The DUCKOMENT – one document to rule them all

A perfectly ordered office. Each thing in its allotted space. Harmony.

A perfectly ordered office. Each thing in its allotted space. Harmony. Too bad it is not my office.

By Jonas Waldenström

Being stressed by the backlog of papers you haven’t read is a defining property of modern academics. So many papers, so little time!

The organized fellows block time in their calendars for reading the latest articles – like every Friday between 09 and 12. But I consider these folks as outliers in the Ivory Tower time management distribution. Most of us print interesting papers, put them in a ‘to-read-later’ pile; alternatively stuff them in the bag on our way home.

But, no time like present; there is seldom more time later. Printed papers remain unread, and new papers arrive to contest with old ones. On the rare occasions that I clean my office I usually find three or four piles of neatly printed pdf:s that I forgot I ever sent to the printer. Alternatively, I find them cramped and wrinkled in the bottom of my bag together with the debris a domestic life with three kids generates (half a sausage, some old raisins, chocolate wrapper, a diaper, and unsalvageable pieces of toys).

Or if you do read them, how much do you remember later on? After a week, a month, or a year? I often get that tingling sensation that ‘I have read that somewhere’, but tracking the study down involves unleashing your inner Sherlock. As a side note, this actually happens with my own papers – ‘Hmm, didn’t I write that somewhere?’

This week I started another approach. Instead of the piles, boxes, bags and drawers, I created a master document. This document, cleverly titled The DUCKOMENT, is the one document to rule all documents. In The DUCKOMENT I immediately pin down the most important findings of a paper on ducks and influenza, separated under headings that make sense to me. In a way this is writing a loooong review, slowly line by line. I also put the paper in the reference managing system, so it is all done and not in another pile labeled ‘to include in Endnote’ (I already had three of those…). And I tabulate important data in an associated spreadsheet.

Time will tell if this is a smart move or not, but so far it is nice to see The DUCKOMENT slowly building reference by reference. As I store it in my Dropbox I can access it from home, on the road, in the jungle, in da office.

Regrettably, an alternative future is that I will have five copies of the file, each with a slightly different name, in different folders, in different computers, or more likely in a printed form under the sofa behind a diaper…

One document to rule them all,

One document to find them,

One document to bring them all

and in the darkness bind them.

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3 thoughts on “The DUCKOMENT – one document to rule them all

  1. each document gets a number (typically by date), a name and keywords
    which are listed in a computer file for search

    if you have a pdf or text or whatever it should have the same name or number

    when you sort paper-piles, you can sort by numbers, so you can refind it

    sometimes I also print pdfs on colored paper, one color per sub-category

    • I have used and Endnote and Reference Manager, and they both operate like that. You could also append a pdf to the unique identifier and access it directly from the software. My problem has more been the lack of carrying things through. With the delay from printing, to reading, to getting the article into the database, and then X months later cite the thing, you soon end up with tons of articles in limbo, or under the sofa in your home. Getting my duck stuff into a paper directly will (hopefully) short-track some of these issues. However, I read quite widely in other fields – and for teaching – so I guess I’ll still encounter the forgot papers on a regular basis. Thanks for reading the blog!

  2. sounds very familiar indeed – I have made the move to a more or less paperless office by now – meaning not so many unread paper piles around. I like the idea of the monster duckoment though – this is going to be the one in all review on about everything

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