How to Use Mac Apps to Build a Complete Digital Workflow
I am a PhD student in social sciences. About a year ago, I officially entered the stage of doctoral research. I soon discovered that unlike the master’s and undergraduate levels, I was under pressure to publish articles without adequate mentorship, so I began to think seriously about how to build my own knowledge management and task management system. Thanks to the many enthusiastic authors in the minority who have shared, I have learned and tried a variety of note-taking tools, task management tools, and methodologies during the year, and successfully wasted a lot of learning time.
However, although I download and use it immediately every time I see a new tool I like, I always have a hard time sticking to it. After countless attempts to abandon the cycle, I found that the most important thing was not the tools themselves, but the “box” that housed them—how to integrate file management, project management, knowledge management, and so on in the simplest and clearest way.
But it is precisely these basic things that most of the sharing does not mention in detail, they may not have any technical content, but they are the most needed by beginners. So I want to share with you how I used the Mac desktop as my digital stationery box to build a simple digital academic workflow that might help my beginners.
First, let’s talk about a common problem:
Why do I see that a certain note-taking tool introduced by so-and-so blogger is very cool and very suitable for my own needs, but it just can’t be used?
There may be several reasons for this:
- Tools are too expensive to learn and difficult to get started.
- The tool conflicts with the function and work habits of the tool you are using, and you can’t fully integrate into your workflow.
- It takes time and energy to use the tool too lazy, and it does not develop the habit of using it, resulting in procrastination.
In my own exploration experience, these aspects of the problem generally coexist.
For example, when I first learned about logseq, a double-chain note-taking application, I thought it was the perfect note-taking tool, so I immediately downloaded it and tried it out, recording a variety of things in its dailynote every day, including daily tasks, future plans, meeting minutes, research inspiration, reading notes, project summaries, etc., and then using double-chain to organize it.
But after a while, it was found that it conflicted with the previous tools. For example, my document pdf is managed with Zotero, which leads to opening two applications at the same time every time I consult the literature, although you can also use the Zutilo link to jump directly from logseq back to Zotero, but why not write down the notes directly in Zotero?
So I started using tools like Obsidian and Notion and tried to build an all-in-one system. But I soon found that it was too difficult for a rookie like me.
Although these tools can include project management, schedule management, and even file management, they are not easy to use. If you build project notes within these tools to manage the progress of your research topic, but how do you handle the relationship between project notes and daily notes? Are meeting minutes recorded in a journal or in project notes? Where do some temporary ideas go? How are the many accessories generated during the project managed? How to display the status of each project in a simple and straightforward way?
Finally, after painstakingly running through the entire process in one note-taking tool, I found that it took a lot of courage to open the note-taking app every time. Finally after not opening it one day, it was no longer used.
A similar problem exists in the conflict between various task management tools and note-taking tools. For example, where should I summarize my completion by using a task management tool to record a task and complete it? Tools such as tick lists can even attach attachments to the list – what is the use of folders?
How to solve the above problems? The most important thing is to create a suitable digital stationery “box”, which should first be free of use, within reach, and can perfectly fit the tools of task management, document management, knowledge management, document reading, and writing output.
For someone like me, who has a zero-code foundation and doesn’t like to toss and turn, what is simpler and more accessible on a computer than the desktop itself? The following will introduce my digital stationery box from the three aspects of project file management, schedule and task management, and daily workflow.
Use Desktop, Folder & Sticky notes to complete file management and project management
Using desktop partitions to manage files and applications is not new, and you can find a lot of related wallpapers on the Internet, as well as special tools like Fences on Windows and icollections on Mac. I personally feel that using the desktop is easy enough to integrate project management with file management. Following the file management ideas of P.A.R.A., the following desktop space is constructed:
The first is the project file area. In my daily work, I use the logic of project + time to manage files, for each course, every research topic, every project assigned by the tutor, every thing I want to do, I will create a folder, and use the “start year – start month – file name” logic to name.
A new project document is created in each project folder to record the cause, expected plan, discussion record, summary, etc. of each project, and use “date + file name” to manage various outcome files.
For project management, I divided the entire project file into three parts (drawn directly on the wallpaper with Photoshop or PowerPoint), with the Doing part being the work currently underway, the Todo part being the work that was intended to be done but not yet started, and the Later part being the work that had started but was suspended for various reasons. When I need to change the state of the project, I only need to move the project folder to the corresponding area to do so, without any operation cost.
In addition, I use the Sticky Notes tool to aid in project management. Sticky notes on the desktop are used to manage the books you are reading, reminding yourself that there is a beginning and an end; The sticky notes below are used to briefly describe projects that you want to do but don’t have a specific plan of action to remind yourself not to forget.
