Figuring out where to start is one area of preparation, but I've also been finding that there's a significant practical aspect to it as well. Perhaps twenty years ago this practical aspect would have equated to going out to a stationer's and buying 20 colour co-ordinated ring binders, and plotting out a system for a card catalogue for your notes, but these days there's a much more technological focus. It would be, quite frankly, ludicrously inefficient in this day and age for one's main research tool not to be a computer of some form or other. However, making best use of this tool is about more than just having a decent desktop or laptop. To continue the run of exploration-related metaphors, if one's computer is a Swiss army knife then it's important to make sure it's both very sharp, and clean of any of that disgusting gunk that builds up between the tools before launching into the jungle.
So, one of my big jobs this week has been 'laptop spring cleaning'. This is partially very mind-numbing stuff: searching "do I need x programme" on google and then uninstalling the offending bloatware, or using msconfig to speed up my laptop's boot time. I am also, however, tackling the chaotic mess that is my file directory. When I first got my laptop, I had a fairly democratic approach to new folders, and was much more likely just to create a new folder in 'my documents' than to nest in any more complex hierarchy, so that the 'Amazon MP3' folder sat alongside the obviously much more significant and more frequently-used 'MPhil' folder. Now, I'm trying to build a saner and more discerning file hierarchy, with the only two folders visible in 'My Documents' being 'Academic' and 'Daily Life' (I could go into a philosophical discussion regarding how much these can really be divided, but I'll leave that for another post!) with increasing subdivisions within those folders. I am also planning on following the advice of a fellow St Andrean and blogger and organising my collection of photographs of manusucripts according to a hierarchy that matches that used by the catalogue of the physical archives from which they came. Finally, I could not resist creating 'archive' folders in which to hide material which I don't want to delete, but which I probably don't need immediate access to - such as my undergraduate notes on Byzantium!
This may all seem rather obvious to some readers and a small voice at the back of my head suggests that maybe I'm just doing this to further procrastinate from launching off that diving board into the nitty-gritty of PhD research. On the other hand, I do think it is really important to have these systems in place, and that sharpening my academic Swiss Army knife now will pay dividends in the future when it enables me to cut through potential barriers all that more quickly.