Slow and Steady: Organizing Tools for Writers and Others

Alright, I’ve definitely done blog posts on my pen-and-paper methods, but now it’s time to get serious and talk about one of my five biggest love-hate relationships. Technology.

(Why Love-Hate? Maybe we’ll cover that next…)

I’ve gone through TONS and I mean TONS of methods to keep myself organized using technology. I mean, it makes sense, right? We always have phones, computers, etc. with us. And with so many services allowing syncing between multiple platforms, and some even allowing you to scan in stuff you’ve written by hand and digitizing that information to store in one place, you can cover basically all platforms.

But what’s the best?

I’ll start with my computer. I don’t use these things as often, but they’re tried-and-true, and I do use them.

Evernote

This is everyone’s favorite friendly accumulation resource, and I have it on my phone as well, so I can sync between the two.

There are tons of things one might use Evernote for, but I have essentially two uses for it. One is organizing snippets of writing that will be part of other things into digital notebooks when I’m out and about and don’t have the right journal with me. It’s also something I’ve used for notetaking, so I could use it to write in class and look like I was taking notes. 😉

The other thing is co-writing. Natalie and another dear friend have used this method to share back and forth documents, to look at things without using email, and we’ve used the Work Chat function to discuss and share whole notebooks at times. This is really the only app I’ve used for its collaborative features, and since nearly everyone has it these days, I feel it’s definitely the best choice.

Todoist

This one I’ve acquired more recently, but I’m still not sure if I want to pay for the pro one or not (I plan to make up my mind before the first paycheck at my new job). On the basic one, it works just fine. I love that I can label things effectively for a large number of different aspects of life, and that I can set lots of different kinds of recurring tasks quickly without scrolling through bunches of buttons. The quick add feature is wonderful.

It also has two ways of focusing your attention. One is to focus in on just today, starting with things that are overdue (I’ve got a lot of overdue, as always, most of them chores), then things that are fresh for the day. The other is to look at the week so that if you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, you can check forward to see if there’s something you have coming up that you can get some work done on early.

I’ve also got this on my phone, and it’s lovely. I use it when my computer’s charging and I want to see what I can do off the computer. Actually, just used it.

Trello

I’ve been using Trello very casually for a very long time now. This is a great little app that I now only have on my computer (I needed the space on my phone) and I use it solely for long-term lists. So, for example, a list of all the appliances and such I’ll need when I get my first place. A list of all the products for hair and beauty I would ideally have. A list of all the tech I would ideally own and use to keep my writing at full speed. To-Dos specifically for holiday planning. My long-term planning stuff. It’s really nice, and I used it a lot while in school to organize what I needed to do for courses so I could just plow through a course’s work and keep track of what I had yet to accomplish. It’s not perfect, but I really enjoyed it.

Glass

Now we’re onto things that I’ve only got on my phone. Glass is absolutely lovely, although I don’t use it as much as I should. It’s got two really useful zones (DISCLAIMER: I use Glass Pro, so I may describe features only available in Pro by accident – apologies): Plan and Act. There’s also Done, but I only use this to “undo” things I accidentally marked off. You get a scrolling calendar, as well as a scrolling list at the bottom of the list that goes from most recent/urgent to things due well far off. You can mark something as a basic to-do that can be done any time, a specific event or appointment that you don’t have to check off but it can remind you of, or specific To-Dos that you can (or can’t) make up. You can tag things, and even create project folders so that you can connect a bunch of To-Dos with different due dates to an overall project with its own due date.

Ready to start doing? Just scroll right to Act and everything’s in an organized list for you, starting with things that must be done now and scrolling all the way down to things that must be done later.

I use this as my calendar, primarily, and it holds critical tasks like my fan-fiction to-do list based on reader desires and backing up my files. All that glorious stuff. I’m not someone who checks digital calendars often, preferring my pen-and-paper planner by and large. But I like having Glass, and I really like that if you go pro you can get the dark background with light letters, which is really easy on the eyes before bed or first thing in the morning. Todoist kind of assaults my vision when I wake up.

