Essential Productivity Tools for PhD Students

Ok, Ok, let me be clear from the beginning. The title is quite misleading. Obviously it does not matter where you are in life. These productivity tools and advice can work just as well or better for you. Being a student, I want to share my perspectives and experiences with productivity tools. These are tools I have used for the past 6 years. They have worked well for my academia needs and I think they might work well for you too. However, every person is unique and what works for me may not work for your. However, these tools may give you a starting point. I also want to share that I am constantly looking for new and improved sources of productivity.

I’m not going to make you wait any longer, here’s the list:

a notebook (an actual notebook and your favorite writing utensil)
WorkFlowy
files & folders (w/a discussion about OneNote & DevonThink)
TextEdit
MS Word & Excel
Arq Backup
Day One
1Password
Dropbox
Google apps
CalcBot

a notebook: I use Leuchtturm1917 notebooks. I have used many notebooks and Leuchtturm1917 is by far my favorite. I use this notebook for everything. I take notes when in class with this notebook, I write down things I need to remember, I use a form of the bullet journal system, I create drawings and mind maps to help me clarify my thoughts. I also put a pocket in the back of my journal to keep various important items, such as my student ID, extra cash, … Since we are talking about a physical notebook I will also share with you that my favorite pen is a uni-ball Signo 0.38.

files & folders: I love files and folders. I structure my files and folders with precision. The sky is the limit here for your needs.  Using your favorite file management tool (I use Finder which comes with a Mac), if I used a PC I’m not sure what I would use, probably the windows file manager system. I don’t need anything to technical. I just need to see my folder and its contents, and I want to be able to organize them by date created. That’s it. I’ve used OneNote/DevonThink extensively during one of my academic years as an undergraduate. I liked them, I just want the most possible control I can find. Files and folders gave me that ability. The only thing I miss from OneNote in particular is the layout. OneNote’s layout is beautiful. When I moved to the files and folder method I exported all of my OneNote’s into a file and folder structure. This took a couple of hours to do, but I’m glad I did it. All of my files are native and I can move and access them anywhere.

TextEdit: If I’m not using a notebook & pen then I am using TextEdit (notepad for PC). I use textedit much more than a notebook simply because I keep my tasks instructions (specifically the instructions) in a txt file. For example, if during the week I am required to write a paper and complete an assignment, I will create a txt file to list out these instruction for quick access. With finder I simply hit command + space bar and input my file name and it appears like magic.

MS Word & Excel: Well, this is self explanatory. My classes required a standard word processing format so I use Microsoft Word and Excel. If I could use anything I would probably still use both of these anyway. They have many features, universal, and I have been using them for the past 25 years.

Arq Backup: This is my newest productivity app. It just sits in the background but I love it so much. I have it connected to AWS S3 and Google Drive. I backup all my files and folders. I have many important files that I just can’t afford to lose. Arq Backup takes care of it for me. It provides versioning which I feel is more than essential. I sleep better at night with this software.

Day One: This is also one of my newest productivity tools. It’s just my journaling app. I enjoy writing and getting ideas and thoughts out of my head and I use Day One to accomplish this. During the past 5 days I am also using Day One for my blog publishing. I really enjoy this app.

1Password: I remember when I first downloaded this app. I was so skeptical and wasn’t sure it would work for me. I have had it for about 2 years and I life without this app must have been horrible. Ok, not horrible, but not as convenient. I used to keep all of my passwords in an Excel password protected spreadsheet. Now, when I go to a website I simply click command + \ and whahla, I’ve logged myself in. Plus, my whole family can have their own account with one license. It’s great.

Dropbox: I trust you are already using dropbox. I keep everything in dropbox. I could, literally, very literally, through my computer in the pool or set it on fire and beside being out money I wouldn’t lose one single document. I would simply re-download dropbox and they would be available, and if for some reasons they weren’t there I would head over to my S3 server and “get” ‘em.

Google apps: I have tried so many different email clients and calendars. I just keep coming back to google. It’s all on the cloud and so convenient. Every so often I try to get into the native mail and calendar app, but always come back within days to google apps. It’s just simple and they are constantly improving their code to make them even better.

CalcBot: I purchased this probably 2 years ago. I think it’s a great basic calculator. I just like the way it looks and behaves. It does everything I need it to do.

WorkFlowy: This is one of my favorite apps. It’s just a basic outliner. I use it for everything. Instead of Wunderlist or any.do (countless others) I use WorkFlowy. I keep my to do lists, all of my university tasks are arranged by due date. I have to do this manually, but it’s worth it. I keep a backup in excel, just in case. However, WorkFlowy is very reliable, I have never had an issue with it. It syncs to my dropbox every night.

This is all I can think of at the moment, but I feel confident this is everything. Am I missing something vital? If so let me know in the comments – I love learning about new productivity strategies. I also want to take this moment to apologize to you for any post misspellings or major grammatical error. I am sort of rushing in getting these posts out simply because I am excited about my new blog and want to get meaningful content up as quickly as possible. In time, I may do a more thorough review.

Until next time… ♥

note: I realized this is very outdated as my workflow and recommendations have changed “slightly”. I will update when I get a chance. This is one area I like writing about the most.

I'm a psychology and educational psychology graduate now pursuing a PhD in Education at Ball State University. I am passionate with the idea that all students, no matter their background, are able to learn and be successful during their academic career and beyond.

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