Writing and listening

A while ago, I wrote a post about where I liked to do academic work. Generally, I work in one of three places, listed in order of frequency:

1. On the sofa in my study at home

2. In a cafe

3. On a train (if I happen to be going somewhere. I don’t just take trains to get work done, although the thought has crossed my mind)

But for me, there’s more to it than just physical location. There’s sound. In the previous post, I mentioned that I didn’t like an oppressively quiet atmosphere (although incredibly loud environments aren’t great either). If I’m on the train or in a cafe, I will often listen to music.

At home, on the sofa, it’s more varied. Sometimes I’ll listen to music. More often I’ll have some sort of TV show or film playing on a separate screen.

This really works for me. It has done since I was a child. My parents could never quite believe that watching episodes of Friends or Disney films was conducive to getting work done, but it was, and still is.

I don’t think it works for everyone. But I do think it’ll work for some people, and it’s the kind of thing that’s very flexible. Here’s what works for me:

1. I tend to either choose something I know very well (and like), or something that doesn’t require much attention.

2. I make decisions based on what I’m doing. I have different items for:

– Reading articles on my iPad (early Grey’s Anatomy episodes)

– Writing (Pokemon episodes)

– Really difficult writing (About a Boy soundtrack)

– Anything nearish Christmas (Love Actually)

– Data analysis (Bones)

– Urgent things (Inception soundtrack)

3. This one is subconscious, but I have noticed that I generally choose things where you don’t miss out by only listening. I tend to pay more attention with my ears than my eyes, and will usually listen to a TV show or film more than watch it. This lends itself well to “watching” media while working.

Why does this work for me? Honestly, I’m not sure. But I think that a lot of it is about emotion. I’ve chosen media that evokes emotions for me, based on what I need to get done.

Grey’s Anatomy is something I associate with good, relaxed times. I like the music, and I’ve seen the early episodes quite a few times, so it’s easy to keep in the background while I’m ready. It’s probably too emotional to have on while I’m writing, though. Love Actually is similar, without the dramatic plot twists.

The About a Boy soundtrack comes with relaxed, positive emotions for me, but with no plot to follow, it’s ideal for when I really need to focus.

Pokemon is very adventure-based, but it doesn’t require a huge amount of attention. It works well for morning writing, because it’s peppy and promotes the idea that you can do anything.

Bones and Inception make me feel like what I’m doing is of incredibly importance, and may change the world.

Do you listen to media when you’re working? I’ve asked this question to a number of friends, and responses have been divided. The most common is “oh, no, I just couldn’t concentrate like that!”. What do you think?

Is your PhD like Skyrim?

Last week, a good friend of mine commented that she hadn’t seen any blog posts from me in a while. It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind. What with a PhD and a part-time job, I’ve been very busy recently and this blog has suffered.

Since my last post, I’ve almost completed a major documentation-writing project at my part-time job, I’ve planned and conducted a pilot, written up that pilot, and planned a larger, proof-of-concept study. I’ve also written a guest post for PhD2Published, summarising my first PhD-as-video-game posts from my blog.

But I haven’t written here. I’ve been waiting for a large, interrupted period of time to really think about what I want to do next on this blog. This mystical period of time has not availed itself to me. Any large periods of time have been spent doing PhD work, cooking, or (let’s be honest) playing Skyrim.

Have you played Skyrim? It’s a roleplaying game, or RPG. I’m playing it on my laptop, via Steam, using an xbox 360 controller, although you can also play it on xbox 360. It is utterly addictive. In fact, it is a magnificent illustration of a motivating game that just makes you come back for more. It is almost exactly what I am trying to replicate in my PhD working methods (although there would be a great danger of becoming a workaholic…). I probably shouldn’t share how many hours I’ve spent playing this game in the past 2 months.

I’d like to devote a few blog posts to some similarities between academic work and Skyrim. At the moment, this idea is very much in the formative stages. Currently, I’m considering a post on dragons, how they can upset your gameplay, and how you can work them to your academic advantage; a post on skill training, and the challenges of deciding where to focus your time and energy; and a post on time, effort, and achievement, and on how one does not necessarily equal the other.

