50,000 views

Yesterday, we hit a new milestone. 50,000 views!  Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has read the blog, and special thanks to those who have shared and commented on blog posts.

Shall we delve into some stats? Go on, then. 

By a country mile, the most popular post on this blog is How I use Scrivener for academic writing (18,000 views). Followed by, How I use Excel to manage my literature review. And then, Scrivener and Endnote: a simple guide (both at 10,000 views).

The majority of visitors are from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, India, Spain, and South Korea. But today, we’ve already had visitors from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Guam, Portugal, and Norway. Wherever you are in the world, welcome!

And, randomly, the most popular day and time to view this blog appears to be Thursday, at 2pm…

So, what next? 

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It’s been three months since my last post.  Much has changed. My application for promotion to Associate Professor was accepted. I handed in the first chapter of my PhD. My article exploring the online trolling of autoethnographers was published. I am teaching a new group of students, and supervising new legal cases. And outside of work, I spend the majority of my free time organising my forthcoming wedding.

This blog remains a major source of pride and happiness. And I have spent some time considering where we go from here. Clearly, academic writing will continue to be a central part of the blog’s content. I was asked a little while ago how I integrate supervisor comments into the Scrivener draft of my thesis – blog post on this coming soon!  But I’ll  also be introducing a new monthly feature, specifically aimed at those interested in clinical legal education. Watch this space! And thanks again.

Credits

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

Writing my PhD thesis using Scrivener

I started using Scrivener in April 2014. Out went Microsoft Word, in came the Greatest Writing Tool Ever. Just thinking about all the time I previously spent engaged in NEVER ENDING SCROLLING in Word makes me feel queasy.

The most popular post on this blog is undoubtedly “How I use Scrivener for Academic Writing“. I wrote it in 2015, and so far its been viewed over 20,000 times. In that post, I wax lyrical about my love for Scrivener. I explain how I’ve used Scrivener to write journal articles. And then, tucked away at the bottom, I make a throw-away line about resolving issues with citations (which I later did). I say I that I need to get to the bottom of the citation problem because I’m determined to write my PhD thesis in Scrivener. Fast forward two years and I am staring at my part-written thesis. In Scrivener.

This post looks at how I’m using Scrivener to write my thesis. It jumps straight in, so if you need to know more about Scrivener basics please read this post first. And if you want to know more about my PhD research, take a look at this.

And woe betide you miss this major health warning: As I’ve said with all my Scrivener blogs, this is not the definitive guide to how to work with Scrivener. It is merely how I use Scrivener. I’m still very much a beginner. Heck, I only found out the other day that when Van Morrison is singing Brown Eyed Girl, he’s saying  “la la la la la la la la la la dee dah’ and not ‘ la la la la la la la lucky duck’…. I’ve got a long way to go in life, generally.

My thesis at a glance 

This is what my thesis looks like, at a glance.

Thesis Scriv 2

On the left hand side you can see the folders making up the thesis. I have named each folder in line with traditional thesis sections and chapters. So there’s a folder for my literature review, a folder for my methodology chapter etc.

On the right hand side, I’ve selected the ‘outline’ view (VIEW>Outline). The outline shows me each folder, my total word count for each folder, my target word count. There is also a column called ‘progress’ but this doesn’t come into play unless you expand the information in the title (I’ll show you this in a moment).

Straight away you can see that I’ve spent most of my time on my literature review. I’ve given that chapter an arbitrary target word count of 20,000 words. I’ve written nearly half of that so far. I often go to this overview of my thesis when I have an “I Haven’t Done Anything!!! I’m So Far Behind!!” sort of day.

A closer look at Chapter 2

If I click on the folder marked ‘Chapter 2: Literature Review’, this is the view I get.

Chapter 2

Instantly you can see that I have a number of sections and even a sub-folder within my literature review chapter.  I have written about my objectives for the chapter and how I searched the literature. I have then started to produce my literature review.

As you might have noticed, this part is still very messy.  At the moment, it is more like a collection of notes. I create new sections, and I move existing sections around constantly. For me, this is the beauty of Scrivener. I can create a new section (Right Click>ADD>NEW TEXT), type a whole load of text, and then grab that section and move it anywhere I want. For example, if I wanted to move the section called ‘1970’ all I need to do is click on it and pull it down to where I want it to sit. No more cutting and pasting swathes of text, changing your mind and then having to re-paste it back in. With Scrivener, I’ve moved entire chapters around (and moved them back again) in seconds.

Delving into a section 

If I click on the section called ‘1970’, this is what I will see. I can go straight into that section and start editing on the right hand side.

1970s

If I want to be reminded of something I’ve written further down, I can use the split screen option. More about that here.

Citations? I’ve written about that here.

Snapshots 

My mind likes to jump about. Barely a day goes by when I’m not re-writing, re-assessing, and re-factoring ideas and information in my head. This happens mostly when I’m walking about. Or running. I’ve ‘written’ entire articles when on a run.

