Halfway through a one-year master thesis

Hello! I just realized that I have made it halfway through my thesis time and therefore I want to tell you about the longest writing project I have ever done, as well as about productivity and procrastination.

What have the last couple of months looked like? Something like busy, occupied and procrastinating, preparing for the unpleasant, good and worse surprises; reading, writing, rewriting, coding in R, and learning new stuff.

Until now I have managed quite well in school and university, without being exactly organized. After a topic or a course was finished, I would throw all notes and files in one folder and go on to the next topic. But now that I am working for the length of one semester with my thesis, I need to be more organized.


Papers are piling up on my desk,  multiple scripts with different versions of data are open. To do lists are everywhere,  in my notebooks, in my R-scripts, on the inside of chocolate-papers in our house. Big papers with models trying to explain the world hang around my desk and occupy the living room table. Here one horrifying example:


What else? Small papers with drawings of circles and lines (plots and transects in my sampling sites..) with arrows, notes and exclamation marks lie in the box with tea bags. I guess tidying is a difficult task for people around me right now. We have this saying in German. «Is this art or should I clean it up?» , and I guess there is not much more to say about the internal order I made, looking pretty similar to a mess from the outside. As confusion is the starting point of understanding, I guess chaos is the starting point of productivity. But now it is time for simplification!

On my physical, wooden desk, there is some hope, but to tidy all different «virtual» types of data, files and notes, I needed to get some inspiration how other people organize their work in a project that runs for longer than a few weeks. My plan for less mess looks like this right now, somehow similar to tidying my wooden desk. Merge, sort-out, throw away, tidy:

  • Take some time to review all I have done and all I have read until now. Bring it into boxes, sort my to-do lists to different topics, create super-detailled to-do lists to get away ballast from my brain. Break down and simplify. Docear is great for this.
  • Learn a way of version control to bring system in my work and track changes. It seems like git is the most used solution to this; and makes it (almost) impossible to loose my work.
  • Create separate scripts for each analysis and connect them, using master scripts in R to find my own code back and make it more sharable.
  • And also I spend one minute now to be thankful for having used KoBo Toolbox for tidy data collection, preventing me from a lot of trouble during a whole year of work.

And the best about all those tools I am discovering now is that they are all open source. There is so much great help out there. And remember: almost always someone had the same problem before and might have been nice and shared a solution! Good luck, in messy and in tidy times! 🙂





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