I’ll try to write these posts in a way that will be informative and engaging to people who have, and people who haven’t, played Skyrim. Is there anything in particular that you would like to see covered in these posts? Would you like to make your PhD more like Skyrim? Do you have any tips? Let me know in the comments section below.

Ladder 1 Rung 3: Reviewing tasks

In this “ladder” (or series) of blog posts, I’m talking about how I’m trying to make my PhD more like a video game. I have always responded well to structured, achievable tasks, and the lack of these has been really difficult for me during my PhD so far.

This ladder is looking at the short bursts of achievement that video games can give you. As such, the focus is identifying, scheduling, and reviewing tasks. There are 3 “rungs” (or steps) to the ladder, with one blog post for each rung.

In the first rung, I talked about how to identify tasks using to do lists and free writing.

The second rung covered how to schedule those tasks, whether using a pad of paper, a diary or calendar, or a task management app like Producteev.

In this, the third rung, I’ll be discussing how to review your progress with the tasks you set.

Please note…

After the first and second rungs (where you’ll have identified and scheduled your tasks), you need to actually attempt the tasks you’ve set. I would usually set tasks for one week, and set a time at the end of the week to review the past week and identify and schedule tasks for the next week.

So to make full use of this post, it’s a good idea if you’ve already identified, scheduled, and attempted your first set of tasks (say, a week’s worth).


  1. Do you have your list of tasks, and the times you scheduled them for? I tend to have these in a file in Scrivener from when I was identifying and scheduling the tasks.
  2. Has it been a week (or however long you scheduled your tasks for) since you scheduled those tasks?
  3. Do you have a way of writing things down? I use Scrivener for this too, because it means that it’s easy for me to have my “identify” and “review” files open next to each other using “split view”, and refer to both

Let’s go!

Use whatever method you’ve chosen (pad of paper, Word, Open Office, Scrivener…) to write words to make three headings

  1. Tasks you completed
  2. Tasks you started but didn’t finish
  3. Tasks you didn’t start

For each of the tasks you’d identified and scheduled for the week, choose which heading fits best. Then, write the task under that heading with a gap between each task (you’ll be writing more in those gaps).

Have you done that for all of your tasks?

Next, under each task write:

  1. A sentence or two about the task (when you did it, whether you encountered any problems, what you found or achieved)
  2. Why you think you managed to/didn’t manage to complete it.

For me, point 2 is the most important part of this rung, and one of the most important parts of the whole ladder.

Look at your reasons for completion or lack thereof. Are there any themes within the headings? Write them down!

To give you an idea, I’m going to share some of the patterns from my first review session.

1) Tasks you completed

Things tended to get done if they were:

  • Manageable
  • Specific
  • Scheduled
  • Urgent

In my first week (and in following weeks), most of my completed tasks were done during a writing session with a friend. That’s one session in the week. If this working pattern sounds familiar to you, I highly recommend this blog post from the Thesis Whisperer.

It’s easy to view the rest of the week as a failure, or write-off, but instead I’m trying to try and focus on the achievement of that one very productive session, and to figure out how to replicate it

2) Tasks you started, but didn’t finish

This mainly happened with tasks where the criteria for completion were unclear.  I started using the “measure for success” heading when identifying tasks as a way of combatting this problem.

3) Tasks you didn’t start

With me, these were mostly because I was ill or tired, or other things came up. “Tasks I didn’t start” seemed to be due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s also possible to have a high amount of tasks in this list if you overestimated the amount of time you’d have, or underestimated the time it would take you to do the tasks.

Once you’ve done that, think about ways you might replicate the conditions that helped you to complete these tasks. If you’re interested in the idea of improving a situation by embracing the positive rather than banishing the negative, appreciative inquiry is a research approach that draws on this. As my research focuses on improving healthcare, I’m also including this abstract for a paper which uses appreciative inquiry in a healthcare context.

