How do other scientists stay organized?

Lachlan Cranswick lachlan at
Sun Jun 12 11:33:33 EST 1994

>Andrew Cockburn (afc at wrote:

>: Now I keep a pile of reprints on top of my filing cabinet.  If I have not
>: used them in six months or so, I throw them out.  If I need a literature 
>: review, I use Medline.

>: I respect those people who use computer databases to maintain their reprints,
>: but I suspect that they are the same people who had cross-indexed card files
>: a few decades ago.  If you are a naturally disorganized person like me, a
>: computer program isn't going change you!  Better to learn how to live with
>: it.

>: Andrew Cockburn
>: "P" on Briggs-Myers

I have got onto thread late but this is the closest I have seen
in support of the traditional messy desk.  If you are unnaturally
messy, just letting it all pile in a pyramid shape 
on the desk can do quite nicely as the most recent/important stuff
is as the top with stuff going down in roughly chronological and/or
order of importance.  A six to 12 monthly tidyup can
give a nice recap on the years work.
I must admit using the person next door (who does know
how to manage a computer based filing system) for when I need an 
obscure abstract that is somewhere filed away on the lower 
reaches of my desk.  :-)

Computers and email make this system usable as nearly all of the
correspondance is on the computer rather than space-taking
paper and getting lost.  Also, if a fair amount of your
work involves getting data an/off a computer - then the 
computer again can do a lot of the work for you as files
have a date stamp on them - and this info is also easy to 
add when analysing data.  

The main down side is senior managers
telling me my office is a disgrace - and the Safety
Officer claiming my office should be tidied up as it is a
fire hazard.  Though paper in nice piles burns just as well
as in a mess - probably better?  :-) 


A more practical colleague advises trying to use folders
in a row of shelves at chair height - especially if your work can 
change at a moments notice with new priorities or you
are juggling several jobs at once.  Just have the folders
labelled with general subjects and add the paper work
to the folders as it arrives.  Very little gets lost. 
This is something on my "to try" list in the near


Lachlan Cranswick  -  CSIRO     _--_|\  lachlan at dmp.CSIRO.AU 
Division of Mineral Products   /      \ tel +61 3 647 0367 
PO Box 124, Port Melbourne     \_.--._/ fax +61 3 646 3223 
3207 AUSTRALIA                       v    

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