Upgrade Your Writing Productivity: 5 Tools to Help You Write Better

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When it comes to establishing a perfect productivity system, you won't find anybody as attentive to details as bloggers. They have a lot on their hands. They work from home. Which means two things:

  1. There's no boss strolling around, so you have a lot of time to procrastinate;
  2. There's no boss strolling around, so you have to get productive on your own or die.

A perfect productivity system is the Holy Grail. Bloggers are always in search of The Tool which will improve their output.

I know this from experience. Checking through to-do lists and setting up note-taking apps could be a divine pleasure (more enjoyable than that 1,500 words article you've been trying to write for a week). Been there, done that.

But when I've decided to become the sole writer-editor for three different blogs at once... then I realized exactly how much time I'm losing.

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It hit the fan. I had no more time to tinker with my productivity system and read up on GTD or bullet journaling. Instead, I had to find the perfect solution and do it fast.

One year later, I'm happy to say that I found what I've been looking for. And even though during that year I, at various points, was fired, left without money and spent several sleepless nights in a row, I'm glad I had that experience.

It let me distill my working process into three steps. Find something to write about, capture it for reference, write. I've simplified my system to the minimum of tools, letting go of any 'productivity' apps and todo-lists, and now I actually get stuff done.

It wasn't easy. Here are five tools which survived:

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1. Feedly

Perfect for: news and discussions monitoring.

Feedly is not an ideal tool to save you from content overflow. But as of 2017, I don't know anything else that can help with it.

Feedly lets you create various categories, and stuff an unlimited amount of websites into them. You can set up various view options (want bigger pictures or more headlines on your screen?). There's a nice app for Android and iOS, too, which helps stay in the know on the go.

It's also a great tool for what you may call off-page SEO. Basically, a huge chunk of that is monitoring the places where discussions take place and participating. So: put all the websites where people talk about the topic you're working on. When an interesting article comes up, you'll be among the first to know it.

It's great for quality outreach, too. Put a website you plan to get in touch with in Feedly and after a week you'll see what they're writing about, how they do it and what to reach out about. When you do write that email, it'll be easy to personalize.

Bonus tip: Don't take categories literally. Meaning, it's not necessary to put New York Times into the 'News' category. Maybe a different system — by time ('Weekends') or importance ('Read First') — will work better for you.

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2. Google Inbox

Perfect for: emails, newsletters, and reminders.

Now, this may be a controversial choice. I haven't seen a lot of people using Google Inbox, but I've seen a lot who tried and went back to Gmail (although some switched).

Personally? After two years on Inbox, I can't stand Gmail.

Here's why. First, Inbox just looks better: it has Google's Material Design, compared to Gmail's 'party like it's 2010' look. I can't make myself use tools which look bad when I know I'll be stuck looking at them for 80% of my day.

Second, Google Inbox has bundling and its bundle features are great. You may have seen bundles in Gmail, but they are unnecessary complicated and restrictive. In Inbox, you have several predefined bundles (like 'Promos' or 'Finances') but you can create as many custom bundles as you'd like. You'll find them on a simple page in a list view — no tabs or stuff like that.

This is how I'm able to read several dozens great newsletters at once. I put them in the bundle called 'Newsletters' and read through it when I have time. It's there when I need it but it doesn't demand attention. It's great.

Third, Inbox thinks of itself more like as of a to-do list. So, you can 'snooze' emails to look at them when they'll be useful (perfect for weekend work stuff: I'm snoozing it till Monday's morning, so my Inbox is full of the fun stuff for two days) and add random stuff right beside emails as 'reminders'.

Bonus tip: use automatic snoozing to make your day even more productive. For example, that 'Newsletters' bundle? I've set it up in such a way, that new letters appear in it only in the mornings. So I'm not stuck up trying to go inbox zero when I have more important stuff to do.

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3. Pocket

Perfect for: saving stuff to look at later and reading those long form articles.