In my first review session, mine were

  1. Set immovable work sessions (this was because my writing-with-friend session was so successful)
  2. Acknowledge when it’s a busy week, and set fewer tasks accordingly
  3. Set specific tasks, and incorporate a “measure for success”
  4. Have contingency plans in place (this and the previous bulletpoint were addressed by adding the “measure for success” and “backup plan” headings in the identification phase)

If you review your tasks each week, and schedule the next batch of tasks at the same time, you’ll start to get a good idea of:

  1. What time of day is best for you
  2. What working environment is best for you
  3. How much time you can devote to these tasks
  4. How long it takes you to get things done
  5. What stops you from getting things done

And that’s the end of this ladder. Well done, you reached the top!

I’d really like to write more posts on improving productivity by taking hints from video games. If you have any requests or ideas, please let me know in the comments section. You can also use the comments section to say nice things, let me know if you’ve found these posts helpful, or if you have any suggestions.

Ladder 1 Rung 2: Scheduling tasks

Last time: Identifying tasks

For an introduction to the idea I’m trying out, have a look at this blog post. In short, I’m attempting to make my PhD more like a video game by creating short, manageable, but challenging tasks to promote a sense of achievement. Each technique I do will be referred to as a “ladder”, with the individual steps branded as “rungs”.

This is Ladder 1: Identify, schedule and review.  There are 3 rungs to this ladder, with one blog post for each.

In my last post, I talked about how to identify tasks (rung 1). In this post, I’m looking at how to schedule those tasks (rung 2). In the next post, I’ll be reviewing the tasks (rung 3). In between rungs 2 and 3 you actually have to do the tasks. There’s no post for that.

Ready? (Software…)

For rung 2, I’ll be using the task management software Producteev. There are a lot of task management applications out there, but I’ve chosen Producteev for several reasons:

1) It’s usable on anything that accesses the web (via a website) and there are apps for Windows,Mac, iPhone and Android. This means I can use it on my laptop, my phone, and my tablet.

2) It’s free for individual users (you can pay to use it for teams)

3) It has features I like: I can schedule things and view them on a calendar; I can tag tasks with labels; I can email tasks to Producteev; I can capture webpages to Producteev using a neat capture tool.

You can use whatever task manager you like, including a pen and pad of paper. I hear “diaries” are particularly good versions of pads of paper for task management and scheduling.

Let’s go!

From the last blog post, you should have already identified some tasks that need to be done (if you need help with this, look here).

Gathering your information…

The next step is to figure out how much time you have this week to devote to your task list. Look at your diary, or your calendar, or wherever you’ve listed things you have scheduled. And then use that information:

1) What are your “working hours” for these tasks? If they’re Monday to Friday, 9 – 5, then you know that the maximum hours you have are 40. But you can’t work solidly all that time, can you? So take out an hour for lunch each day. That’s 35. Then there are breaks. Factor those in. Everyone works differently. I work in bursts, so the 9-5 thing doesn’t actually work for me. Now you’ve calculate the maximum time you have to spend.

2) What do you already have scheduled? If you have a meeting at 10 on Tuesday morning, what does that mean for the rest of your day? Be realistic…

– Can you do any work before the meeting? Could you arrive early and get some work done first? Could you work at home before you leave? Or is it better just to write off that time?

– When can you start work again? If the meeting lasts an hour, do you want to get going straight away? Do you need to clear your head first? Or eat? If it’s a stressful meeting, maybe it’d be good to do some exercise or have some downtime. You’ll work better afterwards.

3) Look at what you have left, and write down the segments of time where you realistically think you can get work done. Make sure the times listed are actually times you will be in position to work. Not the time your meeting finishes until the time you’re meant to be at the cinema.

You’ll do this again and again when you review your progress and identify your next set of tasks. And you’ll quickly begin to develop an idea of how long it takes you to get stuff done –  an excellent by-product of managing your time this way.

Putting it all together…

By this point, you should have your list of tasks, and a list of times when you can do the tasks. Last time we talked about “dependencies” (i.e. a whether you need to do one task before you can do another). I’m only going to give one task a dependency for this post, to make things as simple as possible. The other headings we used in the last post are more useful for completing and reviewing the tasks.

