Five Must-Have Productivity Tools for Writers

More times than I’d like to admit, I’ve been so lost in my own thoughts that I’ve become oblivious to the rest of the world. Usually this results in minor setbacks like missing a turn when driving or leaving too many loose ends. Sometimes it gets much more dangerous.

Sometimes I ignore my wife.

It’s not on purpose, mind you. It’s just that even though I’m subconsciously aware that she’s talking to me (about very important things I might add), I’m so lost in my head that I actually don’t hear what she’s saying. Ashamedly, I’ve had to look over at her and say, “I’m sorry, honey. I have to admit that I didn’t catch a word you say.”

It’s taken me years of stupid listening skills to realize that when you’re a writer, organization is paramount.

As writers, we have dozens of thought streams flying through our head at a given time. After all, we make a living off of chasing ideas through the caverns of our brains. The trick is to capture those thoughts quickly, get them categorized, and then move on with life. You have to own your thoughts, not let them own you.

Only then can you appear to be a fully functioning adult—instead of the freak we all know you (and me) are.

Here are a five great organization tools I’ve come across that help me stay on top of my writing game.

Evernote

For the longest time I used solely paper note-taking systems, jotting down my to-do’s and general thoughts in my Molskine. The problem was that I was starting to drop some of the balls I had in the air as life got busier. Important notes were getting lost as pages and pages of notes piled on too quickly for me to keep up.

Today, I still use my Molskine, but I download my information into Evernote. I can categorize my to-do’s and easily clip web content with the click of a button for later review for various projects. Plus it syncs with my iPhone (as well as other smart phones), so I can add or access notes while I’m on the go, and I can take photo and voice notes too. Because the service is based on a cloud server, I can access my account anywhere. If you haven’t checked out Evernote, you’re missing out.

Best of all. It’s free.

Google Calendar

Balancing calendars is tough. More often than not, my wife and I were double booked. And we never had time to actually sit down and synch our days. The day I discovered the free Google Calendar service changed my life. Well, maybe that’s a little melodramatic, but it’s been a big help.

With Google Calendar, you can synch your calendars on multiple computers and with multiple users instantly through their cloud-based system—and best of all you can still continue to use your Outlook or iCal just like you always have. So when I open my calendar on my computer, I see the appointments for my wife (or whomever else has access to my shared Google Calendar) and can plan accordingly. She can do likewise.

This has significantly cut down my asking, “Didn’t I tell you about that?”

Scrivener

I have good news and bad news when it comes to Scrivener. The good news is that it’s the greatest word processing program I’ve ever used. The bad news is that it’s just for Macs. Well, it’s bad news if you’re a PC user.

I’ll be doing a more comprehensive post on Scrivener in the future, but for now I’ll give a brief overview.

Scrivener is a project based word processor built specifically for writers, made to operate the way writers think. Some of my favorite features are:

  • The ability to have multiple chapters within the project pane, making it easy to move content around and skip between chapters without having to open new windows or documents.
  • The digital Cork Board for posting virtual note cards.
  • The research section that allows you to post notes, web pages, PDF documents, and more within the project pane.
  • A dynamic outline that builds as you write your document for quick reference review.
  • Full screen functionality that blocks out all distractions like Twitter and email.
  • And the ability to compile documents and export to most major word processors, including Word.

Stop what you’re doing, and check out Scrivener now.

Time Blocking

In today’s world of too many distractions, you need to take control of your schedule. Time blocking is the perfect way to do that. Here’s a great video that can describe the concept better than me.

Basecamp

I’ve always wanted to have a one-stop shop for my clients’ projects but didn’t want to spend a fortune. Thankfully you can host your projects on Basecamp for a very reasonable monthly cost.

On Basecamp you can post files, create milestones and To-Do lists, host all conversations with your client, and even track your time. It’s based on a cloud server so you and your clients can access projects from any computer, anywhere. It’s great to have the ability to find everything related to a project in one place.

More than anything, using a program like Basecamp makes you look pro. Every time I roll out a project on Basecamp to my client’s they are very impressed.

Check it out.

[Photo by Flik]