The Thesis Whisperer’s most recent post follows up from her crowd-sourced Google Map of writer-friendly cafés (brilliant!) with an inventory of what she has in her bag. The Mr. jokes that my dissertation weighs more than our toddler, which, if you think about it, is pretty light for an entire office. I move around a lot, and while I have a dedicated office space, I’d say only 50% of my work happens there. I’m a recovering “precious office” addict, so I understand the temptation to find your one workspace to rule them all. What’s a “precious office” addiction? Symptoms include: obsessive organization, endless searching for the perfect chair/keyboard/desk/coffee mug/stapler before you can work, and going on about how you can only work in your precious space, with a cup of 95 degree green tea, and a 1.0 Micron pen. You know you’ve hit rock-bottom in this addiction when you’ve spent a month (or 5) obsessed over your office, and not, you know, writing your dissertation.
As part of my recovery, I’ve narrowed my workspace needs to the basics. Since a) I never know when I’ll have a few minutes to chip away at my work when I’m not at my desk and b) I’m full-time mama, which means I always have a toddler bag full of Duplos, baby wipes, and a variety of snacks. So my other bag, my work bag, needs to be light enough to shlep around Brooklyn. So here goes:
1) iPad. I’m going to write a post about apps in a minute, but let’s talk about how friggin’ awesome it is to carry a hundred books with you in a device no bigger than a magazine. Hello future, I’ve arrived! I should also include my iPhone (pictured in my daughter’s hand) here as well. I use the voice memo app ALL the time to document notes and ideas on the fly.
2) Moleskine notebook. My favorite is the Ruled Notebook, large. They’re big enough that I can write on my lap, but not so big as to be unwieldy. Everything goes in my moleskine. Teacher’s Notes, diss notes, grocery lists, research questions, etc. A professor taught me a trick a while back for notebook management. When you get a new notebook, set aside 10 pages or so in the front for a table of contents and number your pages. When you’re finished with the notebook, go through it and organize your notes in the table of contents. It’s a great review and makes your notebook a useful tool in the future rather than simply an unsorted mess.
3) Narrow-ruled legal pads. This might seem a bit redundant since I carry a notebook, but I draft my actual dissertation on legal pads. After I’ve processed notes from my moleskine, I handwrite prose on the legal pads, to be transcribed later on Scrivener.
4) Metal clipboard. I still like to read articles on paper — she says as she types her blog entry on her iPad — and central to my reading process is writing tons of marginalia. The clipboard offers a hard surface to write, and keeps all my papers together (I hate staples). Metal works best since both pressed cardboard and plastic can break in a bag.
5) Library Book. There are always books to read, and to curb my Amazon book addiction, I try to check out as many from my library as I can (also, libraries are cool, just sayin’). Anyway, I bring only one because when I’m out and about, I rarely have time to read any more than that. I look back on my work bags from my first years in grad school; that’s right, bags, … plural, and I’m gobsmacked at how much stuff I used to carry. I had so many books and articles with me along with the hope that I would get to all of it. The downside of this? I felt like I hadn’t really accomplished anything at the end of the day. If I bring the barest minimum of materials, completing a few small tasks (reading a few pages or writing some thoughts) motivates me to keep going. Secondly, too much variety was overwhelming. I discovered that if I only bring one book or article, chances are, if I have time to read it, I will. (duh, right?)
6) BIC 4-color pen. I discussed this a bit on my other blog, but the gist is this: use the Bic Multi to take notes in different colors. I know many of you science folks already know and love the benefits of the Bic Multi, but many of us on the humanities end of things are unaware of its charms. Here’s my color code:
- Black: My original thoughts
- Blue: Comments on readings
- Red: Questions
- Green: Tangential ideas — basically, stuff that will lead me off track that may or may not come in handy later.
The nice thing about this system is that it allows you to scan your notes for transcription, quotes, and further research. It also helps eliminate the desire to stop and look up something on the inter-webs when the inspiration strikes you. You can just click to green, write down the Google search, and keep going.
7) Book darts. The Mr. bought these for me a few years ago and I can’t remember life without them. Basically, they’re a bookmark that points directly to text. I use them to point to marginalia in my own books/articles and key text in library books. As an added bonus, they’re archival, so if I accidentally leave them in a returned library book, I don’t get fined like I would if I used post-its.
TL;DR: In your portable office, you don’t need to bring nearly as much as you think.