Here’s an example of tasks and available times…

a) Read <name of paper> on <name of subject area> [b) IS DEPENDENT ON THIS]
b) Write up notes from <paper>, with particular reference to <super relevant part of paper> [DEPENDENT ON a)]
c) Email <name> about <interesting thing>
d) Draft blog post on <something you write about>
e) Write 1000 words on <a concept that’s important to your thesis>
Available time:
Monday, 9 – 12
Tuesday, 2-5
Wednesday, 9-12
Thursday, 2-5
Friday, 9-12

Finally, you need to slot the tasks into the available time slots. You can make this as fun as you choose. One option is to write the tasks on post-it notes and write the time slots on bigger pieces of paper. Then put the post-its on the bigger pieces of paper. Another is to write the task list on one side of a piece of paper, and the time slots on the other. Use arrows to connect them.

You’ll end up with something like this:

Monday, 9 – 12 – Read on [TUESDAY TASK IS DEPENDENT ON THIS]
Tuesday, 2-5 – Write up notes from <paper>, with particular reference to <super relevant part of paper> [DEPENDENT ON MONDAY TASK]
Wednesday, 9-12 – Draft blog post on <something you write about>
Thursday, 2-5 – Write 1000 words on <a concept that’s important to your thesis>
Friday, 9-12 – Email <name> about <interesting thing>, review this week and plan next week
Don’t forget to schedule in time to review the week, and to plan the next one.

Then pop those tasks into your diary or calendar. If you use Producteev, you can use their inbuilt calendar, combining the process of creating a to do list and noting the tasks in your diary . You can do something similar with Gmail and Google Tasks. If you use Gmail for your calendar this may be more convenient, but I prefer the feature set of Producteev.

Video game creators can spend lots of time figuring out how easy or difficult to make each task, and that’s a big part of what makes you want to continue playing a game. If the level is wrong, then it’s boring: too easy and the achievements mean nothing, too hard and the achievements are too rare.

So the big challenge to this rung of the ladder is making your achievements challenging but doable.

Every time you review a week, your next plan will be adjusted to take into account how easy or difficult your tasks were. You’ll be learning how much you can ask yourself to do. But that’s for the next post…

Note: This is very much a work in progress. If you have any suggestions for improvement, stories or tips to share, or nice things to say, I’d love to hear about them below. Leave a comment!

Next time: Reviewing tasks

Ladder 1 Rung 1: Identifying tasks

Last month, I published a blog post on how I’ve been trying to make my PhD more like a video game. Since the beginning of Academic Writing Month (November 2012), I’ve been trying some techniques to achieve this goal. I’ve decided to blog about each technique I try, and about the steps involved in each technique. To minimise confusion over the difference between techniques and steps, I’m branding the techniques as ‘ladders’ and the steps as ‘rungs’. This reminds me of the ladders in early Donkey Kong, and in Zelda, so it fits with the video game theme. I’m planning to write one blog post per rung (or step). Several posts will make one ladder (technique)

In Ladder 1, I’ll be talking about how I’ve worked on identifying tasks, scheduling them, and reviewing my progress. It sounds like a standard part of self-directed work, but it’s not one I’ve perfected yet. It’s easy to pretend that tasks will identify and schedule themselves, and that everything will fall into place. However, allowing that to happen means that you never get the satisfaction of completing a task or achieving a goal, because you never really specified one in the first place.

There will be 3 rungs in ladder 1:

Rung 1 – Identifying tasks

Rung 2 – Scheduling tasks

Rung 3 – Reviewing progress

You might notice that there’s no rung for actually completing the task. For now, I’ll leave that to you. This ladder is more about setting things up so that you have prepared a situation where it’s possible, maybe even fun, to complete the tasks.

Today, we’re working on Rung 1 – Identifying tasks (and increasing the likelihood that you’ll do them). I’m using the word “task” to mean something you can do, rather than “goal” which suggests a more abstract intention.

For this, I usually use Scrivener (which I’ve already blogged about very briefly), but you can use anything that allows you to write words (including a pad of paper and a pen).

This part is less like a video game, because the tasks/achievements are often decided for you in a video game. Identifying tasks can take different forms for different people. For me, it’s a mixture of free writing and to-do lists. After reviewing my first week or two of tasks (which will be covered in Rung 3), identifying new ones became much easier.

