Facts & Tools

Digital tools that help you to stay organized in academia

Digital tools helping with work flows and team collaboration are commonly used in business contexts. However, you can easily adapt them to your needs as a group leader with a small team or as a postdoc with multiple collaborators. And most importantly, digital tools make it easier to manage yourself. We show you how to use them best.

General Tips:

  • Before you decide on a tool, understand what your goal is: Some apps have multiple features, so you may only need one provider (e.g., Trello can be used as a work flow tool and a To Do list). 
  • You might want to also try out post-its or a real life whiteboard before going digital to get a feeling for tools like Kanban. 
  • Many of the listed tools are free for individuals and small teams, but you better read the fine print before you sign up.
  • For many tools (and their underlying principles) you find tutorials on YouTube, but you can also look for online courses on Udemy or Coursera to learn how to use them efficiently.

How to organize yourself and keep good time management:

Organizing yourself is crucial and will become even more important with a team or collaborators involved.  These tools allow you to create work packages and categories (project A/B/C, Admin, private, etc.). You can prioritize tasks and add deadlines and reminders. You can integrate the apps into your email account (add emails as tasks).

Create lists and label them:

  • Todoist
  • Wonderlist

Create lists and also integrate tasks into workflows:

  • Trello
  •  Asana

Example of use:

Make a list on Sunday night to structure your week. Prioritize the tasks. Add tasks along the way and integrate them in a work flow (see below). In comparison to writing a list down, digital tools allow a more dynamic restructuring. And ticking off a completed task is very rewarding!


How to organize teams and workflows:

The main challenge here is to keep all involved parties informed and monitor the progress as well as seeing if and where there are problems like a task jam or uncoordinated work. These tools work because of the idea behind them – to visualize tasks and processes. Since team members might work remotely or are not at the same location, these tools replace a whiteboard or a wall full of post-its (which still can be great for a small, on-site team!):

Communication and collaboration tools:

  • Slack (messaging service, organized areas, and channels help you to communicate info in a more targeted way)
  • Miro or Mural (digital whiteboards with multiple functions and templates)

Platforms for workflows:

  • Asana
  • Monday
  • Trello
  • Stormboard

Example of use:

With these tools, you can create a Kanban Board. This is a project management tool that allows you to visualize tasks and the process itself.  Create columns labeled “To-Do”, “in progress”, and “Done” (you can also add “to be discussed”, “for later” etc. depending on the needs of the project). You can also assign tasks to people and add deadlines. Each team member has a transparent overview of pending and completed tasks and problems can be identified more easily. Integrate the board in team meetings or brief stand-ups.

How to give interactive talks:

Engage your audience so they get curious, overcome food coma after lunch at a conference, or they share what they remember. You can use “audience response system” tools for digital presentations as well as for presentations on-site. Our featured tools do not require an app to be installed, they work with the smartphone’s browser.

  • Mentimeter
  • Slido
  • OMBEA (integrable into MS PowerPoint)
  • feedbackr

Example of use:

Create an engaging entrance or exit of your talk by asking a question. Make a poll to get a feel for who is there or what they think the right answer is. Get an overview of opinions in the room. When the audience is actively involved in the presentation, attention increases. It also fosters comprehension by allowing the speaker to receive feedback and, if necessary, adjust the presentation to eliminate misunderstandings or ambiguities. Also, it’s more fun 🙂


How to keep track of your contacts:

You know you met that one postdoc at a conference who wanted you to send you a relevant paper, but lost their business card? You have to search through all of your emails to figure out who exactly was in that project two years ago?

Contacts are the base for networking and information. The problem: They change all the time and business card holders are something you’ve last seen on Mad Men. These tools don’t solve all the problems, but make your life easier.

  • All-time classic: Excel
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • CRM tools, such as Foundation+ (for non-profit organizations)

Example of use:

Excel works for small groups of contacts, but it quickly becomes confusing with a larger number of people. It’s helpful when you want to add information such as who introduced you, what they said in an informational interview, etc. You can also plan who you want to reach out to in the future.

LinkedIn has also been increasingly used in academia. Instead of swapping business cards, connect there. You can search your contacts with keywords or via their location etc. The data is usually up to date and you can find related contacts.

Twitter allows you to create lists of the profiles you are following and helps to categorize your Twitter-sphere (labs I like, people who always post new papers, etc.).

With so-called customer relationship management (CRM) tools, one can strategically maintain a high number of contacts and share information with everyone on the team. This ensures transparent communication and makes sense for a larger lab.