I’m not even going to lie; it has taken me forever to figure out a way to keep my whole life on track, let alone the writing parts. Creating a system for planning my life has given me the freedom to spend time actually writing—not to mention that now I can track writing opportunities, competitions, submission deadlines and goals, and all the books and articles I can’t wait to read!
Here are the 5 ‘regular’ apps that I use all the time, that work together to make my productivity system and keep my professional, personal AND writing lives under control.
Cost: Free. Premium package is $34 per year.
The first step to creating a productivity system is figuring out all the stuff you want and have to get done, and the dates you need to get it done by. It is important to have all of this stuff in one place for every area of your life, so that you don’t end up focussing on one and totally ignoring the others. Your writing life will only be productive if the rest of your life is on track. Todoist is perfect for managing every area of your life without it getting too messy.
Like lots of creative people, I’m naturally incredibly disorganised. Figuring out what I want to do and how to get it done is 2/3rds of the battle for me. Finding a system that I could put everything that I needed to get done into was a struggle, but I’ve found my sweet spot with Todoist.
I use similar principles to David Allen’s Getting Thing Done method. Each item is in ‘project’ folders for its category or topic, and I use the extremely powerful (and highly recommended!) premium features to help me identify when I can do each task. I use the labels to designate where I need to be to do the task (phone, laptop, desk), the amount of energy I will need (high, medium, low), each item’s priority using the Eisenhouwer Method (urgent, important, not urgent, not important) and the amount of time it will take (5 min, 10 min, 25 min, 1 hour, 2 hours). Only the essential stuff gets due dates. This makes it easy for me to search my tasks and identify which is the best thing for me to be working on right now. Todoist also has in-email apps for Outlook and Gmail, which mean I can conquer the tasks in my inbox in the same place as my other tasks.
2. A Combination of Sunrise and Google Calendar
Once you’ve figured out all the stuff you need to do, you need to be able to put all your commitments in one place. After all of your commitments have been laid out, you can easily carve out time for all the writing you should be doing.
I thought I was a lost cause when it comes to planning my time, but these two apps have been a lifesaver for me! Google Calendar is probably nothing new to you, but I use it because it has a simple interface, I can colour code everything, and I can have separate calendars for my personal life, writing opportunities, my blog schedule and for what books and CDs (and other fun things) are coming out.On
Sunrise was a gamechanger for me. This is an all-in-one calendar—you can sync Google Calendar, Office 365, Facebook, Todoist, Evernote, Songkick, and pretty much every other app you can think of. I hated it the first time I used it because I made the mistake of letting it add everything in, but now I’ve refined the settings and it is perfect for me. Basically, every different calendar is on a separate layer, and its super easy to see my work calendar, my to-do list, each of my google calendars, and if I tell Facebook or Songkick that I’ll go to an event, that’ll pop up as well. It has become virtually impossible for me to double-book myself, and I can easily see all the things that I might want to do with my time.
Cost: $1.29 on iOS, Free on Android with in-app purchases.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got the best of intentions, you plan time to write, and then… you procrastinate. “Writing research” is a great way to justify wasting hours on the internet. The Pomodoro Method is an extremely popular productivity tool for curbing that habit, and for improving focus. The basic idea is that you set a timer for a certain amount of time (usually 25 minutes – the same amount of time it takes to cook a tomato) and until the alarm goes off, you keep working on the task at hand. It also incorporates regular short breaks in between each session of focus.
Forest is the best timer for this I have seen. You select the amount of time you want to focus for (from 30-120 minutes) and it starts to grow a cute little tree and you earn coins. If you leave the app or do something else with your phone, the tree dies. At the end of each day, you can reflect on how well you did by the size of your forest, and if you do it for long enough, you can use your coins to buy different kinds of adorable trees!
Cost: Free. Premium package is $44.99 per year.
Obviously, a huge part of being a writer is being a reader. John Green says, ‘Reading is the only apprenticeship we have.’ Pocket is a great way to save all the articles you want to keep for your writing research in one place. You can tag and favourite your articles, and search through them to revisit the articles that inspired you most.
Starting to use Pocket was the best thing I have ever done to keep my distraction levels at bay. Essentially, if there is an article or page you want to read, you click the browser extension or shortcut on mobile, and Pocket saves the article for you to read later. It is so simple, but it has made such a huge difference—every time I see a shiny, new link, I just click on Pocket and knowing it will keep it for me, I can continue with the task at hand. I also have an IFTTT recipe set up so that every time I save something to Pocket, it automatically gets saved as a task in Todoist.
Cost: Free. Premium package is $56.99 per year.
I know, I know—everyone says you should be using Evernote. It’s the go-to productivity app that EVERYONE raves about. But the hype is there for a reason—Evernote has the power to change your whole writing life. It basically works as a taggable, searchable, categorise-able reference folder. You can put virtually anything in it, including emails, PDFs, photos, documents, and it will all be in one place where you can find it every time.
It’s a huge deal for someone who is as naturally disorganised as I am; it has basically made losing things next to impossible. I use for keeping track of magazines I want to submit to, pieces of writing I’m working on, ideas for blog posts, random ideas for writing including plot and character ideas, writing research, favourite quotes, keeping personal documents, and for keeping photos of business cards of people I might want to reach out to. I also have an IFTTT recipe set up so that if I favourite an article in Pocket or like a post on Tumblr, it gets saved to Evernote.
This is one of those apps where even though I’ve been using it for a year, I keep finding new ways to use it that revolutionise my writing life. I’ve recently started using Evernote to keep track of my writing and personal goals, and have notes set up for the year, each month and each week to keep myself on-track and accountable.
So what’s your productivity system? How do you keep track of all of your writing goals, opportunities and submissions, as well as your personal and professional life? I’d love to hear from you!