I use Scrivener because 1) It’s where I do most of my writing, 2) I can tag things and I can use keywords. It’s pretty great for that, and 3) I can keep track of word count and set targets (although I can also keep track of my word count on the PhDometer, which I’m using just now).

Here’s a few ways you can identify tasks:

1) Free write using pen/paper, Scrivener, or another word processor

Write about what you need to do next. Write about what you’re worried about. Write about your unanswered questions. Those things which are niggling at the back of your mind. And either as you go, mark out things which will become tasks. With paper, you can highlight.

With a word processor, like Scrivener, you can bold or underline. I’ll bold and underline, prefaced by the word TASK. So it’ll look something like this:

I’m a bit worried about my study because I really want to check this one thing and I think Alex might know but I’m not really sure and I should prbably just ask him really (there are usually lots of typos in my free writing, so I’m keeping it authentic. This is a reminder not to self-edit during free writing).

TASK: Email Alex about the thing

That’s easy to find within the document. I can either search for “task:”, or I can come back and just scan the page.

Another way to identify a task is to:

2) Write a to do list

You can do this again on pen/paper/a task management app/a computer somewhere else. I’m going to talk about task management apps in Rung 2, so for now I’ll stick to a writing approach, whether it be on paper or on a word processor. I’ll be using Scrivener.

To do lists are like shopping lists – just because you put something on there doesn’t mean you’ll actually do it. You might have written “a pony” on your parents list when you were younger, but that doesn’t mean they’d buy one for you on their weekly shopping trip.

So write your to do list. And then pick from there what you really think you can get done in a week. You’ll get better at this with practise (which is why practising is such a good idea!).

Once you’ve identified your tasks, have a look at them. How specific are they? How will you know whether you’ve completed them? When I write up my tasks for the coming week (before or after scheduling them, it doesn’t matter), there are a few things I like to include:

Name of the task: i.e.Write a draft for a blog post on identifying tasks

The name is pretty important. Make it as specific as possible.

Dependencies: None

It’s good to know if this task is dependent on another task. If it is, make sure that task is listed and prioritised.

Measure for success: 1000 saved as draft on WordPress or written on Scrivener on the subject of identifying tasks.

This is my favourite one. I started using it when doing one of my weekly reviews (to be covered in Rung 3). I’d realised my tasks weren’t specific enough, and I needed a way to improve that. My tasks were along the lines of “check literature for info on X”. There was no way to tell if I’d succeeded. In that case, I’d looked on Google, and at articles, for an hour or so but hadn’t found anything useful. So technically, I had succeeded. But I didn’t feel like I had. So instead, I needed to know what success would look like: “Spend 30 minutes on a search engine looking for X”, or “identify 5 articles that cover X”, although the latter is still a bit ambiguous. This is something I’m still working on. It’s more challenging than I thought it would be…

And this is where the next (and final) item comes in:

Backup plan: 100 words written about main message of next blog post (as above)

This is the thing you want to have done, even if you didn’t have time to do the full task, or it wasn’t possible, or it wasn’t specific enough. In this case, it might be (if 5 articles can’t be identified): “Email <insert name of someone who might know>”, or “Look at 5 staff profiles in <insert name of university department> and identify those with experience in X”, or “ask supervisor”, or “identify search terms to use later”, or “read one article and find refs from that”. Make it small and doable. This is your safety net. Mine still need to be more specific.

So, if you’ve done this, you’ll have a list of tasks, with headings for dependencies, measures for success, and contingencies. Make the list as long as you think you can/need to do in a week. Part of this process is learning how much you can get done, and how much you can ask yourself to do while maintaining your health and a life outside academia.

Next time – Rung 2 – scheduling these tasks.

12 free stopwatch apps (android) for use in studies

I’ve got a pilot study coming up, so I’ve been looking around for a stopwatch app to use on my android phone (HTC Desire S). I used the native stopwatch on my phone, but I had a few issues with it.  Firstly, I couldn’t choose whether to make the screen stay awake. This was problematic in the studies I’ve conducted so far, because my screen locks and unlocking it is annoying during a study. I didn’t want to have to change my phone’s general settings, so I wanted a stopwatch app that had its own option for this.

