Freeter: The Latest Awesome Tool to Manage Academic Research Workflow
Being a productivity enthusiast I have always been struggling with the feeling of discontent toward the way I manage my studious life, including my PhD journey at the moment. I have always been on the lookout for the best workflow for my PhD, trying various methods and tools which happened to become a rather rough journey and not necessarily transforming me into a productivity speedster.
But this year I have a feeling that I’m getting nearer to achieving a kind of optimal PhD workflow thankfully due to the discovery of two things: Bullet Journal (BuJo) plus Traveler’s Notebook (TN) and Freeter app. I might write more about BuJo in another post but sufficient to say that my analog workflow has been getting better since I started to practice BuJo-TN.
For another part of the equation namely the digital workflow, now let me explain how this aspect has finally met possibly its most credible solution yet, namely the Freeter app. I’ve just discovered this software on April 10 thanks to an article by Alex Kaul its developer through my Pocket app but at that time I couldn’t yet fully understand its functionality from reading the article and its website at freeter.io. Only by today April 14 I managed to download, install and test run it on my machine.
Who’s Freeter for?
Turns out that Freeter is indeed a brilliant software for managing computer/online-based workflows such as of those bloggers, developers, project managers, etc. While academic research isn’t mentioned as one of its potential application, Freeter can be highly relevant for such purpose since the nature of academic research today is strongly attached to digital contents alongside communication and collaboration on global scale.
When I explored Freeter I feel that something really clicked here in my workflow and this app should not only be known to me. I was in a state of digital dormant renouncing myself from exposing my thoughts through the social media. But I feel so compelled about getting more people to know about the software and to give it a try. Such inspiration has eventually led me to write my first blogpost on Medium as you’re reading now with regards to managing PhD workflow with Freeter.
What can Freeter do?
Basically Freeter is a software which allow us to create functional logical links of our digital contents, be it online or on our machine, within dedicated dashboards. For example I can have my email window, todo list, web browser and app links inside my Freeter dashboard which makes all the things relevant to my project tasks to be instantaneously within reach. Therefore my workflow would be minimally interrupted from the needs to search for certain files in the middle of my work or to type long commands through the terminal. In addition, I could keep track of my work progress and my communication medium at the same time.
The free Freeter version lets its user to create up to three projects and five tabs for each project. If you need more than those allowance, you can buy the Pro version for $29 from its website. The Pro version lets its user to install on any computer where the user is the primary user. I’m currently using the free version and I think it could be sufficient enough for my PhD needs as of now.
PhD Workflow with Freeter
Since I haven’t really delved into Freeter quite long enough and am recognising research as a confidential matter, the Freeter layouts here are generic ones but those structures should basically represent the way I intend to use Freeter. For my first Freeter project I named it as PhD and linked it to a folder namely Freeter-PhD. I then created five tabs namely Primary, My Design, Writing, Reading and Tutor.
Primary tab basically serves as the homepage of my PhD Project Dashboard. Here I put my research title, aims and objectives using the text widgets. I can use the todo list widget to list down all the big tasks, deadlines or milestones. For inspiration, I have downloaded a poster on Einstein’s quote and use the image widget to display it inside the dashboard. I use the webpage widget to display my Google Calendar so that I could view my daily agenda.
My Design Tab
This tab is actually meant for the design or development process in my PhD research. You can just name it differently as you like. The permanent elements in this tab are the todo list and file explorer widgets. Those two become my left sidebar to keep track of my tasks or open up files quickly. At the moment I just filled up the rest of the dashboard mainly with text widgets. I expect to later remove some of those text widgets and put links to my working files. Any related app launchers can also be created here with the commander widgets. For example I might soon create shortcuts for Matlab/Octave, terminal or Sublime Text.
The writing tab is where I would deal with the writing tasks. I have a todo list which enlists those writing tasks such as meeting reports, monthly reports, paper drafts, proposals, chapters, etc. To open up any other project files with their native apps, I could use the file explorer widget. I can use the website widget to open up the online version of MS Word. For rough drafts of my writing tasks, I can write on the text widget and then copy the texts to other apps to create the final draft. I think I should also create app launchers in this tab such as MS Word, TextStudio (Latex), Mendeley or Google Chrome.
