7 Free Tools to Organize and Prioritize Your Writing Life

Tools to Keep Your Writing Life Organized -- So Your Computer Doesn't Look Like This
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Do you sometimes find yourself overwhelmed by the ever growing list of things to do? Managing your daily tasks can become its own full-time job.

Thankfully, there are plenty of apps and tools to keep you organized and focused. Here are seven free tools that help you streamline your daily lists and notes, leaving you more time to dedicate the projects most important to you.

Take notes and manage to-do lists

1. Evernote

Overview: Evernote is the most flexible of the note-taking tools. You can tag each note with keywords, making your files easily searchable and accessible even when you have hundreds of notes. You can attach files, format your notes, and include tables, checkboxes and lists.

Stand out features: The reminders feature emails you a list of things due each day, creating an efficient way to automate your daily to-do list.
If you want to use Evernote to work with teams and share notes across groups, you must purchase their premium service.

Evernote is available for Android, Apple and as a downloadable application for any computer. There’s also an online interface that allows you to work from any computer.

2. Trello

Overview: Trello’s drag-and-drop interface is easy to use, but it is the least robust of the to-do list tools. The main benefit of Trello is it allows free access for multiple users.

Stand out features: You can color-code, use hyperlinks and include checklists in your individual projects.

The premium service allows you to log in through your Google account, and sync your to-do list with your daily schedule.

Trello is available for both Android and Apple mobile, but only Windows 8 for your computer. Otherwise, you must use the Trello web interface.

3. Todoist

Overview: Todoist is simple to use and easy to navigate. You can tag your tasks for easy searching as well as organize them by group or task. Formatting options for tasks, however, are limited.

Stand out features: Todoist allows you to set priorities within your tasks and lets you create sub-projects and hierarchies within your task list. The Todoist productivity feature lets you see how much you’ve accomplished in the last week.

Todoist has the most flexible options for mobile devices,operating systems, and platforms. Unfortunately, adding notes and attaching files is a premium-only feature.

4. Google Calendar + Tasks

Overview: Google is the king of free organization apps. The tasks and calendar fit together seamlessly, and it’s easy to set reminders for both tasks and meetings to appear either in your email or as pop ups.

Stand out features: Google gives you free access not only to scheduling and tasks but to a host of features that help you organize your time, maintain your files and keep track of your websites and business.

Google Tasks aren’t as intuitive as the other to-do list tools, but the sheer number of options available to you via Google makes the learning curve worth the effort. You can access it online and from all mobile devices.

Schedule Your Time

5. Youcanbook.me

Overview: Youcanbook.me automates your meetings. You set a calendar according to days and times you’re available, then simply send your calendar link to clients or colleagues when you want to schedule a meeting.

Stand out features: Both you and meeting attendees receive an email with pertinent meeting details. You can design your calendar to match your website as well as include your company logo.

The service connects with your Google Calendar to automatically create meeting entries as well as assure you don’t double book your time.

Measure Your Productivity

6. RescueTime

Overview: You think you’re just quickly checking Facebook or email and then you’ll get back to work? RescueTime lets you know exactly how fast those moments add up to a big waste of your time.

Install RescueTime on your computer, then rate websites, tasks and applications on a scale of very productive to highly distracting. RescueTime logs the amount of hours you spend on your computer and then lets you know how much of that time was actually productive.

Stand out features: You receive a weekly emailed report of where you used your time and exactly how much of it was used productively.

It can be a bit of a shock at first to see exactly how much time you’ve wasted, but awareness — and perhaps a bit of shame — allows you to tweak your computer usage, making your work time more efficient.

Work with a team

7. Asana

Overview: Asana streamlines processes for teams to work together so that all members of the team can easily update and be updated. It is free and accessible via any internet browser. Asana’s options make it ideal for managing anything from customer relations to keeping track of pitches.

The interface isn’t as intuitive to use as some of the other options, but its gallery of helpful videos will get you started.

Stand out features: You can sign in via Google, sync with your calendar and add team members and tasks from your email and social media accounts.

There’s no one perfect solution to keep track of what you have to do, but these free tools certainly make it easier. It takes a bit of trial and error before you know which will work best for you, but once you find your own process, you can keep track of everything you need and automate some of the more tedious details, leaving you more time to write, make contacts and develop your writing career.

What are your favorite free productivity tools?

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Leigh Shulman writes, travels and runs Creative Revolution Retreats, a women-only writing retreat designed to help you decide who you are and what you want as a writer. S... .

The Future Is Red | @thefutureisred

Leigh Shulman
Blog Wise from Problogger

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  1. Thanks for sharing these Leigh. There are a couple of tools here I hadn’t heard of yet, so I’m looking forward to trying them out. 🙂

    • Hi Jenn!

      Some can be really useful, although I do try to limit the number of tools I use. At a certain point, it gets to be too much.

      That said, since writing this article, I’ve been using Asana more for keeping track of clients. I also joined a Trello group board created by a friend. She’s using it as a posting site for people looking for writing work. It’s new, but I’m curious to see how it works out.

      I’d love to hear what you end up using. These tools are especially interesting, I think, when they’re kind of hacked a bit.

  2. I love Caros Diary. It’s just a planner, but it’s so well laid out and easy to use. It always keeps me on task and helps me track due dates.

  3. Thanks for an interesting list of tools. I just use Evernote, mainly for collecting clips from around the web (when the web clipper is behaving itself!) I tend to use my manual diary for do lists. I’ve tried electronic do-lists, but just find them an additional hassle that I end up ignoring.