First requirement: Option to keep screen awake

I also thought it would be nice to be able to label my laps. It’d be great to do that in advance so that the app would keep track of my study for me, but I guessed that might be a bit farfetched for a free app.

Second requirement: Label laps (in advance?)

I wanted to be able to save the timings somewhere, either to my phone or via email.

Third requirement: Export lap timings

So I searched the apps on Google Play for Stopwatch. I’ve compared them with reference to the three requirements, and for clarity of interface and presence/absence of ads. As you can imagine, there are a lot of results when you search for “stopwatch”. In that light, I am including 12.

Comparison chart

Ads Keep screen awake option Set lap description Interface Save/email
Stopwatch (Chronus)  Yes *No No Clear Yes
UltraChron Stopwatch Lite (Thespinninghead) No Yes Yes Clear, but neon Yes
Ultimate Stopwatch & Timer (Geekyouup) No No No Beautiful but not clear No
Time Study Stopwatch (Leanmfgapps) No No No Clear No
StopWatch – Winner StopWatch ( No No No Quirky but not clear No
Stopwatch & Countdown Timer (Beste It-systems) Yes No No Clear Yes
Stopwatch and Trainer (Shawn B) Yes Yes Yes (and create 2 presets) Clear Yes
Stopwatch (  No Yes No Clear No
StopWatch & Timer (  Yes Yes No Clear No
StopTimer – Stopwatch & Timer (SynAppze) Yes Yes No laps Okay No
Stopwatch (Clever mobile)  Yes Yes No Clear Yes
Stopwatch & Timer (L Droid) Yes Yes No Clear Yes


Stopwatch (Chronus)

This app seemed to have potential, but the ads combined with no options for lap description or keeping the screen awake make this not a viable contender, even though it’s possible to email yourself the results. There is a paid app with more functionality.

*UPDATE: I’ve been informed that this app has screen lock by default.

UltraChron Stopwatch Lite (Thespinninghead)

Ultrachron stopwatch has a relatively clear interface, and you can change the colour of the numbers in the main timer. Having said that, it does have a rather neon vibe, which doesn’t look too professional. You can keep the screen awake, and edit the lap description, which are both useful, but its visuals are offputting.

Ultimate Stopwatch & Timer (Geekyouup)

Ultimate Stopwatch & Timer seems to be the polar opposite of Ultrachron. Its display is beautiful, with the image of an analogue stopwatch dominating the screen. However, I can’t seem to find any settings apart from viewing lap times and changing the mode from stopwatch to timer. I was unable to figure out how to use the lap function by intuition, which isn’t a good start. It’s lovely for basic stopwatch/timer tasks, but not viable for something more complicated.

Time Study Stopwatch (Leanmfgapps)

I had high hopes for Time Study, as it seemed to be designed for the purpose I was looking for. However, it seems to have no features that would set it apart in this respect. Unless there are some settings I just can’t find…it appears that there aren’t any.

StopWatch – Winner StopWatch (

I’m always a bit sceptical of any product with “Winner” in the title, but I’ll forgive this app as it may be referring to the winning times you’ll clock up on this app. It’s quirky looking, with buttons that look like they belong on a guitar or a sound system.Like Time Study, there appear to be no settings or features to speak of, so I wouldn’t use it unless you really like the design.

Stopwatch & Countdown Timer (Beste It-systems)

With this app, you can change the background, and the design seems fairly clear. You can export the data as a CSV file, view statistics, and there are settings. Unfortunately the settings I want are absent, so this app is a no go for me.

Stopwatch and Trainer (Shawn B)

The name of this app suggests it was created with a sporting context in mind, and it does have a setting specifically for creating and following workouts. It does have ads, which makes it less than perfect, but it does have what I’m looking for. I can keep the screen awake (it’s a very accessible option, not hidden within other settings). I can’t edit lap descriptions as I go but I can create presets with my lap descriptions. In the free version, I can only do two different sessions (i.e. habituation and baseline), but I can do more in the paid version. It’s not obvious from the settings, but it is possible to view your lap statistics once you’ve stopped the stopwatch, and then email them.

