What Would Ben Franklin Do?

WWBFD1What would Ben Franklin do? July has turned out to be an exciting and stressful month.

I am traveling a lot: I visited Bermuda at the start of the month and I just came home from the SHEAR conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. Next week, I am off to Podcast Movement, the national podcasting conference, in Fort Worth, Texas.

On the home front, I am working a LOT.

Ben Franklin's World: A Podcast About Early American History continues to do well, it just surpassed 225,000 downloads. It has also started to grow in ways that I hadn't anticipated. I must create plans to handle this growth. (I promise to explain once my plans are in place.)

I am also trying to find time to work on my book. Yes, I am still working on turning my dissertation into a book and I really want to finish it so I can start my next research project.

With all of this going on, I need to find more time. Which brings me to my new mantra: What would Ben Franklin do?

I am confident that Ben would cut all non-essentials from his schedule and focus on finding an apprentice and funding for his publication.

Therefore, I will not be posting "Book of the Week" or roundup posts until I can figure out how to outsource more podcast work. I have a couple of plans to find/attract funding. I promise to share these ideas soon.

Additionally, my posting on this blog will likely be a bit more sporadic over the next few months, or perhaps not. I have several posts in my draft queue. They cover topics such as 18-Second History: How Historians Can Use Clammr to Spread History & Promote Their Work; Podcast Workflow; Crowdsource Funding Your Digital History Project; How to Tweet a Conference Panel; To Conference or Not to Conference; and Tick-Tock the Academic Publishing Clock.

Thank you for your understanding and support.


3 E-mail Habits That Will Increase Your Productivity

Email-EnvelopeDoes your inbox serve as a source of stress? Do frequent e-mails disrupt your workflow?

Over the last year I have developed three e-mail habits that have increased my productivity.

In this post you will discover three e-mail tips that will help you decrease your stress, improve your workflow, and increase your productivity.


My Trouble With E-mail

I am a child of e-mail.

Born in one of the first years of Generation Y, or the "Millennial Generation," computers have been a constant in my life.

I have vague memories of playing games on our Apple IIgs and Atari before we upgraded to Nintendo and a Windows computer.

My Dad made sure we were one of the first families in our neighborhood to have internet access.

I remember AOL.

512px-America_Online_logo.svgAt first the service brought me great disappointment; all of my techie friends used Prodigy. However, after the disappointment wore off my parents allowed me to set-up an e-mail account and venture into chat rooms where I made virtual friends with kids from across the United States.

Ah, e-mail.

Whereas the mail carrier brought me packages and envelopes rarely, AOL never disappointed.

I remember getting home from school, firing up the computer, and clicking on AOL. This action sent our dial-up modem into an audible frenzy. After waiting several seconds to connect, the AOL greeter spoke the words I had waited all day to hear: “Welcome, You’ve Got Mail!

Remember the mid-to-late 1990s? Those were the halcyon days of e-mail.

In those pre-smartphone days we controlled our e-mail because we had to make it a point to connect to the internet in order to check it.

Fast-forward twenty years and we have to make it a point to turn off the internet.

Smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers have blurred our once clear-cut boundaries between work and play. They have also made it easier for us to send e-mails and check our inboxes.

The increased ease and frequency with which we send and receive e-mails has caused many of our inboxes to fill with so many e-mails that it takes us anywhere from several minutes to an hour (or more) to delete, sort, and respond to the electronic missives we receive.

As a result, many of us feel oppressed by our e-mail.


Bad E-mail Habits

Last year, I realized that the excitement I once had for e-mail had worn away.

My inbox had become a source of anxiety and stress because over the last twenty years I had developed two bad e-mail habits.

Smartphone EmailFirst, I checked my e-mail any time I wanted to take a quick break from work or wanted the rush brought on by “You’ve Got Mail!”

Inevitably, the lengthy replies or actions required by some messages ensured that I never took the “short break” I had intended.

Second, I left my inbox open.

Throughout the day my inbox alerted me to new messages, several of which required action. As a person who dislikes procrastination, I immediately stopped what I was doing to empty my inbox of messages.

