Friday, May 23, 2014

Methods of efficiency

I'm convinced that micro-level behaviors, habits, and actions are just as important to becoming a productive researcher as having big ideas. I've been working on improving those things over the past year. You could call these things the "methods of doing research work" but many apply to other kinds of creative work, technical work, and project management. We don't talk about them a lot in professional circles because they're not the big/sexy ideas that change the world in one fell swoop. However, they are the mitochondria of our research cells, and I think we should share tips and tricks like this much more often for the larger benefit of the field.

My wife and I had breakfast with our friends Mario and Ana this past week and we barely got to share personal stories because we were sharing efficiency tips and tricks the whole time. Here are two pieces of software I've come to love (M & A, one is the thing I couldn't recall the name of and another I just found this week). Both reduce the keying/mousing you have to do, which seems small but adds up. Autohotkey lets you program scripts and macros for any key combination or mouse movement so is VERY versatile and great for be jobs that require repeated key/mouse movements. Breevy (just started using today) lets you record keyboard shortcuts and text-expansion phrases like you can do in Word with Autocomplete/correct, but works across all programs in Windows. Sure beats programming specific kb shortcuts within individual programs.

Mention other favorites if you have them.


  1. Syntax highlighting -- need a text editor rather than MS Word; I have used WinEdt and UltraEdit, but there's obviously a vast see of possibilities.

    Revision control software is a must, at least when you work with text files like LaTeX and statistical code. An issue tracking system on top of that is a superb addition. That's how professional programmers work.

    Learn how to incorporate into MS Word (and, to a lesser extent, PowerPoint) live numbers and tables produced right in your software. It is no brainer in LaTeX with \input{}, but I have not been able to find a convincing way to do this in MS Word.

    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Stas. I still haven't taken to writing papers in a text editor b/c I I like to use tracked changes and comments. But for other things (even short notes) there are a lot of benefits to a text editor. Notepad++ has become my favorite. But I still write my code in the program-specific editors.

      By "live numbers" do you mean they get updated when you re-run an analysis? I was playing around with a way to do that in Word. If you have your table or figure linked to your Word document (instead of embedded in it), and if your analysis program replaces that file, you can refresh your Word document and get the updates (F9 is global refresh in word I think). Quick Parts have become my friend :)

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