Under the Reading tab, I have a todo list widget which is filled with reading list and topics to be researched. The file explorer tab lets me quickly open up any files for my reading tasks. Two webpage widgets have been created for general search on Google and scholarly articles on Google Scholar. I also have a commander widget that can launch the Mendeley app. The Asimo and Iron Man images are just for decoration purpose. I supposed that the image widgets might be more suitable to be placed under the writing app for inspiration or as reference figures during the writing process.
I’m not as of now taking the job as a tutor or lab demonstrator but here I just created a tab for Tutor as an example should it be relevant to anyone. Again I have put a todo list and file explorer tabs to become my left sidebar. I then created two webpage widgets and opened up the Word and Excel Online. I’d guess that both apps could be indispensable for tutoring tasks such as devising marking schemes or keying in marks into Excel sheets. Perhaps a webpage widget for doing Google search would also be useful in this tab.
Thesis Project Dashboard
I have also created a project dashboard specifically for thesis writing. With the limitation of the free version I could only create up to five chapter tabs. These tabs can be used to logically gather different materials for each chapter. In other words, we can create links to our Word documents, images, websites, apps, etc. We can also create a todo list for each chapter tab to keep track of tasks specific for each chapter such as to research on topic X, to write subchapter Y or to wait for supervisor’s feedback on chapter Z.
By the way Freeter comes in two themes namely the dark and the light themes and the dark theme is the the default Freeter theme. The theme selection option is available under Freeter Preference page. For the Thesis Project Dashboard as shown below I use the Light Theme which looks pretty clean and pleasing too.
A timer menu is also available from the menu bar in which three types of timers based on Pomodoro technique are available by default, namely Focus Work (25 mins), Short Break (5 mins) and Long Break (15 mins). You can also edit these timers in terms of name, duration and alarm sound under the Manage Timers page. I hope that in its future version the timer function could also include timer history so that we could log our work hours.
As I mentioned above those layouts are my early attempts to manage my research workflow with Freeter. I guess that I might start to make changes in no time soon. But the Todo List and File Explorer widgets would probably stay at where they are as I like them to serve as a permanent left sidebar. I might also remove the app launchers built from Commander widgets and I could instead just create app launchers on the Manage Tool menu. By doing so I could have more spaces for other kind of widgets.
As with other actively developed softwares, Freeter is continuously developed and it is currently at version 1.1.0. There can be as much as any rooms for improvement and you are free to request for any desired features through its website forum. If your work materials mainly reside online, then you can benefit from the integration of many web apps such as MS Office 365 or Trello into your dashboard.
One important aspect that I think missing from Freeter is a local PDF viewer widget to view PDF files inside Freeter. The possible workaround as mentioned here is to create a link widget that will open another PDF software. Alternatively Alex Kaul suggests that we can use web apps such as DocHub or Lumin but I think you might want to revise your document sharing policy if you plan to use this method.
In one way, I feel that Freeter can also to a certain extent be used in the way Trello can as in here. The main differences are that Freeter sits inside our computers and it can be used offline without requiring any online account. Freeter widgets in particular can be rearranged in various positions and sizes. This feature allows its user to also implement Kanban board method in their project workflows albeit with limited window space.
While this post is admittedly an endorsement for Freeter and might inevitably be seen as its marketing attempt, I’d like to mention that I haven’t gained any direct monetary benefits on what I have written here. It’s purely just an effort to share something that might be beneficial to anyone doing academic research at any level. I myself have just started to trial Freeter but the software does look promising enough for managing academic workflow to be recommended. In addition, many other Freeter-based workflows can also possibly be discovered later as more people are exploring its usages. Thus I strongly encourage you to try it by yourself and see if you can benefit from it. I hope you enjoy my short introduction to Freeter and look forward to see anyone’s else ways of using Freeter. Finally thanks to Alex Kaul for the creation of Freeter and thanks for reading my first blogging piece here on Medium. :)
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