There is no shortage of Promodoro or todo apps in the Mac world. There are countless, systems, tools and the like. Very few of them are actually truly functional for an academic scholar. The nature of academic work is different from other tasks because it requires consistent reading and writing. We spent most of our time reading and writing; thinking about our research projects.
I have tried many promodoro apps for the last couple of years, to manage my research projects and improve my working habits, for a better efficiency. None of them stick with me except Vitamin R. The reason why I like Vitamin R is that it is specially designed to manage time (promodoro) as well as reflect on the task themselves. Vitamin R has these neat features called Scratchpads, Now and Then sections that help you write your thoughts (reflections) on the tasks. It is really very useful feature. If I get interrupted by a neighbor or get an urgent phone call while I am working; or get tired or have a headache, they are immediately documented in the Scratchpad.
Very few other apps offer features that help me to reflect on what I am working on. You can write a few comments on the todo entries themselves, in other apps such as Things and Omnifocus; but they really don’t have a place for extensive and deep reflection on your actual working process.
- Did I accomplish the task?
- Was I sharp in doing the task?(not all accomplishments are the same; just checking off the task is really meaningless).
- Was there a distraction or disturbance? if so, how can I avoid it in the future?
- So far as I can tell, only Vitamin R a system to reflect on how the task went.
The way the whole system is built on Vitamin R is different. In comparison to Vitamin R, I find other todo applications very shallow because they really don’t have a system on how I accomplish the tasks; and any means of recording relevant lessons learned in the process.
Assume I am planning to write a research article on topic X. That is my objective. The next step is to select materials that I need to read for the project. After collecting some reading material, I will skim through them, and choose the most important papers. Then, I need to do a deep reading to have an important understanding of the topic. Then, often I write short summaries of the articles. These summaries go to my concept mapping application (Tinderbox or Scapple) to compare the core ideas of the articles. Finally, I will bring my own data and construct a new analysis from the concept map.
Each step is connected. The whole process will probably take me months. What I need is not just a todo app that just lists todo tasks of the day; rather, enables me to construct the whole system into it. I also need to break down each of these tasks (reading article Y, for example) into smaller chunks to make them management.
Here is what the general plan looks like in Things:
Once you have this scheme, this is the time to get into action. My process is controlled with Vitamin R. Vitamin R shines because it helps me to chunk my tasks into time intervals.
I drag each of the tasks from Things to Vitamin R. Thankfully, these two apps work together beautifully. Dragged tasks are liked to their origins. You can also write additional notes in the objective part of Vitamin R if you have comments to add. Then, set your time and let it go. The timer kicks in, I am doing my work.
When the timer fishes, I will stop the task. That is the best part of Vitamin R. I take a couple of minutes to reflect. It is the best tool I find to reflect on how the task is going on. Sometimes I am sharp at my reading; sometimes I get distracted. If I am feeling focused today, I will elevate my game. I will write short notes on how things are going, and increase the workload and time interval as a response. If I am feeling distracted, I will write (still in Vitamin R) why I am feeling so. Most importantly, I will plan ways of avoiding the problem for the future. For me, the problem is often related to my sleep. I will plan to go to bed in different time, or earlier. That way, I use Vitamin R to manage my tasks, as well as my health conditions at the same time.