I’m always after the best productivity and self-care tools, but lately I’ve switched over to a few which really seem to be setting into stone for me for usefulness, so here they are, my top 6 productivity and self-care tools.
Note that the first two are complicated to get to grips with, but mostly because they are fully customisable. This means you will need to spend some time on learning what you can do, and what you like, before they will provide the overall productivity benefits.
Notion.so combines everything you may get in Trello, Evernote, Airtable and Wikispaces. It operates with blocks, and databases. The databases can be filtered and viewed in several formats – list view, datatable view, kanban board, calendar view or a gallery, all with tags, and filtered to projects. They can all be interlinked also. Notes can be simple text blocks, checklists, toggles (to hide lots under) or embed google docs, PDFs or webpage links.
The pages are sharable and allow for comments also, for work. Most users start off by creating a personal dashboard of all the most important areas of life, creating an ultimate task list, and a few areas to collect notes within.
I run with Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain system of PARA – Projects, Areas, Resources and Archive. Projects are, well, projects – so they have a set date, Areas are anything else that you have a longtime responsibility over (like your health or family, or being a writer, for instance), and Resources are where I collect all my reference documents or links on all subjects, as a categorised set of wiki pages.
The webclipper works well for me in getting in webpages. The tasklist, calendar options also allow me to be notified for task due dates. The template button feature allows me to create full pages (with sub-pages) and then set it up as a full template to be replicated at a click of a button. This is how I create new projects.
Notion can be complicated to learn and setup, but there are a lot of free templates, and youtube videos to get you started.
There are four tiers from a free tier (you may well run out of blocks on this one, being a writer), a personal subscription (which I am on), a team or an enterprise. The personal subscription is fine for me, allowing for lots of resources.
In the gallery above I have screenshotted four of my many Notion pages. I think of Notion as the system organiser for my life. My four pages are –
- Life Wiki page – this is my top level dashboard, with links to my most important pages (these pages can also be “favourited” onto the Notion sidebar for easy access. Note that the header or cover images on my dashboards are personally designed by me. In Notion you can also use cover images from NASA or unsplash, or upload your own as I have done.
- Daily Dashboard – this needs further rejigging by me, as I no longer use the workflows found here. Importantly, the page shows how I have embedded a local weather app, and a writer’s quotes of the day to a sidebar column. The page also links to my daily calendars etc, and to some planning pages.
- Digital Writer’s Notebook – this is formed from a template collection (and includes links to more templates) for writers, shared originally by Rachel Scarlet, but since customised by myself. This is not a story bible, but rather a one-page dashboard where my writer support systems are accessible, including links to writer reference resource pages, a writer journal, and pages which contain submission tracking databases and the like.
- Project Example – my NaNoWriMo Project for this last month. As I have just finished this, and was working on my major writing series project within the challenge, I will now simply drag and drop this whole NaNo project page into my main WIP project page, and therefore keep all the wordcounts and subpages created during NaNo. I screenshot this particular project because it features a lot of notion’s custom options including embedded and workable google docs, toggle organisation, columns which allow you to customise your wiki pages, checklists, and two inline databases which filter the view from a master database of notes.
Note – I use Notion as a systems organiser and life planner, I take lots of notes, and do a lot of planning in Notion. But I do not use Notion as a writing platform.
Notion for me has replaced Trello, and almost replaced Evernote in many ways, but it still has shortcomings:
- It’s not mobile or portable. Notes are kept in the cloud, and there are Notion apps to work with your data, but these are not fully useful if you are offline.
- It does not have normal tables (which I like to use) as all tables are databases. To get around this I either link to or upload word or excel documents, or embed google docs, which allows for formatting.
- Notion does not have recurring tasks.
Many features are still being worked on, with timelines (project gantt charts) coming up, and a more robust offline system, and the api, which will allow for many more interlinkages and custom options. But there’s a growing crowd of adopters who are producing templates and training for Notion.
I will do a bigger future post on how I use Notion as my daily dashboard and as a writer, and link to some of the most useful writerly templates out there, but in the meantime, if Notion.so interests you, try out the free option, and using this link you will get $10 credit on your account.
I expect I’m like most people – I try out task management apps, and swap them out when something doesn’t work. I’ve tried just about every one like todoist, rememberthemilk, and lately ticktick. I’m (confession time) not great at liking to plan, and have pressed on my own natural talent in remembering things really well.
