I’m generally a big fan of highlighters, index cards, files full of notes, and my 80s-style Filofax. This year, I’ve tried out a few apps to help me with my career as a freelance journalist, and now I can’t get enough of life-hacking tech.
At the moment I can’t live without:
Antisocial ($15) and Freedom ($10) to block the internet when I’m working. To disable both you have to reboot your computer; the difference is that Freedom blocks the whole internet while Antisocial just blocks social networks, some popular blogs, and whichever other time-wasting sites you want to add.
Readability (free) to save articles that I’ve stumbled across (usually from links on Twitter) to read later.
Scrivener ($45) to organise a long writing project. It helps collate research, notes, outlines and various drafts, and stops me feeling overwhelmed. There are also word-count targets for the day or for the whole project, and a percentage bar to show you how far you’ve got towards reaching them, which helps with motivation.
I contacted freelancers working in a range of creative careers to find out how they use technology to stay focused and save time. Here are the results:
Anna Leach, technology writer, @annajleach
Anna uses Instapaper (free) to save articles from the web to her phone. It makes them available online, “which is great for reading on the tube.”
She gets her news via Pulse (free), an RSS reader news app, and she says that the cloud-based document editing app Google Drive (free for up to 15GB) is “genuinely the most useful service I have come across and the one I'd use most frequently.” She’s planning to get to grips soon with Google Now (free), a “hyperactive calendar and web information mash-up that does things like calculating your journeys to places, and tells you if you're going to be late based on current traffic conditions.”
Lorna Brown, illustrator and graphic designer, @kamikazekitten
Lorna regained control over her freelancing life using Producteev (free), a task management app that stores to-do lists in a cloud, which can then be accessed from a phone, tablet or computer. She likes the fact that “you can specify dates for completion, set priority and alarms, set them to repeat if it's something you need to deal with regularly, label it so that you can view all of your tasks relating to one topic, and also create subtasks.”
“Being able to create subtasks is really useful. When faced with a big task (such as ‘Do accounts’) the job can be so overwhelming that it never really gets started. However, by breaking that task into smaller manageable tasks you can chip away at the bigger task and still feel like you are achieving things. For example my subtasks for ‘Do accounts’ may be ‘enter receipts’, ‘log invoices’, ‘find tax return info’ and ‘fill in tax return’. This means that I can designate one hour per Friday to tackling ‘Do accounts’ and not feel like I am only part-completing a job.”
Annegret Maerten theatre & radio producer, Arts Administrator for Breathe
Annegret used to use Wunderlist (free) to keep track of tasks and share them with colleagues, but swapped it for Things ($49.99). “As with Wunderlist, you can divide your to-do lists into projects and areas of responsibility, but I find it more reliable.”
She also uses the Pomodoro Technique. “There’s a free handbook online, which teaches you how to split tasks into time units of 25 minutes (or ‘one pomodoro’ each), and it encourages you to take a five-minute break between each one, which boosts productivity.”
A quick poll of the Creative Space office has shown that Office 365, Asana and “Spongebob Squarepants Post-It notes” are also popular. What do you use to stay on top of your creative enterprises?
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Image by minifig, on a Creative Commons license.