Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tips and Tricks Text File

We've all had the experience of going back to an old, complicated project only to remember that you forgot all the little tips, tricks, and shortcuts you learned when working on it the first time. It sucks because you have to relearn it with that icky feeling of knowing that you've done it before but for the life of you can't remember how you got around these roadblocks. Concrete examples range from getting that graphing program to make your plots just right, formatting a paper for that one journal, a super useful keyboard shortcut, etc.

Those are the tips and tricks you wish you remembered. Sometimes for me, I also wish I could have a refresher course on the background of the project and the details that were sorted out at towards the end of it. This is especially useful when a paper comes back with requested revisions and you've been totally preoccupied with other projects that you haven't thought about the specifics in a while.

I've found that a beautifully simple solution is to put one text file in the main folder of that project titled tips and tricks. In it, while working on the project, you can jot down anything and everything you know you will want to know later, but won't remember: "Don't just press ctrl+c to copy the graph to right size, go to Edit -> Copy Graph -> Fix size -> Minimize white space to have it come out perfectly in Word."

I'm a big fan of GTD simplicity and this one embodies that spirit. It's one text file, with an obvious name, put in the same place (main folder) for every project and it stores all your goodies. It's not tucked away in the caves of old Outlook tasks, buried in a huge pile of Outlook notes, or buried in the endless ream of Evernote (although I'll concede that Evernote is something that can work if you're super good at picking the right keywords or are efficient at sorting through categories), or worse yet, buried in the endless caves of your mind. It's not fancy and for me, that's precisely why it works so well. I mean, it's in the project's main folder! Even if you're not looking for it, you can't help but read it when you open that folder, which can often lead you to so beautifully realize that there was, indeed, something in there you're glad you now remember.

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