3 Tools for More Productive and Organized Writing

on December 18, 2015 in Productivity & Organization, Writers' Resources
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Today marks the start of my usual year-end vacation, meaning I won't be around much until the New Year (January 4th in this case). Before taking these yearly breaks I spend a lot of time evaluating my previous year. It's how I set goals for the next year, but it's also when I look at the tools and processes I've been using to decide what I should keep and what needs to be replaced.

In 2015, three tools stood out. These were the tools that either kept me organized and on schedule, or they allowed me to work more productively or in a more flexible way. I'd like to share those tools with you in the hope they can help you in similar ways.

Google Docs

Let's start with the simplest (and free) tool on the list -- Google Docs. For a long time, I wasn't a huge fan. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with Google's word processor. It just didn't offer any features that were must-haves and unavailable to me in other ways.

The difference is I now work more frequently on a tablet and smartphone. While most of my writing happens on my laptop, in 2015 I spent far more time "writing" on mobile devices than in previous years -- doing so largely with voice-to-text capabilities. This is where Google Docs came in handy.

When I want to write using voice-to-text, I haven't found anything more accurate than Google's tools (not even Dragon, Naturally Speaking or the Swype Android app I've raved about in the past). Google gives me the most accurate results, even when I speak quickly. And I can rely on the same accuracy on my phone, laptop, or any computer (in the desktop version you'll find this under the Tools menu).

It's also helpful when I'm working on a longer post where I might need to hop around between devices because I'm not writing all in one sitting. Google Docs automatically saves your work, and you don't have to worry about transferring files and making sure you have the latest version on the correct device.

Scrivener

I didn't exactly hide my love for Scrivener over the last couple of years, explaining why I use Scrivener for blogging and having released several Scrivener templates of my own. I recommend it as highly today as I ever have.

Admittedly I don't use Scrivener for all my blogging (such as when I use Google Docs, which I've increasingly used for posts on this site). But I do use it to organize the bulk of my blog content. My wonderful husband, a software developer, wrote a plugin that lets me export years of archived content from my various blogs into Scrivener (something we'll finally get around to releasing publicly in early 2016). So it's not just good for planning and organizing new content. It's also a great way to back up old blog content as well.

Where Scrivener keeps me the most organized is with manuscripts. I don't know how I got by without it for so long. Being able to keep my research, notes, outlines, and manuscripts all together in one place and easy-to-access? Priceless. If Scrivener had an Android app where I could use Google's built-in voice-to-text capabilities, it would probably be my exclusive writing software.

I'd be tempted to say if you invest in just one premium tool in the New Year, this should be it. But that takes me to my next recommendation.

Todoist

This is my #1 tool for 2015, and I expect to use it just as heavily in 2016. Todoist is primarily a to do list app, but in reality it's so much more. It's like a virtual backup of my brain.


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I use Todoist to manage everything from shopping lists and chore lists around the house to scheduling blog content across quite a few sites. I also use it to manage site development schedules, and have started moving my larger publishing plan over to it for more flexible scheduling.

Todoist has a free version. But if you want to take full advantage of its features, I highly recommend getting the premium version. Here are some of my favorite premium features to give you an example of what this tool can really do:

1. You can add notes or file attachments to items in your list.

This is a handy feature. For example, if you're a freelancer you might schedule pitches to a variety of publications. You could attach each one's guidelines to their to do list items. Or if you need to conduct interviews for an article or your book, you can schedule interviews and add the interviewee's contact information in a note.

2. You can set location alerts.

For example, let's say I need to pick up printer paper soon but I don't want to make a special trip for it. I can add it to my list and tell Todoist to send me a mobile alert about it when I'm physically near my local Staples (or whatever store I plan to visit). This way I won't forget to grab it while I'm in the area. You can set these reminders for when you arrive somewhere, or when you leave a certain location.

3. Things are automatically synced.

You can access your Todoist account in your favorite web browser or your mobile devices. With the premium version things sync automatically so if you swipe a task away on your phone shortly before heading back to your computer, you know your task list in both places will always be up to date. If you're a device-hopper like I am, this is a big deal. I've used other cross-platform apps that were slow to sync, and it caused a lot of headaches.

These are far from the only features that make Todoist my top recommended tool for writers. You can also integrate with calendars such as Google Calendar, set and track productivity goals, use multi-level organization with both sub-projects and sub-tasks, use labels and custom filters, color code entries, and set reminders, and easily connect with other apps through IFTTT.

At $28.99 per year for the premium version, it would be tough not to get your money's worth out of this app.

Now it's your turn. Do you have any standout tools and apps that helped you in 2015? Are you looking forward to trying any particular ones next year? I'd love to hear your recommendations, so please leave them in the blog comments.

Thanks for sharing!
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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. Through her company, 3 Beat Media, she operates All Indie Writers, NakedPR.com, BizAmmo.com, and numerous other blogs.

Jenn has over 15 years experience writing for others, over 11 years experience in blogging, and 9 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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19 Comments

  1. Jane Steen December 19, 2015 Reply

    For me this has been the year of Asana. I’ve tried many project/list apps but Asana just seems to work for me, even the cheesy unicorns and birds that occasionally fly across the screen (weird on such a professional app, but hey, why not?)

