Lab scientists are all over the concept of keeping a laboratory notebook. This is your one-stop summary of a given project, from near-conception through publication. We field biologists, not trained at the lab bench (which tends to be conveniently flat and relatively protected from rainstorms, mud, and leeches) often find ourselves compiling the notes and assorted detritus associated with a given project in computer folders, desk drawers, and refrigerators.
Which is not to say that, at the very least, a logbook, or diary, isn’t extraordinarily useful when you find yourself juggling a variety of projects.
My protocol is to open a new file, named “_Log_projectname” in Word or (now) Omni Outliner–any program that allows you to timestamp a given entry. The “_” at the beginning of the name is an old trick to make sure this file sits at the top of the folder, along with the manuscript files, figures, data files, etc.
Then, whenever you do something substantive on that project, you make a dated entry describing what you did. My rule of thumb? If you open up the manuscript, work on a figure, add new data, or perform some analysis, that deserves an entry.
As an added bonus, at the end of that entry, type out a few of the next steps you foresee in turning that project into published manuscript.
Once you have this habit down–opening up, and adding to, a “_Log” file for every project–you can confidently set it aside for a short time to work on something else. When you return, just read the “_Log” file from beginning to end to get yourself back up to speed.
Just don’t wait too long…