13 Productivity Apps to Help Keep Your Writing Goals on Track

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Do you struggle to maintain focus during your writing time?

Procrastination and lack of focus were constant frenemies on my own journey to becoming a writer. For years, these ever-present saboteurs prevented me from completing both my fiction work and getting my freelance career started.

Facing your distractions is unavoidable: You have to admit you have a problem and take steps to do something about it, without getting sidetracked by the magpie shrieking at a squirrel outside.

Fortunately, you don’t have to win this battle on willpower alone.

Fear not, intrepid writer. Here are a few tools to help you get your head out of the clouds.

Start writing

If you’re prone to distraction, you may not realize that focus is something that can be built through practice.

Coach.Me is a multi-platform app that uses community encouragement and digital coaching to help you build new habits. It stands out from similar apps with its dedicated tracks for writers. These specialized journeys not only hold you accountable to write every day; they also provide encouragement from other writers building a habit just like you.

To maximize motivation, when you check in each day, you can record your word count in the “Add a note” section. Even writing one paragraph a day is enough to help kickstart a habit.

Stay focused

We’ve discussed the Pomodoro Technique previously on The Write Life. As a chronic procrastinator, I cannot stop gushing about how brilliant it is.

The premise is simple: Instead of trying to complete your work in a long, overwhelming sprint, you break projects down into manageable, 25-minute chunks called Pomodoros. The goal is to stay on one task for the entirety of each Pomodoro until the job is done. Every 25 minutes, take a five minute break to clear your head. Every two hours, take a 15-minute break.

There are countless Pomodoro timers available. One excellent option is Pomodroido on Android (for Apple users, try Pomodoro Keeper). It’s simple, customizable, and allows you to record your given task for each Pomodoro.

On my laptop, I use Tomighty for its convenient taskbar functionality, and when working away from my own devices, I switch to Tomato Timer, which is entirely web based.

No matter your setup, there’s a Pomodoro timer for you!

Block distractions

Writing often feels like creating something out of nothing. It can be easy to just click over to Facebook and never return. Enter distraction blockers.

For Android, FocusON is a true example of the nuclear option for blocking access to apps and websites. It’s hard — I mean really hard — to shut it off once you’ve enabled a block for a certain period of time.

For Chrome, TimeWarp is a customizable option. It requires some discipline, but the option to divert to a different website or an inspirational quote might be all the motivation you need.

Other popular distraction-blockers include Self Control (Mac), StayFocused (Chrome), and FocusLock (Android).

Get organized

Trello has quickly become my favorite writing tool that most writers have never heard of.

It’s a web-based productivity app with a premise very similar to the old school method of using index cards on a cork board. For a writer, the possibilities are endless. You can use a Trello board to make to do lists, prioritize submissions, even to track research.

My favorite use for Trello is as a scene organizer for fiction projects. Make a board to represent your novel, then make lists on that board to represent each chapter. Finally, make cards for individual scenes or story events. It’s very easy to move scenes around.

Being organized can take a huge amount of stress off and allow you to focus on your content.

Hack your brain

Ambient sound has a powerful effect on creativity. Relax Melodies is a top-notch noise generation app. You can use it to customize an entire soundscape of nature sounds, soothing music, and other effects — there’s even one for the clicks of a keyboard. The clincher, however, is its excellent binaural beats and isochronic tones. Listening to these auditory illusions hacks your brain into concentrating or relaxing.

If you’re looking for a bit more variety, MyNoise.net has an extensive library of brain-hacking soundscapes, including several particularly creepy arrangements great for writing fantasy or suspense. I’m a fan of this one.

Interested in more productivity aids? Check out seven more productivity tools for writers.

What are your favorite focus-building tools?

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Jett is a freelance writer and novelist based out of Denver, Colorado. She maintains a blog on culture and spirituality called Kneeling in the Dark and works in production for Colorado’s film and television industry. Her industry c... .

http://jettfarrellvega.eofproductions.com | @InvaderVega

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Comments

  1. Hi Jett,
    This is a wonderful list! I actually just posted a similar list. I’m a big fan of blocking out the Internet to help get things done. And Trello. I totally forgot to add ambient sound apps to my own list. I love coffitivity, makes my house sound like Starbucks. And if I use headphones, I can block out my kids. 🙂

  2. Hi Corinne,

    Glad you enjoyed it! I’m a sucker for a good lifehack, particularly if technology is involved. I’ve seen Coffitivity on the Play Store a number of times and haven’t tried it out yet– will have to give it a go. I’m a big fan of using in-ear headphones and brown noise to block out noise at my house or in loud coffeeshops. 😀

  3. All of these tips are practical and immediately applicable to any writer. When you eliminate distractions and buckle down, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. Thank you for sharing such a great piece of blog information with us all.

  4. Hi, Jett. Good list. I especially love Trello for the reasons you mentioned. You can put a lot of copy in the Description box, so I’ve been experimenting with using it as a cloud-based Scrivener lookalike. Doesn’t compile like Scrivener and each card is its own separate document, but it’s still an excellent and underrated app.

    • Yeah, I’m definitely hooked on Trello. After Franklin Covey’s Tasks app was recently turned into ZZTasks (I’m not a fan), I did a new Trello board that basically functions the same way the old “Weekly Compass” cards in the Franklin Covey planners did. The basic idea is that each column represents a role or major projects, and I organize the cards according to task priority (Major Items, Urgent/Important, Not Urgent/Important, etc.). It worked great. I even was able to add a header picture to each list to make it more engaging. Such a good app, particularly if you deal with any sort of ADD lol.

  5. I’ve been using Index cards, but will try out all your suggestions,–thank you.

    • Hi Nanette,

      Thanks for reading! I used to use index cards as well. I once lived in a space that had a wall-length mirror that I would completely cover with cards. I also once used pieces of cardstock I would attach to lengths of tape for scene organization, but I must say, Trello weaned me off of that system.

      The one physical method I still use is dry erase boards. I have them all over my apartment. I use one for my to do lists (since I tend to work better with a non-digital method), a small one for keeping track of A.D.D. type distractions (its just a glass picture frame with a piece of white paper in it), and a large one I pull out if I’m brainstorming a particularly difficult story idea, such as plotting a long series or diagramming a battle scene. Whichever method brings the most productivity/creativity out, that’s the one for you. : )

  6. I have noticed that many of you like Trello. And do you know KanbanTool (http://kanbantool.com/)? It’s similar to Trello but it has one extra function that I really appreciate. I mean, time tracking. It helps me to stay focus on writing because I feel that kind of “time pressure” (tick-tock-tick-tock…). I divide my work in small tasks and I plan: “Chapter I – 20-22.02”, “Chapter II – 23-29.02”, … When I start to work I just move a card “Chapter I” to the column “doing” and the app starts to count. Each break = stop tracking. I don’t want to press “stop” and it motivates me to go on with work. When I finish, I know how much time I spent on the task and I can plan next steps. Of course, everything depends on day and inspiration but still, it’s good to have a motivator.

    • Hi Krzstztof,

      Great suggestion. I had heard about KanbanTool but never tried it. I tend to use multiple apps to do time tracking (usually the Pomodoro apps suggested above and Jiffy for time tracking), but that’s great there’s a product with all those features in one place. Thanks for sharing!

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