These bad habits led me to fear and stress over my inbox.

By the end of the year, I realized that something had to change. So I decided to make a New Years resolution to change the way I interacted with my e-mail.


3 E-mail Habits That Will Decrease Your Stress & Increase Your Productivity

Habit 1: Work with your inbox closed.

Keeping your email app closed will decrease your work time (or pleasure time) distractions.

No e-mailYou should also turn off your mail notifications.

Many apps use brightly colored notification icons to alert you to the fact that you have unread messages.

For some, like me, keeping your inbox closed and turning off your notifications won’t be enough.

In order to resist the urge to check my e-mail throughout the day I removed my email app from my Mac dock.


Habit 2: Limit the number of times you check your inbox each day.

This habit will allow you to control how and when you check your e-mail and how often you let it disrupt your day.

I check my e-mail twice per day. Once in the mid-morning and again after I finish with my work.

Knowing that I have scheduled time to check my e-mail has relieved my brain of the need to check my inbox repeatedly throughout the day.


InboxesHabit 3: Separate your work from your personal e-mail.

Two separate inboxes means you can control the type of e-mail you look at and when you want to look at it.




Adopting the above habits has increased my productivity and decreased my stress.

I no longer feel the compulsion to check my e-mail every hour. And checking my e-mail before and after my concentrated work time allows me to stay focused on my research and writing for large blocks of time.

No one has ever complained that I seem unavailable or that I have not responded quickly enough to their e-mail messages. After all, I still check and answer my e-mail twice a day.

On the rare occasions that something time sensitive comes up and requires a quick response, I give the concerned party my phone number and/or Twitter handle. These alternative forms of communication keep my inbox closed, which keeps me sane and productive.


Share StoryShare Your Story

How do you deal with e-mail? Do you have any different tricks or good habits?


How to Organize Your Research Chronologically

DEVONthinkWould you like a fast and easy way to organize your research chronologically? In response to a reader's request, I will show you how you can use DEVONthink to organize your research chronologically.

In this post, you will learn how you can use title formatting and smart groups to view your research in chronological order.


DEVONthink is a Mac-only program that manages information.

You can use DEVONthink to archive many different file types including: e-mails, PDFs, MS Office documents, PowerPoint slides, iWork files, and websites.

DEVONthink uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to search all of the information you put into it, which makes it both a great digital filing cabinet and database.

DEVONthink excels as a large database because of its search capabilities.

Unlike Evernote, DEVONthink stores all of the information you put into it on your hard drive. Having the information on your hard drive allows DEVONthink to quickly search for what you need; DEVONthink searches much faster than Evernote.

A feature-rich program, DEVONthink has many capabilities that make storing and sorting through your research a breeze.


The Importance of Formatting Entry Titles

I love DEVONthink’s file or “group” structure because it allows me to visualize and quickly find the information I need.

My historical research databases all have groups for “primary sources” and “secondary sources.” Each of those groups contain subgroups, which nest within each group like Russian nesting dolls.

For example, you can see from my screen shot that my main group “primary sources” contains the subgroup “archives.” Each "archives" subgroup contains a “collections” subgroup and each “collections” subgroup contains a “boxes” subgroup.

OrganizationWhen I find a letter or document that I want to store in my database, I create a new “Rich Text” entry.

Formatting the title for a new entry is very important if I want DEVONthink to organize my notes chronologically.

I begin each entry's title with the date of the manuscript using the YYYY.MM.DD format. This format allows DEVONthink to chronologically organize all of the documents within a "box" subgroup. (See picture.)

After the document’s date, I complete my titles by adding the author of the document, the recipient (if there is one), and the folder where I found it (if there is one). Adding the manuscript’s author and recipient will allow DEVONthink to easily locate entries I want if I search for a name; folder numbers help me cite and relocate documents.


Smart Groups

Groups store information. Smart groups store specific information.

Groups store the information you type or import into them. Groups do not share information with other groups unless you either duplicate an entry and insert it into another group or create a “smart group.”

Smart groups allow DEVONthink to gather information from across your database based on parameters you set. For example, if you want to see all of the evidence in your database that pertains to the year 1690, you create a smart group.