The second is the temporary file area, mainly put all kinds of download files and temporary file pictures (placed on the far right because the download and saving of files to the desktop is always stored by default on the far right), if the file can not be immediately processed or classified, it will be placed in the middle of the pending file area, which includes all kinds of unprocessed data files, as well as a variety of pending fragments of daily affairs files (placed in the middle of the reason is that here is the most eye-catching, can remind themselves).
Finally, there is the common file directory area. When a project or pending file is completed, it is moved into the corresponding annual folder. Those commonly used files will be classified into the corresponding library folder. In addition, some commonly used documents such as PPT templates and habit record tables are also placed in this section.
In this way, project management and document management can be combined with the most basic tools.
Tricks: Right-clicking “View Display Options” on the desktop automatically aligns desktop files to a grid, and you can adjust the spacing of icons
Use Calendar, Itsycal & Due to complete schedule and task management
Projects need to rely on daily work to land, and the orderly advancement of daily work depends on perfect schedule and task management. I also chose to use simple tools – the system comes with its own calendar + an open source application Itsycal for project schedule and task management, and due for daily transaction management. With this system, you can split the project into each day without pressure on the desktop, and arrange what you need to do.
Specifically, in the calendar, only the project work that requires me to prepare in advance and is in contact with the outside world is recorded. These projects include academic and complex matters of daily life, as well as projects of personal interest such as contributing to minorities.
In Cause, it records everyday tasks that don’t need to be prepared in advance but are easy to forget, such as taking medicine, talking to family on the phone, going to the supermarket to buy things, and so on. Responsible’s strong reminder keeps me from forgetting. A detailed description of this tool can be found in this article.
How do I specifically distinguish between the two tools? For example, if the tutor informs the group next week that they will introduce a certain research progress, I will record the “group meeting, introduce xxx topics” on that day on the calendar, but if I only participate in the group meeting and do not need me to prepare, I will not record it on the calendar, but only use the Due setting cycle to remind myself not to forget the weekly group meeting.
In practice, there is a problem with calendars: they can’t be easily opened and viewed on the desktop, and Itsycal solves this problem perfectly. Itsycal is an open source calendar tool on Github that makes it easy to view and add calendar items to the menu bar, and it’s very small and cute. With the help of this tool, we can integrate schedule management into the stationery box of the desktop. As for Due, I believe that no one can ignore the strong reminder that pops up once every five minutes (of course, using the mobile phone can also achieve the effect).
By stipulating that events in the calendar must interact with the outside world, delays can also be avoided to some extent. I think one of the main reasons for delays in the type of work that requires self-control of the PhD students is the lack of feedback. For example, writing an article and entering “x month xx day to complete the first draft of the article” in the task management system may be full of motivation at the beginning, but writing with your head covered will always feel unsatisfactory, and you will start to delay when you change it. At this time, you need to force yourself to come up with results through some methods of external interaction, such as recording in the calendar “x month xx day to find a tutor to discuss the article” “x month xx day to send a public account note”, etc., perhaps at that stage the article is not perfect, but “completion is far more important than perfection”, this is an effective task.
Of course, it doesn’t matter if it’s not done, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, just move things back during the daily inspection. What the task management system fears most is not the adjustment of the dead line, but the avoidance of management because of the fear of adjustment. Task management tools that never open are the worst tools.
Use journaling, reading tools, editing tools & several productivity tools to establish daily workflows
Document management, project management, task management systems do not help us to automate the work, tasks still need to rely on their own hands to complete. Similarly, PhD students suffer from procrastination in their day-to-day work (especially when you have a sheep herding boss). For people like me with weak willpower, getting rid of inefficiency first has to establish a fixed workflow habit, how much work is done every day is not the most important, what is important is that we need to know what we do every day. Then we have to find tools to do our day-to-day work.
Build fixed work habits
First, let’s move on to the first point. Using the journaling concept of the Roam Research note-taking tool and Lyubishev time recording, I use a templated diary to establish fixed work habits and record what I do. Every night, the last thing you do before going to bed is to check the day’s diary to see if the work is done, and what you haven’t done must be moved to tomorrow’s diary and added to the things you want to do. The first thing I do when I wake up the next day and turn on my computer is to open the diary of the day and write a few random words. After starting work, every time I started/completed something or had something I wanted to record every day, I would record it in my journal and start with the time at that time, such as “0900, start writing minority contributions” or “1310, just met x teacher on the road, briefly chatted about xx topics, he gave some advice…” Before I take a break every day, I write a daily summary of how much time I worked today, what I did, how efficient I was, and some bits and pieces of my thoughts. That way, after a while I can clearly know what I’ve been doing lately and think about the next steps to improve.
In practice, I mainly use Bear to keep my own diary. Bear’s widget allows you to swipe from the right side of the trackpad to easily call out your diary on your desktop. Of course, the specific tools are all there is to it, with memos, Craft, Notion, Roam Research, and so on, but for me, Bear is simple, reliable, beautiful and inexpensive enough, although they have not been updated.