Whilst Notion.so does have a wonderful capability for setting calendar dates and statuses onto a task list, and it does have a reminder system, there is still a great lot lacking in it’s task management functions, namely it does not allow for recurring tasks.
Some Notion users therefore look at external task apps, and a few are embeddable into Notion itself (using the embed function). Ticktick embeds nicely but I’ve found it gets stuck on updating/synching. And I found using ticktick for me just didn’t work to my natural patterns.
In the last few weeks I’ve been using Amazing Marvin, and I’m falling in love. I got it cheap for a year for a start (there was a discount running via Appsumo). Subscriptions range depending on the cycle you purchase. Currently if you buy for a year, it’s only $8 per month.
Once I had the app, the work started…
The problem with Amazing Marvin is that it is fully customisable. And you can turn on and off a huge number of productivity strategies and workflows. You can have categories, projects, tags, sub-tasks, setup your calendars with timeblocking, setup a number of day calendar sections (I’m currently using morning, afternoon and evening), and to top these all off, you can also setup the entire system to mimic various popular productivity and task management systems such as GTD, ticktick, todoist, things3, nivana hq or nozbe. Oh, and there are various calendar views, you can pull in your other calendars, and create recurring tasks, identify them as habits, or set timers like pomodoros to work with your timeblocks.Then you can customise the sidebar to show only what you want, and then you can setup smart lists (filtered lists).
A few weeks in, and I’m still playing around with the so many options, to create my own perfect and simplified task manager. And although some of this might be accused of being a timesuck, I’ve used the time as a motivation around actually doing the work and tasks I had planned.
Amazing Marvin also embeds well into my Notion dashboard. I use it as a full page, and can do anything within the html frame that I can do outside in a browser tab.
Unfortunately Marvin still needs work in the app department. There’s a handy little iphone app, but there’s no ipad app as yet. But the webpage app works well within Safari on the ipad.
The Front Page at Amazing Marvin shows you a lot of the features.
Scrivener and Evernote
Okay, Scrivener is still my writing editor of choice. However, I am a frustrated Windows user. We have been promised Windows 2 version of Scrivener for over a year now, which brings back memories of how long it took for Windows 1. Meanwhile, we don’t have customisable index cards and a lot of other features which make the Mac version debatably the best writing app out there.
On the good side, Scrivener has a great and compatible iOS app version, and I can write on and offline on both desktop and my ipad after synching my projects through dropbox. And I work naturally with the sidebar approach to trees of folders and files.
On the bad side, the webpage embed no longer seems to work on Windows, and tables can not be formatted. Images can’t be formatted either.
This means that whilst many Scrivener users say that they use the app as both a writing editor and platform to hold all their planning and research, for me it’s not workable. Any research pages I create or even a character profile sheet with multiple images finds me swearing because of the lack of formatting options, and then double-swearing because the whole system slows down on automatic saves.
Scrivener does have the bonus of two apps which can integrate data through to it. I do own and occasionally use Aeon Timeline, but won’t integrate those projects into Scrivener as they may overwrite some of my meta data. My favourite app is Scapple, which I don’t use to integrate into Scrivener, instead I use Scapple as a valuable mindmapping tool. Through Scapple I have created many visual entity maps of character relationships, family trees and also series plans.
I used to get around some of this by taking all my research notes and webpage scrapes through to Evernote. I’ve been a premium Evernote user since 2009, one of the first. But Evernote started really hounding the corporate and business markets over the past few years, and left the individual user to themselves. Lately a new word count function has come out at least. But with several thousand notes within Evernote, my own system has just ground to a halt with the automatic save going off, meaning I just have to sit there unable to type. Plus the formatting still has much to be desired regarding placement of images. And there is no PDF export option for a notebook, so you are confined with reading your notes through the apps.
I remain a happy Scrivener user for drafting – actually typing and rewriting my manuscripts, and for convertions into different formats. And I still use Evernote for research and some planning if I feel like it….
But neither is a good place for a workable huge world building notebook or series bible. Which is where the following comes in.
Old New MS Office
MS Word, MS Excel, MS Powerpoint and MS OneNote – these should be in your toolbox.