To create a smart group, go to the top menu bar and click data> new> smart group.

Smart Folder ConfigurationAs you can see from the above image, DEVONthink will present you with a query. This is where you establish your parameters.

Use the year you wish to organize as your smart group Name.

Next, set the Search In field to Database.

In the above example we are interested in collecting any document that contains the date “1690,” so tell DEVONthink to include Any where the following 4 rules are true:

(Add a new rule field by clicking + at the end of the query line)

1. All matches 1690

2. Content matches 1690

3. Name matches 1690

4. Tag is 1690

DEVONthink will use these rules to search your database and automagically place every entry that meets your “1690” criteria into your new smart group.

When combined with our smartly formatted titles, DEVONthink will automagically place and sort all entries with the year 1690 in chronological order.


Giving Credit 

I learned the above tips from Rachel Leow. In 2011, she published 3 helpful articles about how historians can use DEVONthink to make collecting and sorting through their research easier. In 2012, she published an additional article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives.


Thoughtful-WomanWant to Learn More?

On Monday, March 24, I will be teaching “How to Organize Your Writing, Ideas, and Research,” a 3-hour workshop at Grub Street in Boston. The course will focus mostly on Evernote, but will cover basic information about Zotero and DEVONthink. There are still seats available.


What Do You Think?

How do you organize your research chronologically? Help your fellow historians and writers by sharing your tips. 


Did You Know?

You can subscribe to Uncommonplace Book via e-mail! Never miss a post. Sign up on the right sidebar.

You can also ask me a question or submit a post topic to lizcovart[at]mac[dot]com.


End of Year Reflections 2013: Benefits of Blogging

PLEASE CHECK BACK ON MONDAY FOR THE UNCOMMONPLACE BOOK READERS’ SURVEY. New Year Ahead2013 proved to be a busy and important year for me personally and professionally.

On the personal side, I have made my home in Boston. This involved moving into a new home, adjusting to urban life, and finding my place in the Boston community.

On the professional side, I not only had a productive and prolific year as a scholar, but I found my post-academic career path and committed to it.

Who am I professionally? I am a historian and a writer.

Specifically, I am a historian who bridges the gap between the academic and public/popular historical worlds through my writing.

What does my realization mean for this blog?

My professional realization and commitment won't change the content on Uncommonplace Book.

If anything, my realization should make Uncommonplace Book an even more practical resource for historians and writers.

In 2014, you can expect to see more “how to” posts.


Directions for Uncommonplace Book: A blog about history and writing in the 21st century

When I started blogging, I knew I wanted to be a historian, but I did not know how I wanted to pursue my work or support it financially.

Blogging has helped me figure it out.

I plan to support my historical research with my writing and my ever-growing body of accumulated knowledge.


Think BigIdeas for Future Posts

I have several projects in development that will inspire posts in 2014.

Dissertation-to-Book Revision: Early in the New Year, I will start revising my dissertation into a book. I wrote a book proposal that has been well-received, but I need to revise at least 4 chapters before I can shop my book around for a publishing contract.

Consulting Business: I plan to launch my consulting business-- Missing Advisor, A Writer’s Guide to Platform and Organization-- as soon as I finish polishing the content for my website.

I have spent years learning about and building a writer platform. I also have more than 10 years of experience keeping all of my research and writing notes organized.

Over the last year, I have found that there is a market for my accumulated knowledge. Many writers have asked me to help them get organized or master the art of social media. My Missing Advisor consulting business will help serve this market.

Freelance Writing: In 2013, I dabbled in pitching and selling articles as a freelance writer. In 2014, I plan to write more articles for pay. This goal will prove an interesting challenge as I will need to balance my freelance writing with my book writing.

Podcasts: I have 2 ideas for podcasts about history and the historian’s craft. These podcasts are long-term projects, but ones that I hope will help me expand my writer’s platform and create more helpful content for you.

Share Story

Help Shape Next Year's Content

Thanks to your tweets, comments, and emails, I know that Uncommonplace Book is a practical resource for historians and writers.

I would love to know how I can help you further.