So I move things about in Scrivener a lot. I ‘dump’ ideas in there. I write and re-write. Sections that now reside in my methodology chapter, started out in my literature review.

How do I keep on top of this change? Using the snapshot tool.

Have a look at the picture below. On the left hand side you’ll see I’ve selected ‘1980’. So the column in the middle of the screen shows the text for that section.  On 9 August 2016, I spent a lot of time writing about the 1980s. I know the precise date because – as you can see on the right hand side – I took a snapshot of the section that day. I must have made quite a few changes on 9 August 2016 because I took a snapshot at 10:50am and then another one an hour later.

Snapshot

Can you see the ‘roll back’ button on the right hand side, under the + and – signs? Some people use snapshots as a back up – just in case you want to roll back to a previous edit. I haven’t needed to do that yet. I just like to see what that section looked like a year ago! It tells me that I’ve moved forward. And, if I go into crazy editor mode and decide to cull entire paragraphs, I’m not ‘losing’ any ideas.

Pushing on 

I’m a major fan of hyperbole (see what I did there?). But it’s not an overstatement to say that if I hadn’t started my thesis in Scrivener, I may have given up.  I had a period of leave last year, during which I was convinced I would never go back to the PhD. How could I? All that work was ‘lost’. Time passed, accompanied by an ever increasing erosion of confidence. Above all, I was overwhelmed by the thought of starting again.

sadPhoto by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

When I returned to work, I gingerly opened up my thesis on Scrivener. I think I had one eye open and a screwed up face.  But… (and hang on in there, this is going to sound a little off the wall) there it was:  my doctoral mind. Visually represented in Scrivener. All my ideas in little pockets. Some fully formed with lovely flowing sentences – with citations!. Others represented by folders or just a section saying something like ‘this is where you’ll write the bit about the ethics – for heaven’s sake don’t forget ethics’.  I could see the entire thing in front of me. I knew I had done it before, and I could do it again. And I could do it in chunks. Bit by bit.

Today, I’m approaching the halfway point of my PhD candidacy. If you are just about to start, or right in the middle of the process like me, I wish you all the best. And I hope this post has been useful.

Featured image: Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

I had an unhealthy relationship with work emails. We’re now divorced – I’m happier and more efficient.

I used to check work emails at 3am. Yes folks, that’s 3 o’clock in the morning.  Here’s an insight into my old 3am routine: wake up, pick up phone, click on email icon. Or, wake up, pick up phone, go downstairs for glass of juice, click on email icon, look like burglar with tiny torch illuminating face.

Later, on my way to work, I’d be checking emails again. Walking along the path, head dropped, sliding my finger down the screen, refreshing all the way to the Metro station. And then I’d have another look whilst on the Metro, because, you know, something might have happened.

Home from work. iPad out. There’s that email icon again. With numbers next to it. YOU’VE GOT EMAIL. EMAILS. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LOOK AT THE EMAILS.

I suspect you may be getting the point. I won lots of lovely prizes last year. But funnily enough, the one I most deserved but didn’t get was “Compulsive Work Email Checker of the Year“. I am saddened this prize does not exist. I would have undoubtedly received a delightful granite bust – of someone looking really miserable.

Because the compulsion to check work emails out of hours is not fun. Even if you’ve convinced yourself it makes you a really efficient colleague (spoiler: it doesn’t. More on this later). Or that your job is so important that you can’t possibly not check emails (again, hate to break this to you, it’s not). Or that it will make you feel better, because you’ll be ultra prepared for any request, new piece of information, or coming of the apocalypse.

That last one was my personal favourite. I was emotionally tied to checking my emails because I like to be super ready for all eventualities. If I could see at 3am what I needed to do later that day, I could run through my plan of action. If I read that email asking for something during my dinner, I had an entire evening to work out how I was going to reply. If I responded to the email directly before the funeral (yep, true story) then it would all be sorted for at least the next two hours, and no-one would be waiting for me to reply.

Something had to give (and it did). But, really, if your partner is telling you, with worry all over their face, that the first thing you did when you left the cinema was to look at your work emails (true story, again), then you should be getting those signals loud and clear. Time to sort this out. So I did. And I’m sharing this because I was that person. And I read so many articles, like this and this, and I still came up with really creative reasons as to why it wouldn’t work for me.

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If you’ve clicked on this because you too have an unhealthy relationship with work emails, then please rest assured that you can break that cycle. Honestly. You can. And life will be so much better. I promise.

This is what I did.  I’m not saying it’ll work for you, but hey, if I can change the habits of a lifetime anyone can. Here we go:

Take emails off your portable electronic devices

I know, I know. You should have seen my face when people used to tell me they didn’t have emails on their mobile. Now, I wait with glee to be on the receiving end of that face. The other day I think I may have sung “I don’t have emails on my phoooone” to a colleague, so happy that it was true. And then I waited for (and got) the face. It’s a swift combination of “are you technologically incompetent?” (nope), “have you joined a cult?” (not that I know of) and “you must get nothing done” (I do).