I also use a tool called Klokki Slim to record my working hours. This is a free forward timing tool available on the App Store that can classify the time spent by job category and automatically summarize the statistics that are very suitable for recording working hours. Best of all, it can quickly turn on and pause the timer in the menu bar, which blends perfectly into my desktop stationery box.
Finally, I use Excel tables to count my working hours. I set up a time log table in the common file area of the desktop, which I can easily open every day and record the working hours derived from the diary. In addition, Excel can easily complete the needs of all kinds of habit punch card records – no need to use any advanced tools, simple and practical is the most important.
Use simple tools to get your daily work done
Then come to the second point. Referring to the note-taking methodology proposed in the book “Card Note Writing Method” and the idea of project management, I established a daily workflow of flashing notes + document notes + permanent notes + project notes. The specific methodology will not be repeated, this part of the tools and processes is the most discussed on the Internet, you can see the content of the book, or a series of articles with teacher Yanyan, which has helped me a lot.
I’ll focus on how I use simple tools to practice the above methodology around the Mac desktop. In simple terms, I didn’t record these types of notes into the same note-taking tool, which, as mentioned earlier, is confusing and doesn’t conform to the principle of building workflows around the desktop. Instead, use tools to record flash, document, permanent, and project notes, respectively, and use productivity tools to connect them around the desktop. Since these tools have been described in detail by many friends, I will not repeat the use of functions here, but briefly talk about the reasons for choosing.
I use flomo to take flashing notes. The main reason is that flomo can quickly add and view notes in the menu bar, allowing you to quickly record inspiration without switching screens, perfectly integrated into the workflow of the desktop.
Off-topic, I personally think flomo is not very well associated with other note-taking systems, and I would prefer to use a tool like Write Lasson that can link flashing notes and document writing, but unfortunately its function is not perfect.
I mainly use Zotero previews and Marginnote3 to keep my literature notes. where Zotero and Preview are used to manage and read documents and shorter PDF documents, and to undertake the task of document note-taking collection; Marginnote3 is used to read books and long documents.
I don’t think the ability to import PDF annotations all into other note-taking apps and add links is not as useful as you might think. At least in my reading experience, the highlighted annotations are fragmented and fragmented, and many times just annotations are just a few words, and they must be placed in a complete context to understand what the meaning of the annotations is. If you always pay attention to whether you can express the complete meaning when annotating, it will greatly increase the burden of reading.
Therefore, the literature notes are divided into two parts. First, highlight the annotations and Marginnote cards, and I am used to adding text boxes directly to the PDF page and briefly writing out my comments in red characters – this is more intuitive and more in line with the original paper reading habits. The second is to summarize what this article says and what I have to say, and I will use Zotero’s note-taking function to record it – so that it can be related to the topic of the article, and there is no need to open two apps at the same time when reviewing.
I use Obsidian to keep my permanent notes. Personally, I think this part of the notes is what really needs to be used for double-chain notes. I mainly learned to learn from the use of KG note-taking to organize my permanent notes, and only used Obsidian’s most basic double-chain, knowledge graph, outline and other functions to extract knowledge points from the literature to establish permanent notes. Interested friends can refer to this link. As an aside, Obsidian’s editing experience is just too bad, especially the fake WYSIWYG to be compared to logseq, Roam Research and other tools, but it does have a lot more features.
Project notes are stored in a project folder on the desktop. Use Typora to create markdown documents for project documents you see; For documents that need to be produced externally, use Word. Both tools open documents from the desktop and adjust the document location at the system level to fit into my desktop workflow.
Finally, the tools above need to rely on some efficiency tools to work smoothly on the desktop. Time limits to simply listing these tools – they are, of course, very simple.
- Alfred: The well-known productivity tool, uses only its shortcut keys to open apps and files from the desktop (which can also be replaced with the system’s own Spotlight).
- Rectangle: An open source desktop window management tool for managing the placement of windows when multiple windows are opened, is especially useful when multiple application windows need to be used at the same time.
- AltTab: An open source app switching tool, previews the interface when Shift + Tab switches app windows like Windows, improving the efficiency of selection.
- App Uninstaller: The only paid utility I have used, and it is the best Mac app uninstaller to uninstall the apps I don’t need.
- System Dispatch Center: The system comes with its own tools, you can quickly switch between apps and desktops through trackpad gestures and trigger angle settings. The setting trigger angle is particularly suitable for mouse operation, and only need to move the mouse to achieve call-out and switch desktop operations.
At this point, I’ve got a largely complete look at the simple digital workflow I use today built around the Mac device.
Finally, I want to say that tossing tools may not be related to their own output, and some students around them who are really good academics do not care about any efficiency tools or workflows, and they can make good results with only Word and folders.
Published by Tony Shepherd & last updated on October 13, 2022 2:38 am