What is the #1 challenge that you face as a historian or writer?

How can I help you with your projects in 2014?


3 Project Management Tips That Will Make You a Better, More Prolific Writer

overwhelmedDo you have too many research and writing projects going on? Are you tired of trying to manage these projects with calendar and to-do apps that leave their promises of an easier, more organized life unfulfilled?

I used to feel the same way. I had too many projects and not enough time for the project I most wanted to work on most: my book proposal. Or so I thought.

My search for solutions led me to Todd Henry’s book [amazon_link id="1591846242" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice[/amazon_link]. The book promises to “help you establish enough structure in your life to get the most out of your creative process…to stay engaged and prolific over the long term.”

Convinced that this book would fall short on its promises, just like my calendar and to-do apps, I borrowed it from the library. However, Todd Henry proved me wrong.

The Accidental Creative lived up to Henry's billing. Using Henry’s practices, I have become an effective project manager and a better, more prolific writer.


AccidentalCreativeBookGraphicSynopsis: The Accidental Creative

In The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry outlines the creative process. He asserts that “by building purposeful practices into your life” creatives can “stay engaged and productive over the long term” and “increase [their] capacity to do brilliant work, day after day, year after year.”

The book has 2 parts: Dynamics (Part 1) and Creative Rhythm (Part 2).

Part 1 describes who creatives are, the kinds of work they do, and why many creatives burnout.

Part 2 lays out Henry’s 6-step plan for managing creativity, which will help a creative avoid burnout.

The heart of Henry’s plan is conscious recognition. Creatives must be conscious of all of the information they take in, the time they spend consuming information, meeting with other people, and creating.

Once creatives become conscious of the information, experiences, and time they consume, they can manipulate those factors into productive creative time.


3 Project Management Tips from The Accidental Creative That Will Make You a Better, More Prolific Writer

genius at work title written with chalk on blackboard

1. Notation: Write down all of your ideas, even if they are not immediately relevant to your current project.

Henry advises readers to keep an idea notebook and to regularly review it.


Henry's 4 Tips to Optimize Idea Notebook Organization and Review Time

1. Keep the first few pages of your notebook free for the “Idea Index.” 2. Number the pages of your notebook. 3. Each time you write down an idea, flip to the index and record a brief summary of your idea and note the page number where you wrote down the full idea. 4. Take a few moments each day to scan your “Idea Index” as old ideas may help you with your current project.


2. Checkpoints: Take time each week, month, and quarter to conduct a checkpoint.

Checkpoints are written action plans or schedules that you create on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis.

Henry offers a specific checklist of items you should think about when you conduct each type of checkpoint in Chapter 9.


Checkpoint Basics:

  • Set aside time: Weekly Checkpoints: 20-60 minutes; Monthly Checkpoints: 60-90 minutes; Quarterly Checkpoints: 4-8 hours
  • Identify the projects you want to complete and the tasks, research, and meetings you need to accomplish them.
  • Recognize and take into account all non-work related projects and familial, friendly, and professional obligations when you create your project schedule.


3. Pruning: It is okay to "prune" or let go of activities and commitments that "inhibit your ability to effectively perform."

Pruning doesn't mean saying "No" to every project that comes your way, but it does mean letting go of time-consuming projects that do not add to your overall professional and creative goals.



Todd Henry's "Accidental Creative" practices work.

These 3 valuable techniques have helped me better organize my projects and my work.

Keeping and reviewing an idea notebook has relieved my mind of the burden of trying to remember the ideas I have for my various writing, research, and consulting projects. The notebook holds my ideas until I need them.

The practice of conducting weekly, monthly, and quarterly checkpoints has provided me with the roadmaps I need to complete my projects. Knowing exactly what projects I must complete each week ensures that I make time for them.

I have more focus because I have eliminated time-consuming projects that do not help me get to the “Freelance Historian” life I envision.

The best part: Following Henry’s advice has enabled me to be a prolific writer. As a result, I accomplished my goal: I finished my book proposal.


What Do You Think?

How do you manage your projects? What methods work, or don't work, for you?

Have you read The Accidental Creative? What practice do you find most helpful?