Productivity Tools

Overhead view of a hands holding a notebook and typing on a laptop

We’re deep into November (and NaNoWriMo) and the holiday season is pretty much upon us, which means it’s a pretty busy time of year. And because there are so many distractions at this time of year (and really all time, if we’re being honest), I thought I’d share some of the productivity tools I’ve been using to stay organized and get things done.

Bullet Journal

First and foremost, I use my bullet journal. I know a lot of people swear by them, to the point of being a bit obnoxious about it, but if you like to-do lists then they really are a good productivity tool.

I use three different kinds of spreads: a six-month future log, a monthly log, and a weekly log. The future log is really just to record bookings, deadlines, or events in the future so I don’t forget.

The monthly log lets me plan out each month with a little more detail. My monthly spreads are also where I record my goals for the month and my habits (I track exercise, walking, reading, writing, art, and practising French). This log is helpful not only for planning but for evaluating how well I worked towards goals.

Finally, the weekly log is where I do my daily to-do lists. This is the part I find the most helpful. I write what I have to do in bullet points and any that I don’t accomplish in the day have to be transferred to the next day. The repetition of rewriting tasks I haven’t finished is a bit of accountability that helps me stick to my plans. I also regularly consult these logs when checking my invoices to make sure I haven’t made an error with tracking my time.

When you search for info about bullet journals, you often get really elaborate and beautiful examples in the results. Though I like to draw and be creative, my bullet journal is really quite utilitarian. Reading author Sam Maggs’s Bullet Journaling 101 really helped me get over feeling intimidated by all the elaborate examples I’d seen before.

Hand writing in an open notebook
One of my weekly spreads (see, they’re not very pretty)

Habitica

Habitica is a habit tracking app that I’ve been enjoying lately. I first learned about it from a Goodreads interview with author Naomi Novik, who said she used it to help her write Spinning Silver.

Habitica treats habit tracking as a role-playing game. When you download the app, you set up a character and create habits, dailies, and to-dos. When you complete tasks and build your habits, you earn experience and coins. If you contribute to bad habits or fail to complete dailies, you lose health. I just started using it at the beginning of the month, so I’m still learning everything you can do with it, but just the tracking part has been useful to me. But, you can also level up, buy new items, take on challenges, join guilds, and more.

It’s a little bit silly, but the gamification of tasks gives me a little bit of motivation and makes doing things fun.

Forest

Someone on Twitter recommended Forest as a helpful tool to stay on task. It’s just an app that forces you to stay focused for a set amount of time by giving you the incentive to avoid using your phone. When you open the app, you set a timer and plant a tree. If you exit the app to check social media or anything else, the tree dies. Pretty simple, and again a little silly, but it works for me.

A screen shot of Forest app showing animated trees on a plot of land

The free version works just as I’ve described, but the full version (which only costs a few dollars) has a bunch more features. You can tag your trees by what you’re focussing on (work, study, rest etc.), focus with friends, earn achievements, and even use the points you earn to plant real trees.

I’ve found this app particularly helpful for NaNoWriMo this year, as it pairs well with word sprints. I imagine it’d be helpful for those who use the Pomodoro Method for productivity as well.

Time Tracker

Like most people who run their own businesses, I have to keep track of my billable hours. So time tracking is a necessity rather than just a productivity tool. But in addition to helping me with invoices, tracking time also keeps me accountable for my work day. (when you’re your own boss, it’s easy to take time off when you’re not busy with client work when you should be putting extra time into professional development or marketing.) It also lets me see which tasks take the most time, which is helpful for planning purposes and for quoting similar projects.

While the Forest app does track time, I wouldn’t recommend it for business purposes. I’d recommend an app specifically designed for business instead. I’m currently using Hours Tracker. It is an easy to use app that allows you to create different jobs, clock in and out, and pause for breaks. You’ll need to buy the full version if you want more than a few jobs/weeks of tracking though. I’m also not completely satisfied that cloud backup isn’t automatic without paying for another subscription, but I’m making manual backups work for now.

Of course, these are just a few of my current productivity tools. There are lots of others out there. If you’ve found any interesting ones, I’d love to hear about them!

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