An egg timer and the to-do list they scribbled on the back of last month’s utility bill are the only tools some writers want or use to keep track of what needs to get done and how long it takes to do it.
But others have embraced software programs, Web browser add ons and other apps in the pursuit of productivity.
We heard about a lot of them during the Feb. 23 WordCount Last Wednesday live chat on time management for writers. During the hour-long Twitter-fest, more than a dozen freelancers shared their biggest frustrations and the steps they take to stay organized and productive.
More and more these days, those efforts include using tech tools to stay focused and meet deadlines.
Here are some favorites.
(Note: Due to some technical difficulties with Twitter when I sat down to finish this post, I can’t access the #wclw tweet archive, so for now, I’m relying on memory and some additional research for this recap of tech solutions suggested by writers who took part in the chat. If and when the archive is available again, I’ll fill in additional details.)
1. Calendars – Hands down, writers’ favorite tool for staying on track is a calendar. Microsoft Outlook is big and Google’s iCalendar is popular too. On the Outlook Calendar, plot out all the hours of each day you’re available to work during a given month, taking into account time off you need for doctor’s appointments, picking the kids up from school, special events and other non-work obligations. I use Outlook’s Labels feature to color code my available work hours, volunteer work and family stuff. Read more about how I use the Outlook Calendar here.
2. To-Do Lists – Fans of to-do lists – and apparently there are a lot – love the sense of accomplishment that comes with crossing off a task once it’s finished. I’ve always favored yellow pads for this, so I instantly bonded with the To-Do list app that came on my new iPad because it looks like the real thing. The app, which is the same as the one on the iPhone, lets you create multiple lists – I’ve got separate lists for work, home, goals and groceries. There are many other to-do lists out there, including Remember the Milk, which comes on a variety of platforms, and reQall, which responds to voice commands. This 2009 New York Times story lists a bunch of others.
3. Note Takers – The more efficient and organized that writers can be when they’re researching a story the better off they are because maximizing their time can mean a higher per-word or per-hour rate. As a result, writers have started using all kinds of tech tools to organize notes and other research, including Evernote, Scrivener (MAC operating systems only) and Delicious (which is still up and running). Author Edward Humes compiled a list of his favorites in this post: 12 Essential Apps and Tech Tools for Writers.
4. Timers – Some writers swear by virtual egg timers, which work like the real thing. Set it for the amount of time you want to work, mouse click on “Start,” then write until you hear the “Ding.” Online timers are everywhere; Online Timers offers timers in 1 to 60-minute intervals.
5. Distraction Blockers – If you’re in the middle of researching a story, it might be impractical to pull the plug on your Internet connection. But staying online can be dangerous, especially if one little break to check email turns into a 25-minute session on Facebook. These days there are browser add ons that prevent that from happening, including LeechBlock (Firefox), which lets you block up to six sites for specific amounts of time and times of day, and StayFocused (Chrome), which lets you block entire sites or just certain subdomains or pages.
6 . Productivity Trackers – Writers who bill by the hour use online programs to track how many hours or minutes they’re spending on a job. Here’s a list of productivity and time trackers from Freelance Switch: 6 Cool Tools to Track Your Time.
Being productive on the job is like going on a diet – some people can go it along with great success while others need extra help along the way. In the end, it’s not about what you do or don’t use, but what works best for you.
What tech tools do you use to manage your time? Please share by leaving a comment.