Stopwatch (

Ah, another innovatively named stopwatch app. The interface is clear, and the settings allow me to keep the screen awake. Although the lack of ads are appealing, the lack of specific functionality I’m looking for is offputting, so I won’t be using this app for my study.

StopWatch & Timer (

This app looks clear, and you can change the colour scheme. I can keep the screen awake, but I can’t edit lap descriptions or email my results. As such, this app is not for me.

StopTimer – Stopwatch & Timer (SynAppze)

Stoptimer excludes itself immediately, because laps aren’t possible yet. Apparently they will be in the future. Until then, it’s not for me.

Stopwatch (Clever mobile)

This one looks nice, and I can keep the screen awake and email results. However, I can’t edit lap descriptions, so this doesn’t quite work for me. Perhaps the full version will let me, but t’s not clear. Tantalisingly, the app just tells me that the full version has “more options” (and no ads)…

Stopwatch & Timer (L Droid)

This app looks very similar to the Stopwatch and Timer. However, it has more functionality – I can export my results in a variety of formats.

The verdict

My biggest disappointment was Time Study Stopwatch. It is advertised as being for studies measuring time, and it seems to have no functions that set it apart from any other stopwatch app. In fact, it seems to have no settings to change, but I could just be missing something.

My favourite was Stopwatch and Trainer. It had the functionality I was looking for, and the interface was nice. I can make preset sessions (designed for workouts, but applicable for studies), and this has a lot more possibilities with the paid version (more sessions to set, rather than just 2 in the free version). I do feel slightly bad about that consider that this is a post on free apps, but this app alone gave a taste of what the full version could do, rather than promising mysterious “further options”.

This is my first comparison review, so gentle feedback would be lovely!

PC World selling the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight…or are they?

After some online research, my fiancee and I decided that the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight was the way to go for an eReader purchase. It had a backlit screen (hence the glowlight), and was much more open than the Kindle in terms of file format (my fiancee wants to use it to read PDFs).

Having found out that they are being released in the UK in October (not the most specific of dates, consider we were in late September at the time), I went to the PC World website and preordered one. I was told that it wasn’t in stock (unsurprising, considered it hadn’t been released yet) and that they would send one to me as soon as they had them in.  Fine.

Today, I received an email I assumed was spam from, with the following content:

Dear Mrs Black,

I am sorry to inform you that the NOOK – Simple Touch GlowLight eReader – Black  that you ordered is currently out of stock.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for any inconvenience that you may have been caused on this occasion.

A way forward would be for you to browse our website to see if there is any alternative product matching the price, we would be happy to exchange your product.

We would be happy to issue you a full refund. If we do not hear from you within 48 hours we will assume that you would prefer to cancel your order.

If this is your preferred choice you do not need to contact us as your order will be automatically cancelled after 48 hours.

It would be great if you could give us a call on 0844 561 00 98 (Option1).

Again please accept our apology for any inconvenience this has caused.

We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Initially I thought that it was spam, and here’s why:

  1. I am not Mrs Black. I do not live with anyone called Mrs Black. Having said that, a few minutes later I received another email with my name instead of Mrs Black’s
  2. The item was a preorder, so I hadn’t expected it to be in stock yet
  3. The item was still for sale on the PC World website when I checked after receiving the email
  4. The correspondence was from Dixons. Although they’re related companies, you’d expect a bit of consistency
  5. I checked my order on my PC World account, and there was nothing to indicate a problem there
  6. There’s no email address or way to manage the situation electronically
  7. To me, the writing is jarring enough to alert my mental “spam” alert – it seems like a one size fits all template for mischief

However, some Googling has revealed that other people have had the same problem, and it is “legit”, i.e. their customer service is legitimately that bad. Honestly, I would’ve preferred spam.

I scooted over to the PC World site, and have emailed their customer service team to find out what’s going on.  Watch this space…

UPDATE: It wasn’t spam. They phoned – unfortunately the reception was terrible, but the gist seemed to be that my order WAS still active, and the email was triggered by their computer system.  Maybe it was a one-off, but if not I feel some like things need to be changed to make PC World a hassle-free choice for preorder.