To Do, Doing, and Done.
  2. Put your to-do items in the To Do column. Limit your Doing column– maybe 3 or 5 items to start. (These are the things you’re currently working on, you don’t need to think about the To Do column until step 3.) Move done items to the Done column.
  3. When you have room for more work, pull items from the To Do column and put them into the Doing column.

That’s it!

I did my initial kanban on a corkboard (using scrap paper and pushpins), but now I use an outlining tool called Scapple to track my coursework and readings. There are also web-based options, but I generally like keeping things simple– so for now it’s Scapple and the occasional corkboard (once I move to my next place in Portland later this month…)

The most recent version of my kanban:

My Personal Kanban (in Scapple)

My Personal Kanban (in Scapple)

Intrigued? Here are a few links I found helpful:





Happy New Year!

Happy Solar New Year to one and all. I hope 2014 brings you great joy and progress in your endeavors, and draws you closer to the ones you love & the sources of authenticity and strength in your life. I hope we can work together to realize our heart truths, foster healing community, and act skillfully to bring about swift social and spiritual liberation. May the Force be with you!


I graduated from Naropa University last week, with an MA in Contemplative Psychotherapy. After three years and a lot of work, it’s finally over.

A friend took a photo of me outside:

Alex Palecek, as seen before entering Macky Hall at CU-Boulder for Naropa's 2013 Commencement Ceremony, May 11, 2013

Y.T., as seen before entering Macky Hall for Naropa’s 2013 Commencement Ceremony, May 11, 2013

It was splendid to have my family, friends, and classmates assemble for the ceremony, and for some festivities afterwards. Thanks everyone, for such a wonderful program and the subsequent celebration!