Get Organized

Five productivity hacks for scientists

Written by

How busy the lives of PhD students, researchers, and academics can be! We need to be extremely organized in order to juggle the many tasks we have; working on our thesis, writing papers and reports, managing side projects, attending conferences and seminars, giving talks, and many more. Arghhh, the list is endless!

To make my life easier and more enjoyable, I found 5 productivity hacks that I would like to share with you!

#1 Note-Taking with Obsidian
For daily notes, reports, or thesis writing, we usually rely on Microsoft Word that sometimes makes the work process incredibly painful! Some could ask: What about Latex? Well, it is a good tool but it requires some prior coding knowledge, which might hinder our productivity even more.

Recently, I discovered a new software for mind-mapping and keeping your thoughts well organised - Obsidian. More and more people are transitioning from Word/Latex to Obsidian, which you can use without any previous coding experience. Obsidian is a local-based tool that you can use also offline without worrying about data safety and security. There are many plugins (basic and community-made) that you can use with Obsidian: Markdown Format Converter, Graph View, integration of Google Calendar etc. The most unique feature (and good news for nerds) is that you can link all your notes together and create a graphic overview, which will resemble pretty much a protein network.

#2 Reference Managers
Another must-have is the right tool for the management of references. Reference managers are like iTunes but for papers. They are designed to store and manage the metadata, insert in-text citations, create PDF files, record annotations, and more. Many years back, researchers had to compile their reference lists manually. Even today some people still do it. It can take forever! Well, I am a fan of an automated life and I was very happy to discover Mendeley and Zotero, two free reference managers that proved themselves to be powerful tools for keeping our papers all together in one tidy folder.

#3 Data Visualization
To generate high-quality figures, most people use vector graphics tools, such as Illustrator or CorelDRAW. Vector graphics means that if you enlarge your figure, it will not show any ugly pixels. My favourite vector graphics tool is Inkscape. Firstly, because it is free. Secondly, I find Inkscape very intuitive and user-friendly. It can be used on Mac and Windows. Have fun!

#4 Online Networking tool
It is extremely important to improve your communication skills and meet new people for your career growth. This online networking tool that I want to share connects people in research and industry. I am not talking about LinkedIn, but It works like a dating app, except its purpose is to connect researchers and PhD holders with non-academic professionals. It is a great tool for those who are considering going into industry as the next step after their PhD. Go and check it out if you want to expand your network and accelerate collaborations.

#5 Focus and concentration
What we need sometimes is a little bit of help in remaining focused. In the past, I used to listen to my classical music playlists but this was a bit distracting for me. So, I looked for something more effective and finally found a tool that improved my concentration by A LOT. I am talking about, which helps to improve deep work and concentration, or just helps you to calm down and relax at the sound of different noises. In the “playlist” there is something for all tastes, as it contains more than just noises, so you can find your own sound that will help you be productive. Plus, it is for FREE!


Written by Dalmira Merzhakupova; Edited by Chiara Galante & John JJ Fung. Featured image: NGC/Design.


This article was originally published in “The Darwin’s Monkey”. We thank the owners of the former blog for allowing us to publish this material. The original article has been edited for clarity.

Go back