My favorite software and apps for getting things done

I’ve always found it interesting to read about how other people use technology to improve their productivity, particularly in the social sciences. I thought it would be interesting to compare notes and share what I’ve found that works, so I put together this list of my most used/most reliable tools for doing research, administrative work, and organizing projects. FYI–I use Windows 10 and an iPhone 5 so this list is catered to those.

For organizing citations and .pdf copies of articles:

Mendeley Logo.png
Mendeley, Free software
During grad school I typically downloaded and organized my .pdfs in folder files and didn’t bother renaming them appropriately (I was lucky if I had time to read/annotate them, let alone organize them!). I recently re-downloaded Mendeley after I organized all of my school files and realized I had 300+ .pdfs that needed to be descriptively named/sorted. I like Mendeley for its attractive design (relative to other citation managers) and ability to automatically rename files with the proper information. It automatically searches .pdfs for appropriate citation data and you can add tags and notes, sort articles into folders, and search for keywords.
Honorable mention: Refworks, online
I used Refworks for citation organization and sharing in grad school. It’s useful if you’re working on multiple computers across campus/home, want to pull citation info and find the hard copies later, and for quickly creating works cited pages. However you’ll need a subscription (I had one through Memphis) and it doesn’t have the .pdf management power that Mendeley does.

For note-taking and journaling: 


Evernote, Web and mobile app, Free for Basic subscription

I’ve used Evernote for years on its web platform (great for working on multiple computers), desktop software, and iPhone and Android apps. I’ve used it for grocery lists, travel itineraries, blog post drafts, and research brainstorming. You can organize notes, lists, and documents into different notebooks, add tags, add pictures and tables, clip from the web, and it syncs across platforms. I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it’s capable of, and they also offer additional services for premium users (e.g. annotation, saving emails) at a cost.

On the field note and research side, it’s incredibly useful for observations and jottings–see this post on Anthropologizing.

For transcription:

Express Scribe software, Free
I think transcription is every anthropology student’s favorite activity! I’ve used express scribe for class projects and I think it’s a great resource for students who don’t have access to fancy equipment or more advanced automated technology.

For file management and sharing:

Dropbox, online and on my desktop, Free
Dropbox is incredibly popular for cloud storage and sharing–it’s easy use, attractively designed and free (for a limited amount of storage). I’m sure there are better cloud solutions out there (especially in business) but Dropbox has served me well so far. I use it daily for sharing files between my phone and laptop, backing up my pictures, and on my computer as a ‘desktop’ for organizing my files.
 Honorable mention: Google Docs. I like using Google Docs for group work and creating final documents, you can see who edited what and when. We also used it to track daily and weekly to-do lists at my last job, both supervisors and coworkers could see what was happening that week.

For time-management and scheduling:

Google calendar, online, Free
Ok, so I’m the type of person to obsessively makes lists and update calendars when my life gets busy. I like to have a paper calendar agenda, phone calendar, and desktop calendar with my schedule of events, meetings, and as a task scheduler (I’d schedule tv-watching if it wouldn’t look completely absurd). Google calendar is relatively easy to use, color coordinated, and syncs with events in my Gmail account.
Honorable mention: I used Outlook software at my job in grad school (I think the entire University administration was required to use it, or at least my department was). I can’t stand how it looks and I don’t think it’s user friendly BUT it was useful for scheduling large meetings.

For staying motivated:

During the last few months of grad school (the dreaded comrehensive exam semester), it was incredibly difficult to juggle classes, volunteering, and working 20 hours a week at my assistantship. I found the Pomodoro technique helpful for getting big chunks of reading done and I think it can be useful for anyone struggling to get even the smallest tasks done.
I’ve used the iPhone app Pomodrone, but I also found a web and software version.

For quick notes and writing:

Notepad, Free with Windows
Notepad is super useful for quick typed notes and task lists, removing formatting when copy/pasting between the web/software, and is incredibly simple to use.
Honorable mention: Pen and paper. From my experience as an anthropologist and a waitress–if you don’t write it down it didn’t happen. Tried and true, especially for jotting quick notes to be transferred to my computer.

I hope this list was useful! I’m always on the lookout for new software, apps, and techniques–I’d love to hear what you use and how you use it.


1 thought on “My favorite software and apps for getting things done”

  1. I’m a big fan of Evernote as well. I really like how you can get quality digital scans of paper documents (using Evernote or its partner app, Scannable). Aside from being able to capture, create and store most any kind of digital format (audio, video, photos, text, etc.), the best thing is the cloud sync and accessibility from any device. Oh, and it’s great for storing recipes and viewing them on your tablet when cooking!

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