Academic struggling with staying on top of reading current research
I'm a math professor. GTD works very well for me in most areas of my professional and personal life. One where I'm struggling, though, is on staying caught up on reading. I need an effective way to prioritize and read new research that comes out in my field.
Here's what I'm currently doing and what is and is not working. Most new papers that I want to read are posted on a preprint server called the arxiv. I get an email every day from the server with about 40 papers that have been posted in the areas I want to stay in touch with. The email includes abstracts of the papers; every day either first thing or over lunch I scan through the day's email and identify the papers that I want to look at, and flag them (by bookmarking them in my web browser).
After a certain amount of effort, I've disciplined myself to stay caught up with these arxiv emails. What I don't have, though, is a good system for what happens next. Of the papers I flag, probably 1/3 I'll discover I'm not interested in once I start reading, about 1/3 I'm happy just to read the introduction, and 1/3 I would in the ideal world read in more detail. I usually flag 5-10 papers a week for a closer look, so we're talking say 3 papers a week to glance at and not look further, 3 papers to read the introduction of, and 2 papers to read in more detail. This is more reading than I have time to do. I probably have time to read the intros of 3 papers a week, and skim one paper a week in more detail; delving into the nitty-gritty of a paper is much more time-consuming even than that, say one every two months.
Right now all my "closer look" papers effectively go in one big pile -- I download them all to my computer, to library management software. And there the pile sits -- it gets bigger and bigger. If there's a paper I know I'd like to look at in detail, I print it out and put it in a special "to read" pile on my desk. But I don't have any sort of system for processing this pile. So that pile sits on my desk and gets bigger and bigger.
And furthermore, I don't have a good way of deciding which of the papers I'd like to read I actually will read. I don't have time to read 2 new papers a week in detail, so I need some way to triage. And I need some way that is effective that will keep me up-to-date on the next step of processing this "inbox." The daily emails are good for that: there's a folder in my inbox that they go to that acts like a special-purpose inbox for this task. Beyond that, though, I get stuck.
In summary: I think the biggest things I'd like to tweak about this system is an effective way to triage which of the reading I'd like to do I actually will do, and how to manage the in-piles for the next stage of processing these new research papers.
Are there any other academics or others who have lots of reading coming in every day, more than they can possibly do, who have figured out good ways to manage this?
Not an Academic but Similar Problem
I'm not an academic but I have a similar problem. I try to keep up with current reading in a number of fields,
genetic advances in ruminant biology
Anglo Saxon weapons & armor
nutrition research on low carb diets
and about 15 other general topics.
I have several google searches that send me an automatic list of items that meet my search criteria.
I don't have as much access to the scientific papers so I tend to get the abstracts and then try to get a friend with journal access to get me the papers as PDF files. I can't get back to them so I always download the PDF copies of anything that looks remotely interesting onto my own machine.
I'm filing them in an electronic system. I change the file names to indicate contents and then do an index of those folders in DEVONThink. In my DT database I have folders that are by subject and I have a read/review folder and a read now folder. The read/review contains papers whose abstracts looked interesting. The mobil index is with me all the time and the read/review and read now folders are also with me all the time on my iPhone.
What I was doing is setting a weekly recurring project to read abstracts of papers and get copies of ones that looked interesting. About half of those just go into the filing system and never get read until I do a search because I need some more info. About half were going into the read/review folder and I'd chip away at them by reading at least the abstract, procedures and conclusions of every paper. If they were still interesting or useful I'd move them to a read now folder on my Mac and try to knock off 2-3 papers a week from that folder.
What I am starting to do is to put the read/review and read now folders of papers on my iPad and then carry it with me so I can read them anywhere. That project has prompted a search for a different purse that can carry the iPad comfortably. Another thing I am considering is buying a new kindle that can take PDF files directly without conversion and using that as I like the kindle screen for reading black and white stuff better. I have bits of time where I can read that I could use to try to keep caught up.
Not sure that helps but it's how I'm dealing with all the papers I want to read.
Have you considered speed reading?
I'm a bioinformatics PhD student, and one of the best things I have done in for myself at uni was to enrol on a speed reading course. Before, I was a very slow reader. I used to "pronounce" each word in my head as I read. It took forever to read anything, especially 20 page papers!
After the course, which was only one day long, my reading rate increased tenfold and they included tests to demonstrate that comprehension stayed at the same level of ~80%. Now, I only slow down when I read for pleasure or if I'm dealing with difficult concepts (which academic papers do have, but only sparsely).
Anyway, you can't manufacture more time so the choice is to not read the papers, drop other tasks to make time for them, or learn speed reading.