back to school tools

I thought, since class starts tomorrow, I would put up a post highlighting some of the computer software and websites that I use pretty much daily throughout the school year. These range from scheduling and productivity apps, to word processing and powerpoint apps.

Scheduling, Productivity, etc. Mail is the most used program by far. I have three mail accounts, one for MSU, one for Historic St. Mary’s City, and another from .mac (now mobileMe). The first two are used for professional correspondance, while the latter is used for networking sites, online purchases, and anything else that will generate a lot of junk mail. I love Mail since it syncs and coordinates with my Contacts, iCal, and now, with my new iPhone.

iCal: iCal allows me to keep track of all my different schedules. Attending class and working two jobs creates plenty of confusion, and iCal allows me to pick and choose what I need to look at. Once I get my syllabi for my classes, I go through and add all the assignments to each iCal entry for that class, so I don’t need to carry around the sheets of paper with me. Again, iCal works with and the iPhone, so I don’t have to worry about synching.

Contacts: Apple’s contacts are an incredible database program. Again, it is compatible with iCal and My favorite feature, however, is the ability to search online directories. This has been incredibly helpful with MSU; I can look up anyone’s phone number, email, or office number through Contacts. Also, it works so well with, that I can just start typing the name of someone, and their email pops up on the send section.

OmniFocus: OmniFocus is my To Do list, based of of the GTD theory of productivity. It allows me to break everything I do into projects, and then each project into a series of action based to do lists. The iPhone app lets me carry this list around with me, and the iCal sync allows me to put these To Dos on the iCal To Do list. Also, with a keystroke, you can add To Dos to the Inbox to be sorted out later. This is great function because it doesn’t upset my workflow when I’m working on another project and randomly think of something I need to do relating to another project.

Today: Today is a pretty simple calander program, that allows me to, with one simple key stroke, pull up a quick glance at my daily schedule and my daily To Dos. it syncs with iCal (which syncs with OmniFocus), so everything I need for the day is put into one nice, tidy window that hides itself except when I need to look at it.

Freedom and 3-2-1: This app is pretty nifty. It entirely shuts off your computer’s ability to contact the network for a certain period of time, of which you get to choose. For those of you like me, who can be easily distracted by the newest article at, or are compulsively checking sports scores, or find themselves hounding facebook, or reading blogs, then this program is critical. The only way to get the network working again is to restart your computer. 3-2-1 is a mac countdown widget that I use to time myself after Freedom lets me back on the internet. I give myself 15 minutes to surf around and check my mail, and then give myself the choice of running Freedom again, or another 15 minute break. This way, I have to make the choice to continue to not work. I find that I am taking smaller breaks.

Workflow, Databases, Word Processing, Research

DevonThink Professional: DevonThink is the most powerful software I have ever seen or used. It allows for the complete search and reading of pdf files; it actually reads the pdfs to tell you what files are best suited for the keywords you have searched for. It is like having a research assistant. Currently, I have one database devoted entirely to articles. For each large research project I work on, I usually create another database for notes and compilations of important documents. I also use a DeveonThink database to store all of my various passwords (you can lock documents, so this document itself is password protected. In essence, that means I only have to remember one password).

Scrivener: This is another program that gets an unbelievable amount of use. Scrivener is a word processing app, but is project oriented. It allows me to outline, corkboard, and include research files, images, etc. all in the same place. Before I start writing, Scrivener is the place where all of my research and data goes and is sorted. Outlining allows me to split up my project into small sections; I then attack each section at a time, splitting my paper or presentation into small, easy to manage groups. Combined, Scrivener and DevonThink are the two most important pieces of software I use.

Sente: This application is used for citations. It allows me to search a number of different libraries for references, along with Google Scholar, which incorporates such article databases like JSTOR. It also has drag and drop bibliography construction, so I can simply collect all the citations for one project in a bibliography, then highlight them all and drop them into my Scrivener document. The citations automatically morph themselves into whichever format I have chosen.

Google Scholar: I use Google Scholar to do my preliminary searches for research. It searches JSTOR, which searches most periodic journals. It is by no means all inclusive, but it is great for preliminary research. The Society for Historical Archaeology has restricted access to its electronic copies of journal articles, so I have to maintain my membership with the society in order to be able to search their database. Regardless, this is an extremely valuable resource for historical archaeologists.

Keynote: I use Keynote for my powerpoint presentations, as it is a pretty slick piece of software. I also sometimes use it when I am compiling images for papers, since I prefer its editing interface over anything else.

Aperture: I use this program to manage all of my images. It is incredibly sophisticated, and I’m pretty sure I’m only glazing the surface. As far as organization is concerned, this is far better then iPhoto.

The Karelia iMedia Browswer: I just found this program, and it is perfect for tying everything together. Basically, it is the equivalent of the iMedia browswer that is available in many apple programs. It allows you to have your audio files from iTunes, your photos from iPhoto or Aperture, and your bookmarks from Safari in a window, so you can drag and drop things into varying programs. Such a browser is not available in Scrivener, so this program allows me to use it anyway.


iPhone: I just got the phone, and already I can see how it will be playing a role in my research. Just the ability to have my calander, mail, contacts, and to do list with me all the time will be incredibly helpful. But also, I just downloaded a program that will allow me to read pdfs on my phone; this way I will always have something to work on.

Levenger Pocket Briefcase: This is the perfect tool for libraries. I have been using this for a long while now, and have recently started using a similar tool that doubles as my wallet – combined with a Derringer Wallet Pen, and you have an unbeatable notetaking system, perfect for call numbers. Outrageously dorky? Yes. Unbelievably handy? Also true.

So, as should be no surprise to anyone who knows me, I require a lot of stuff to get things done. Does this make me or productive? I have no idea. I do know that I get more done now then I did before. In large part, I think it’s because the stuff helps to make getting things completed more fun, and I’d rather do things that are fun then things that are not. All in all, each program helps me to break things into smaller and smaller units, and since I have a small attention span at times, this helps significantly. At any rate, best of luck to all those who are starting school this year, be it as student, teacher, professor, or administrator!

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