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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jenn has 18 years experience writing for others, around 13 years experience in blogging, and over 10 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.
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