    • Susan,

      I completely agree. There are so many tools out there, that it can be overwhelming. Not to mention, at a certain point, fiddling around with new options can be more of a time suck than saver.

      That’s why I love hearing how others use these tools.

      The main thing I like about electronic to do lists is that they send me reminders, and I can incorporate them with calendars. But ultimately, each person has to figure out what works best.

      • Would you recommend Evernote? That’s the one I want to get. That a fellow commenter likes it is encouraging.

        • I love Evernote. And fwiw, I use the free version, and it’s fine for my needs. I suggest trying it, and then if you want the premium tools, you can purchase it then. Sometimes, Evernote will also give you a month of free premium to test things out.

  4. I’ve had experience with Podio, Asana, and Trello, but will look into todoist. In addition to tracking writing projects, I’ll be co-writing this year, and we need something to keep us on track. My problem is that my day job email is on a gmail engine and has to stay signed in, so using anything Google based can be tricky. Thanks for the list, and Alicia, thanks for Caros Diary, I’ll look into that also. 🙂

    • Robyn,

      The gmail thing can be an issue. I’ve used multiple accounts on Google, though, when signed in through different browsers. Although, that is perhaps more complicated than you want.

      Have you tried Draft (http://draftin.com) for co-writing? I used it a while back, at which point it was a bit clunky. They’ve made some changes to it since, and I think it’s more user friendly now.

  5. I LOVE Evernote, my life was never the same since I used it. 🙂

    Other than evernote, I keep a daily planner. There’s something about writing my tasks rather than typing them on the keyboard. 🙂

    • Me too, Joy! Me too! There’s a reason it’s first on this list. I use it for just about everything. In spite of the fact I love checking out new app possibilities, I only incorporate a new one into my life if it really works.

      I used to do all my to dos by hand. It works very well. The main reasons I changed is because I found it tedious moving over the things I hadn’t done and I find getting e-mailed notifications useful.

      Oh, and my daughter has a tendency to take my notebook for drawing. 🙂

  6. I’m a huge fan of Evernote, myself. And I have to say Thank you for sharing this list! There are some tools on here that I’ve never heard of. I’m curious now, and have to check them out. I’m always looking for new things to make my writing life easier!

    • Evernote is a huge staple of mine, too. Since writing this post, btw, I’ve started using Scrivener, which is unbelievably helpful. It’s not free, though, although you can try it out for the first month for free.

      • I love that the free trial isn’t just one month — it’s 30 days of use. So if you test it out on a Sunday and then don’t write again until Friday, you’ve only used two of your 30 trial days!

        • Yep. Absolutely. You’re right. Big difference between first month free and 30 days of use whenever you choose to use them. Thanks for making that clear, Heather.

          • No problem! I thought it was such a brilliant way for L&L to endear themselves to customers, since not all of us would use the program every day.

          • AliciaJeanae says:

            I got Scrivener after NaNoWriMo one year (winners get 50% off) and still feel I cheated them somehow – I really don’t know how I’d write without it. Not free, obviously (though love that the 30 day trial is an actual 30 days of use – that bit of generosity and thoughtfulness sold me before first starting the program) but one of the best investments for the price I can think of.

            Thanks for the other links – I’ve only heard of one or two of these and so it looks like I have some research to do. Thanks!

          • How cool! I didn’t know that was part of NaNoWriMo, and congrats to you for finishing. One day the stars will align and I will try it myself.

            Enjoy the rest of these apps!

      • Sounds like we all love Evernote.

  7. Jimmy Wills says:

    Great list of some useful tools. But when it comes to organize and prioritize, you cannot fail to add proofhub in the list. Focused on offering simplicity, ease and effective management to customers in their work and life, it is the best tool of present times.

  8. I’m a latecomer to this discussion but wanted to say “thanks” for the list, which includes a couple of tools I hadn’t used before — Todoist and RescueTime. I will have to check them out.

    My favorite in this group, by far, is Trello. It is very simple on the surface but is incredibly adaptable, and many folks find it indispensable after using it for awhile. It’s my go-to tool for managing everything from home improvements to story ideas to major IT projects.

    And, with NaNoWriMo coming up, I think there may be a new Trello board in my near future!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the list, Adam — and good to hear another vote for Trello. I haven’t used it myself, but I’ve heard so many positive recommendations, I might have to give it a shot!

      TWL Assistant Editor

    • I started using Trello for my own organization, but then I simplified and took it out of the equation. I may have to go back and check it out again.

      I have, tho, found my productivity is at an all time high because of RescueTime. 🙂

  9. I need to see my to-do list or I’ll forget about it, so I use Hott Notes, which allows me to post virtual sticky notes on my desktop. The newest version (Hott Notes 4) gives me the option of a regular, checklist or scribble note (you write and draw the note with your mouse, stylus or finger, depending on how you interface with your device).

    I’m finding the checklist note handy for keeping track of my to-do list, the regular note (which includes an alarm feature) good for upcoming meetings or events, and the scribble note great for letting off creative steam and giving myself little motivational reminders.

    Hott Notes allows you to customize the color and opacity of the notes, so if design is important to you, you’ll enjoy being able to control the appearance and color scheme. There’s even a gradient option in the color menu. And when you delete a note, you get the satisfying sound and sight of paper crumpling as it disappears from the screen.


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