I’m wanting to be diligent with my studying. I know that babies, house renovation, dogs, work, church and all the other things I fill my life with are going to be jostling for time and headspace, so I promised myself that Monday and Wednesday evenings are study nights (once William is in bed).

So, as it’s Wednesday, I sat down to do some writing – and then it occurred to me, I don’t have any software to write in! Word for Mac is utterly terrible (go figure) and all the other writing programs I have used on the Mac are designed to for code (Text Wrangler, Sublime Text) or are too basic for academic work (IA Writer). I need a new tool…

However, the fact I wasn’t doing any work began to trouble me, then this quote came to mind:

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

Excellent; now I felt I could justify spending the evening sorting out my workflow. (I’ll definitely do some work on Monday. I promise!)

So my brief:

  • cross-platfrom (Windows / OSX)
  • simple yet has necessary features (can produce a dynamic table of contents for example)
  • ideally free!
  • interface with a citation manager

Now, going down the ‘free’ route, EndNote (which has been recommended citation manager) wasn’t a option, so I looked for an alternative first. Wikipedia had the most information on Zotero out of the free ones. This looks good, but best works as a addon to FireFox rather than a standalone app.

With that in mind, Google Docs seemed like a sensible option to do the actual writing. It’s online so I can do it from any platform or browser. All my work is automatically backed up with revisions and it plays nicely with Zotero. Working in my browser also opened up the abililty to quickly look at University resources (this is a distance learning course after all) and research materials on the web.

Being browser based (and feeling very web 2.0 about this workflow so far) I wondered about keeping all my bookmarks in sync too (something I always meant to get around to). I logged into my old Delicious account and after 5 minutes of attempting to sync bookmarks and being asked to enter my credentials at least 10 times, I gave up, uninstalled Delicious and looked elsewhere. I found Xmarks – it’s brilliant! It uses the browser’s native bookmarking, syncs automatically and supports tagging.

Final piece in the puzzle was ‘focus’. Working on a home laptop with all the distractions and temptations, I remembered OSX’s full screen feature – it’s turns any software into a bit like an iPad app – no menus, so toolbars, just the browser. Perfect.So, after an evening researching, installing, uninstalling, customizing and synchronizing, I’ve settled on a browser based workflow:

Google Docs + Zotero in Firefox (full-screen) with Xmarks.
It’s neat, effective, portable, automatically backed up and extendable.

Saw sharpened.

Now, let’s get to work.

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