This is an essential. When I find something interesting in Feedly and I don't have the time to look at it immediately, I put it in Pocket. Usually, I don't have the time to read through articles when I'm skimming the news flow. Sending it somewhere safe is a great help.

There's a simple rule I use to not get crazy with it. Once I begin reading something in Pocket, I have to finish it in one go. Without this rule I'd always switch my attention elsewhere in the middle of the article, forget about it and then it would drown somewhere down the Pocket drain.

My Pocket is a swamp of lengthy longform articles, links to a possible maybe-projects and quick tips which I forgot to delete. It's my dream that I would empty it before my death.

Bonus tip: Use tags to find articles later. As with Feedly, be creative in your naming: for example, tagging stuff in Pocket by a project is a great way to manage your sources.

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4. Google Keep

Perfect for: note-taking.

Do you have all those ideas and quick musings and an occasional quote that catches your eye? I do.

For that, I'm using Google Keep. It's not a perfect tool but it's better than most. I like its 'post-it' design, which is great for the images I've saved. Compare it with something like Evernote or OneNote, where the image handling is atrocious, the design is bloated and the price (at least for Evernote) too high... Well, not even a question.

Keep stores my random ideas, images that caught my eye, lists of stuff to get done at some point in the future, paragraphs of text I'm planning to use later, quotes, ideas, and a lot of other stuff, too. Usually, when I'm preparing for an article, I'm looking at Keep first, because I store a lot of useful information there which I might use.

Keep’s feature I’m using pretty often is Reminders (remember Inbox?). It’s integrated into Google’s ecosystem, which means if I put something in my Keep and hit the reminder button, the notification will show up when I need it in my Google Inbox, on my phone and wherever else I need.

Bonus tip: don't forget to install the extension. Keep is ten times better with it.

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5. Write!

Perfect for: writing if writing is a big part of your life.

When it comes to writing, you wouldn't find anyone better than me at trying out writing apps. I've used a lot of them. Actually, I do believe I've probably used all of them.

(On a side note, I can't write something in Word or Google Docs. They look rubbish to me, cold, obsolete and I don't use 99% of the buttons in there).

Write! isn't a perfect choice for me, but there's literally nothing else I can stand. It has a minimalistic design which I like, nice font, Markdown support (here’s why it’s important) and it syncs between PC, Mac, and Linux.

No syncing with mobile is nearly a deal-breaker, but I learned to live without it. To compensate, I pay more attention to my writing when I'm actually working, not commuting. Plus it costs 25 bucks (free for a year if you're a student, though). I recommend using Simplenote if you can't afford it.

So, not an ideal choice, but Write! has tabs (very important if you're working with several documents at once) and outstanding Sessions feature (you can save sets of tabs by project or readiness, for example). Plus, some great work was put in distraction-freedom (dark theme, focus mode) and it counts both words and reading time.

Bonus tip: not a tip, but a very cool tidbit. In the fullscreen mode, Write! shows you the time in a hide-able status bar, which is a  great touch.

My final thoughts on productivity...

I try and use the One-Thing-at-a-Time system, as described and defined by this article. It's not ideal for my workflow, as I have several middle-size tasks for each given week, but I don't really care for it. I try to become less dependent on productivity systems and more thoughtful. My attention is important.

That's why right now I loathe the tools that require huge amounts of categorization, like Evernote or OneNote, or Todoist. That stuff requires me to pour hours of work just to label everything, and by then it doesn't even look good. Prioritizing tasks, multiple levels of importance, various folder structures and stuff like — that is not for me.

Instead, I try and simplify my life as much as I can. After three months of working 6-to-10 at three blogs at once, I a) lost twenty pounds and b) decided to reroute my life in another, simpler direction.

And my productivity system? It stayed with me. I’m always on the lookout for better apps, but I believe the core of the system will stay the same for a long time.

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About the Guest Author

Steven Garland is the Marketing Manager at Ahrefs.com.