Productive

This may not be the full name of the app – not actually certain – but that’s what it says under the little icon on my phone, so that’s what I’m calling it. This is a habit-forming app, and I use it CONSTANTLY. You can separate habits by things you do morning, afternoon, night (you set the hours), things you do any time of day, and even things you do multiple times a day or only once a month or whatever. There’s suggested things that other people have done, like drinking enough water, getting exercise, etc. I use it to organize my morning routine, so that when I have those absent-minded moments in the morning or before bed where I stand in the middle of a room and think, “Now, what I was I meant to be doing?” I don’t waste any time trying to puzzle it out. I have a checklist, and I can consult it any time to see what I’ve finished, what I’ve yet to do.

One of your things something you don’t do EVERY day, necessarily? Like, say you have brushing your teeth down three times a day (like me) and you are at work a certain number of days a week but don’t want to take it off your mid-day list. Just skip on days you have a very good reason for not doing the act! Skip sparingly, because it’s really easy to tempt yourself into doing it whenever you don’t get around to something, but I tell myself I can only skip when it isn’t possible or practical to do whatever it is, not just because I got caught up writing and didn’t actually think about having breakfast by lunchtime.

Hours

I’ve only just started using this app, but I LOVE it. So I might have mentioned that I write ridiculously quickly. So if I tell myself, “I want to write for an hour’s worth today,” because I do things in pieces and not always all in one go, I can’t be totally sure that the chapter’s writing took me an hour, or that the short story I just churned out was half an hour’s work.

With this app, you can make a list of projects to track time for. Right now, I have things like blogging (which I’m tracking right now), a general fan fiction timer, original works timer, and one for organizing my finances, because I use most of these apps for work and personal uses alike. Have a few minutes to go through receipts? Turn on the finances timer, and turn it off when you are done and moving on to something else. You can see a timeline of your day, color coded for easy reading, and also cumulative times for each project, and a cumulative time for the day.

So, yesterday, for example, it was my mum’s birthday, so I didn’t do a massive day full of work (frosting a cake takes time). I did, however, put in over three hours, with 35 minutes of blog writing, over two hours of fan fiction work, and about 20 minutes of original writing on my Camp NaNo Project.

You can also set reminders so that it harasses you if you haven’t started a timer by a certain time of day, or have one running at the end of the day, or haven’t had one running for a certain period of time.

Pomodrone

I’m a big believer in the pomodoro system of 25 on, five off. I first heard about this in high school and didn’t think much of it until grad school, where I got the first pomodoro timer for my phone and fell in love.

I’ve tried several, but this is the one I’m using now, and it’s lovely. I’ve not upgraded, and I don’t think I will because it functions as I need it just the way it is. This assumes eight 25-minute pomodoros with one long break smack in the middle and five minute short breaks otherwise. However, unlike other timers that have a set goal, it doesn’t stop counting when you reach that goal! This is great, because I can do twelve to sixteen pomodoros of this description in a day, and I want my app to keep going with me.

The design is simple, pleasant, and if you leave the app open, your phone doesn’t go dark like some pomodoro and timing apps do, which is one of my pet peeves. The sort of dark seafoam green background is soft, pleasant, and not angry, so I feel comfortable using it any light, any time of day without feeling assaulted by color.

Oh, one last thing – when you reach the goal, it gives you a new inspirational quote every day, which is pretty cool.

Cheers

C

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About Charlotte Blackwood

Charlotte Blackwood is a self-employed aspiring author working on perfecting her first novella/ first novel. She is a current student at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, CA. If you're looking for a reading list (someday she'll add her own works to the list), she's currently supporting Anna Karenina, anything by Dickens, anything by Tolkien, anything by JK Rowling, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Hunger Games.

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