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What would we have done before we had emails on our phones/tablets, eh?

How about this? Be more prepared. I am actively more prepared because I can’t rely on my phone to tell me what I’m doing or going to do. I print off travel plans days in advance and put them in my bag.  I work out what I’m going to focus on each week, and then stick to it. I know what I’m doing and when I’m doing it because I have a really clear idea as to how the week is going to pan out. I’m no longer running around relying on a device to tell me what’s next.

Genuinely (I promise I’m not making this up), I’ve become more efficient since I stopped checking emails out of hours. In the last few weeks, I’ve taught students, written an article, reviewed four colleagues’ teaching and filled in the associated forms, set up a writing retreat (and retreated), corresponded with over 60 individuals for a large project I’m working on, got an international team of wonder lawyers together, mentored staff for various awards, sorted out an abstract, marked coursework, and second marked. And that’s just what I can think of right now. I’ve done more. All in work time. I’m quicker. I make decisions with less hesitation. Rather than leave something to simmer*, I deal with it in work because I no longer have the ability to draft emails late into the night.

*fester/panic over

Be out of the office (like, really out of the office)

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The best thing about having email free devices is that when you are not at your desk, you are really not at your desk. My lunch used to consist of speeding along, phone in hand, to the closest sandwich shop frequently checking whether anything was occurring at work and not really paying attention to anything else.  Today, I had a wander for half an hour and realised that The Doobie Brothers’ What A Fool Believes was playing in one of the shops. The Doobie Brothers were probably on all the other times I went for my lunch. But I wouldn’t have noticed, because I was too busy being busy. And that, my friends, is a travesty.

You’re also not at the office when you’re eating breakfast, or having dinner. But you force yourself to be there in spirit if you’re sitting with your phone/tablet on your knee/table/cushion etc. A head full of work, all the time.

When I leave the office now, I really leave it.

Check your emails at specific times of the day

Back in the day (those dark, miserable, granite bust deserving days), my working from home consisted of repeatedly looking at my emails whilst I worked. So I was on top of anything coming in. And totally distracted. And waiting to be distracted.

Now, I have a lovely out of office reply that says I’ll be checking my emails at 12pm and 3pm and I’ll respond as soon as I can. And I do. But outside of those times I’m getting on with things that are important, like reviewing a colleague’s application for HEA Fellowship, or designing teaching activities, or writing a section of my next article. And I can give those tasks my full attention. Because I’m not on the lookout for the little envelope in the corner.

My other half was overjoyed when he realised I had done this. Primarily because it was his idea, but also because I had long rebuffed his suggestions for dealing with emails with things like “but I need to be available” and “what if I don’t know what’s happening?”. Back in the day, the idea of checking email at certain times would have sent me into howls of laughter. How would people cope if I didn’t reply right away? Turns out they’re fine, actually.  I get things done. I’m clear about when I’m dealing with emails. No-one has batted an eye at my new routine.

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Pay your colleagues a visit 

The more you learn about your own email habits, the more you realise how you impact on other people. I now make a special effort to use email as minimally as possible. If I need to attach something – fine. If I’m working from home and have to get a quick message out – that’s okay too. But if it’s a longer chat I need, I pick up the phone or go pay my colleagues a visit.

There’s two reasons for this. First, I’m really conscious that I add to other people’s inbox and I know how that feels. I’m actively trying not to do that (still working on that one). Secondly, talking to people is nice. You can do nuance when you chat. You can be funny and not come across as weird. You can sort things out together in 5 minutes, rather than spend 15 minutes constructing an email, then waiting for a reply, then when one comes  in take another 10 minutes sorting out a response.

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If it’s urgent, someone will call 

Things can wait. If they can’t, and its urgent, you’ll get a phone call. No-one emails you to tell you your dog has gone missing in the woods.

Some final thoughts….

I very nearly didn’t write this blog. I’m not a fan of evangelising, and I’m certainly not out to be an ‘advice’ guru. But then I read Melissa Febos’ amazing article Do you want to be known for your writing, or your swift email responses?. Everything Melissa said rang true. But she truly hit me in the gut when, right at the end of the article, she wrote Do Not Die of Emails. She’s absolutely right. Email is great, and after writing this blog I’ll probably send one or two. But, when email starts to control you, rather than the other way around, it will sap your soul.

I’m going on holiday tomorrow. Las Vegas. I’ve sorted everything out, put it all in place. I’ve done last minute urgent favours for colleagues (crucially, taming your emails does not mean you turn into a selfish idiot). And I’ve got my out of office ready. This time (for the first time in over a decade) when I write “I’m out of the office”, I actually will be. And it will be joyous. And I will be on holiday, and return a refreshed and better colleague. See you on the other side.