MS Word has come a long way in things like formatting, and also is good for final manuscript preparation before converting to PDF. It’s still the industry standard for writing and editing, receiving comments back from beta readers and editors etc.
MS Excel has saved my bacon on multiple occassions where I’ve struggled with other apps to produce a workable and formatted timeline of backstory events per character, or for word count and writing tracking. I seldom use the maths functions, it’s all about columns and rows in a table, and colour coding. Google sheets does a good sharable rendition, but noticably many of the shared word trackers out there which use formula do not work in Google Sheets once imported.
MS Powerpoint. This will probably surprise many people not into content production, but powerpoint does much more than slideshows nowadays. It’s a fully workable graphics app, can create animated videos, and is used by many low content producers to format and produce low content books like planners, journals, and even the book covers.
MS OneNote. This. This is my powertool for my huge series bible, and another even larger world building notebook for my work in progress. I prefer to use the old OneNote 2016 app on my desktop, combined with several plugins which give me a calendar, and features like wordcount, etc. OneNote 2016 is no longer supported but still downloadable. It has several features more than the latest web-based version, and you can still save and synch your notebooks through to OneDrive. I also have OneNote, the MS Office version, and often have two notebooks open on my desktop – a reference one through the normal OneNote Office app, and my series project notebook through the 2016 desktop app.
OneNote just offers more formatting options for all of my research and notes. I have setup character profile templates which I can copy and paste, and have multiple note sections and master sections to divide everything. Importantly, the OneNote clipper through my browser is as equally good as the Evernote one, and allows me to bring in as much research pages and alter them as I wish.
Notebooks or notes can also be published as PDF files – the formatting on these leaves a lot to be desired, but at least it’s an option to take your notes on the fly. (And I then import these as PDF files into my Scrivener projects).
I’ve been using Wavebox for 18 plus months now. Mostly I have it open on my main email account – a google account, and the rest of my many apps are asleep as buttons on the side or along the top. I have quick access to facebook, my google calendar, and other associated services through my accounts, and don’t have to waste valueable resources by having these open in browser tabs. The greyed buttons (like that of Facebook) are apps I haven’t opened in a timeframe and are therefore asleep and not churning through computer resources. This is the important feature which hits the productivity factors, providing much less potential for distraction than having these tabs open in a browser.
Wavebox offers a basic and free plan which includes 2 gmail accounts, or I have the personal plan at $4 per month which provides the ability to add all your accounts (as I have done) and have the sleep function working. There is also a team plan.
Like many of these other apps mentioned, there are discounted plans for education and non-profits.
Wavebox lets me cut down on browser tab clutter and helps me centralize my app management. It works for all web or cloud-based apps, providing either a webapp to access these, or a desktop app.
The screenshot above is only one corner of my own Wavebox Pro, showing my google mail accounts at top, and the actual page of google emails. Along the top are associated google accounts including my calendar. Along the side I’ve created buttons for several of my top webapps. Facebook, Pinterest and Dropbox web are all accessible from those buttons. And of course, the latest in Notion and Amazing Marvin are all there also.
Subliminal Messages and Affirmations for Writers
I believe I have previously mentioned using a subliminal app called Subliminal Power or something like that. Unfortunately with moving onto a new laptop I lost the install and licensing key to this software. But I’ve been saved, because Subliminal Messages is a free software which does exactly the same.
It’s pretty basic, comes with lots of prepopulated affirmations, and with a customisable option to add your own messages. A timer and further settings allow you to play with how often and where the affirmations will appear on your screen while you work.
I could have made up my affirmations, but didn’t need to. Jackson Dean Chase has an MP3 or ebook called Affirmations for Authors as an OTO or upsell offer at the moment for a bundle of craft books (if this interests you, here’s the front salespage link which is time sensitive) or there’s a mass of web pages dedicated to these, including : –
- 60 Affirmations for Authors, Writers & Poets
- Affirmations for Writers
- 21 Affirmations for Writers
- Check Amazon or your favourite bookseller to find more, or
- Youtube has many guided affirmations for writers.
I think this is a win-win. Many experts providing advice on self-care matters mention things like meditation, journaling, visualisations and affirmations as ways to change mindset. Using these affirmations while you work as subliminal programming does work for me, in that I do write much more with this on.