I spend my entire day at my desk. I write, design and generally get through to-do lists, as well as take small bites out of bigger projects that I’m working on. I also like finding ways that I can increase meaningful productivity during the day. Productivity for the sake of it is just mindless busy work, and that’s not something I’m fond of.
Whether it’s tweaking my daily routine to shift various types of tasks around, or testing out techniques for improved workflow, I enjoy finding that productivity sweet-spot of relaxed, creative and getting things done.
I’ve found a few neat tools over the last little while that I have been collecting to create one post, and here it is.
Productivity Aid 1: Background Noise or Music
Jazz and Rain
If you love a bit of gentle jazz, and you love the moodiness of the sound of rain, then jazzandrain.com is for you. You can play the sound of rain or pause it, and you can adjust the volume of both the jazz and the rain. You also have the choice of electro swing, vocal jazz, what the site calls “chill music”, “epic music”, or “holiday Christmas music”.
My favourite combination is electro swing, with the rain volume being just louder than the music.
If you’re one of those people who enjoy working in coffee shops, then you’re probably going to enjoy this. First, I enjoy the name – a portmanteau of “coffee” and “productivity”. Cute. I’d love to work in a café, but let’s get real: I haven’t got the budget to spend on all the tea I’d need to keep myself fuelled for one of my 4-hour marathon work sessions.
This is a great café substitute, it gives you the light bustle of a coffee shop, without the expensive chai tea and the inconvenience of leaving your comfortable work space or office. You can also choose different “flavours” of bustle to suit you: from “Lunchtime Lounge” on their free plan, to “Paris Paradise” and “Brazil Bistro” on their premium plan.
On Noisli, you can choose between “Random” mode, “Productivity” mode and “Relax” mode. The software offers various nature and urban sounds – from wind, rain and thunder, to coffee shop, train and fan. Depending on which mode you choose, the system creates different sound combinations for you so that you can start using it in a few clicks and get to work quickly.
You’re able to customise the combination of these sounds, and adjust the level of individual sound effects to create your unique happy place. You can also create your own “Productivity” soundtrack or “Relax” soundtrack and save them to your profile.
You then have the option to share your sound combination on social media so that others can also pretend they’re in a forest with the sound of rain, instead of in an office cubicle.
Productivity Aid 2: Writing Tools
Noisli also includes a distraction-free text editor tool. It consists of a background that slowly changes colour (the colour palette is so pretty, from soft blue, to turquoise and green, to yellow, and you get the drift) and white text. You happily type away at your blog post, book chapter or news article, while the interface gets out of the way.
The system is clutter-free and basic, which in this case is a good thing. To format your text, you can use the Markdown syntax (or not, it’s just as good if you don’t do any of that). Once you’ve completed your writing piece you can save the .txt file to your computer, to Dropbox or to Google Drive.
It’s still in Beta testing, so while it’s relatively stable, it’s probably still a good idea to save and download your file regularly to avoid losing any precious writing.
I love the Google Docs interface – it’s exactly like MS Word basically. It saves my work automatically, and I can write blog posts from my desk, from my laptop while sitting on the couch, or from my tablet while sitting in bed. Then when I need to upload and schedule a blog post, I can pull it from Google Docs, and the process is much quicker than writing directly into WordPress.
It even has a built-in dictionary, so really, no excuse for spelling mistakes.
Similar to Noisli, this creates a distraction-free zone for writing. You can toggle it into and out of fullscreen mode, so that you can also get rid of the pesky URL bar and hide all those other open browser tabs from your field of vision.
Unlike Noisli, your colour options are black text on a white background, and white text on a black background. On ZenPen, you have the option to markup your text (bold, italic, hyperlink, and creating quote sections) by highlighting it and clicking the desired option in the little pop-up menu above the highlighted section.
It gives you the option to set a target word count. When you do this, a thin bar fills up the right-hand side of your screen, and turns from blue to green as soon as you hit your target. Once you’re done with your writing, you can save your document in HTML, Markdown or Plain Text. You can also copy the entire document and paste (ctrl+c, ctrl+v style) it into your word processor of choice – eg, MS Word or Google Docs to save to your machine or to the cloud for later use.
Productivity Aid 3: Admin Tools
I wrote about this in a previous post, and I’m mentioning it here because I still use it whole-heartedly. One instance of where Trello has come into its own for me is my blog post creation process.
I have crafted a workflow for myself in an Editorial Calendar board, and I brain dump all my blog post ideas there. When I sit down to write, I pull an idea from the list and create a card for it. I have lists on my editorial calendar board called “drafted”, “edited”, “scheduled”, “published” and “promoted”. Once I get into the process of writing a blog post draft, I move the cards forward in the creation process from list to list until I reach the end. That way, when I look at my editorial calendar board, I get an overview of where each idea is in the pipeline, and I know what has to be done next for each blog post.
I then enable the “calendar” power-up on the board, and can quickly glance at the month’s blog post schedule.
Note: Link above is my affiliate link. If you sign up using my link, I get one month free of Trello Gold at no cost to you.
I love Calendly for scheduling 1:1 meetings. It eliminates the hassle of back-and-forth emailing to decide on a date and time. You set up your profile with the categories of appointment you offer (eg, 30 min consultation, 60 min consultation etc), adjust the hours you’re available to accommodate those appointments, get your customised URL and you’re basically good to go.
You can also create the option of paid appointments, which just adds an extra step to your client’s booking process. When you set up your appointment types, you add a custom link that you can then connect to PayPal (for example), which makes payment an easy part of the process instead of an inconvenient addon.
Toggl is a simple yet robust time tracking tool. There are a few apps that do what this one does, but I was introduced to Toggl first, and it’s suited my needs very well.
You are able to start tracking tasks as soon as you sign up. For each task you track, you add a client name and project name, so that you can allocate the time logged to the correct project at the end of the week/month/project.
Even if you are not billing by the hour, it’s still a great way to see how much time you are actually spending on a project, compared to the time you think you’re spending on it. My least favourite scenario, like, ever: thinking a project will take 5 hours, creating a quote for the time and work involved, and then starting the project only to come across scope creep, or realising that the project is so much more complicated than you originally anticipated.
Enjoy testing these out, and I’d love to know which ones you liked most.
Melissa De Klerk
Writer, Web Designer, Digital Media Strategist, Typophile, Inspiration Junkie, Yogi
Melissa is the owner and creative brain behind Fox & Owl Media. She loves creating content strategies and has considerable experience with Website Design and Brand Management.
You can contact her here, and find her on social media by clicking the links below.