    And like many writers, I LOVE Scrivener. I’m currently trialling Ulysses as well, because it has an iOS app, but Scrivener for iOS is apparently now back in development again, and if they can overcome that hurdle and release the long-awaited app I’ll be in heaven.

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern December 20, 2015 Reply

      I haven’t tried Asana, but I might have to take a look in the New Year (for a review at the very least, even if I don’t switch to it).

  2. Jim Wilbourne December 20, 2015 Reply

    I gotta say. I’m 100% on board with all of these.
    I draft in Google Docs and use Todoist to help manage my day-to-day.
    Scrivener is just plain brilliant. If I could use it everywhere, I’d consider using it to draft, but since I can’t, I use Google Docs to draft and Scrivener to finish up.

    If I could add one more tool here, I’d add Evernote.

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern December 21, 2015 Reply

      Thanks for the addition. Evernote is one of those things I keep trying to love, but I never stick with it. I’m not sure why that is. I should give it another look in the New Year though. I still have several months of premium access, so I might as well use it! 🙂

  3. Nancy December 28, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for this list, Jennifer! At this time I haven’t used Todoist, but I will try it out! As for me, social media could influence on writer’s productivity a lot, so I advise everybody to use StayFocusd Chrome extension. It helps to restrict the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites every day, so for all writers with Facebook addiction it will be smart to use this extension.

    Moreover, for all folks who publish their writing online, it’s necessary to use plagiarism checker as it helps to avoid unintentional plagiarism and, thus, to write more accurately. I personally use Unplag, but there are many other similar tools.

  4. Angellina Lear January 2, 2016 Reply

    This is one of my areas of improvement and your tips are right on. Google Docs is one of the things I tend to let build up, but I’ll take your tips to heart and work to improve it. Thanks for sharing and knew about some news tools which are further used in my blog or I really enjoyed to reading this post. 🙂
    Angellina Lear recently posted…Is Clean Master for iPhone Available Officially?My Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern January 4, 2016 Reply

      You’re welcome Angellina. I hope these other tools prove to be helpful, and I hope you’re able to deal with the buildup of Google Docs. And thanks for the reminder. I should probably go through my own Google Docs to see if anything needs to be cleared out.

  5. Christina Lynn January 2, 2016 Reply

    Great post! Another productivity tool I would like to add is Brightpod. It takes the entire campaign planning & collaboration process online so you don’t miss anything. Otherwise nice collection tools and getting bunches of information from this tools and I used in further my blog.
    Christina Lynn recently posted…How to Download SHAREit app for PC via BlueStacksMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern January 4, 2016 Reply

      Thanks for your recommendation Christina. I’m not familiar with Brightpod. It sounds like another tool I’ll need to take a look at in coming weeks. 🙂

  6. JohnA January 4, 2016 Reply

    Another Todoist feature is linking to a calendar. I have it linked to Sunrise, which links to the family’s various Goo9gle calendars.

  7. aysin February 20, 2016 Reply

    LOVE the tip about using Google Docs to dictate. I was especially excited to hear that it’s possible to do across devices. However I see here that it’s only supposed to work on Chrome on a computer?

    https://support.google.com/docs/answer/4492226?hl=en

    So I’m a bit confused.

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern February 21, 2016 Reply

      Yes, it looks like it’s Chrome-specific if you want to use it on your computer. You can either use Chrome for your Docs work or you can check to see if your preferred browser has a plugin that might make this possible. I recently switched from Chrome to Firefox. I’ve been unhappy with the change and plan to switch back once I work out some of the kinks I had with Chrome. Knowing this is another good reason for that (though I almost always use the voice typing on my tablet).

  8. Sharon Hurley Hall
    Sharon Hurley Hall March 14, 2016 Reply

    One question (for Jenn and any other Todoist users) – do incomplete tasks auto-advance in your calendar or do you have to move them manually? Thanks
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted…Google Voice Typing vs. Dragon Naturally Speaking – Part 2My Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern March 14, 2016 Reply

      They don’t auto-advance as far as I’ve seen, though I’m not sure if there’s a setting where you can change that. Moving them sucks a bit if there are a lot (like if I take an unexpected day off). But if there are just a few, it’s quick and easy. You’d click the schedule icon and there are options for tomorrow, next week, or a calendar to choose another date. Normally I just bump ’til tomorrow, so it’s a quick fix.

  9. Jamshad Hashmi May 8, 2016 Reply

    Would you recommend starting with a free
    platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed ..
    Any ideas? Thanks a lot!
    Jamshad Hashmi recently posted…VidMate APK 2.11 App Free Download for AndroidMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern May 9, 2016 Reply

      If you mean for a blog, I recommend WordPress, but the self-hosted version (from wordpress.org, not wordpress.com). So you have to pay for hosting and your domain name, but you retain much more control over the design, plugins, advertising, etc. than you would when using a freely-hosted one like WordPress.com.

  10. Cate Hogan June 7, 2016 Reply

    Some great tips here, thanks! I use Scrivener all the time. The lovely Leona Hinton just wrote a guest post on my blog you might find equally helpful: 10 Power Tools to Make You an Editing Wizard (http://goo.gl/6tUu5s). Thanks!

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