Should I use a Kanban board or a To Do List app to manage my writing tasks?

As a busy writer (stop it–you know you are, even if you really just watch Netflix all day), you may sometimes wonder what sort of app you should use that shames you into writing more. Or at least lets you see how busy (or not) that you are. Or means you’ll never miss another birthday ever again.

Here’s my simple decision making list that should help you decide which productivity app meets your needs. And save you from watching 90 million YouTube videos about the subject.

  1. Do you have a good memory, and/or like writing in a day planner and/or loathe technology?
    • If the answer is yes, then stick with pen and paper. If no, then go to point 2.
  2. Do you have a minimal list of things you need to remember, and/ or you don’t have a budget to pay for an app?
    • If you really like ticking items off your list then Microsoft To Do will work for you. It’s free, and does a good job of organizing tasks. However, it doesn’t integrate outside of the Microsoft ecology. That means there’s no direct sync with Google calendar. I liked Microsoft To Do for the weird satisfaction I got when I ticked off an item and it made a very pleasant ‘ding’ sound.
    • If you don’t care about ticking things off and just need a list, you can try Google Calendar. Google Keep and Tasks might also work but I’ve never been able to stick with either of them.
    • If the above ticked all of your boxes then stick with Microsoft To Do, and/or Google Calendar. If not, then onto point 3.
  3. Do you have quite a few things to remember but hate lists? Are you are Kanban board enthusiast?
    • Trello serves all of your purposes. The free version should get you going, but you can always pay for the power-ups. Personally, I’m not a fan of Kanban boards for writers because I think writers need a start and end date to push them. When I’ve used a kanban board, some items have remained in the Doing column for an embarrassing amount of time.  One item stayed in the Doing column until I was so ashamed of myself, I deleted the item and pretended it never existed.
    • If the above allowed you to move all of your tasks into the Done column then you’re done. If not, then onto point 4.
  4. Do you have a budget to spend on an app, but you don’t require a team of people to ghost write your books?
    • I like Todoist and TickTick in this category. You can try them for free without having to fully commit, although the features in the free versions are both fairly limited.  They’re much more usable if you pay for all of the features. (If you can’t afford to pay for either, I’d give them both a miss and use Microsoft To Do. There’s nothing hiding behind a paywall with Microsoft To Do. What you see, is what you get.) I’ve been with Todoist for a while but I’m also currently trying the paid version of TickTick, and I’m liking TickTick a little better for the in-app calendar view. Each app has its particular strengths but both should make scheduling your tasks a whole lot easier. They also allow you to share tasks with other people. This is ideal if you want to assign housework tasks to your teenagers, who never listen to you anyway. Both apps are a similar price, but TickTick is currently cheaper. Todoist is $36 US a year and TickTick is $27.99 US a year.
    • If those two apps will let you schedule to your heart’s delight, then you’re scheduled to schedule. If not, onto the step 5.
  5. Do you have a team of people (or a family) to coordinate and lots of tasks along with a touring and speaking schedule that won’t quit?
    • If your schedule is heavy, and you need people to assist you, or already have a team, then you probably want to move to a project management type application. These apps can get very expensive, especially when you start paying for your team member’s accounts.
    • ClickUp and Asana seem to be solid entrants in this category and they also offer a freemium model. Both seem to have a ton of features and have a reasonable monthly price per user that can make it affordable for a small team that consists of less than five people. If you are particularly good at bending an app to your will and using it for other purposes, you could also try Jira. It’s specifically designed for software development but it charges a flat rate of $10 US per month for 10 users or less.  It consists of the same basic features as everything else (kanban board, due dates for tasks, assigning tasks to people in a team) so this may allow you to schedule for a team with a flat charging rate.

And that’s it. Five steps for deciding how you’d like to organize your life. BTW, If none of those suggestions work for you, you could try using only pen and paper. That includes making your own kanban board and sticking it to a wall. Try lists and boards and see what works for you, then when you’ve settled on the technique that works, move to using an application.

Lastly, remember that you rule your schedule, not the other way around.

I’ve changed my mind: I’m keeping Google Keep (and Calendar)

I have a confession to make. I’m a sucker for trying out To Do apps, task managers and productivity whatchamacallits. I subscribed for several years to Toodledo. I’ve tried Wunderlist, Trello, Basecamp, Remember the Milk,, and Todoist. I’ve even been desperate enough to use the task manager in Outlook (blerk).

As I moved between apps, searching for the perfect one (and spending money for the privilege), I kept running into little niggles and issues. For a start, I needed a way to track personal tasks and work related tasks, in the one app. Some events (such as work related tasks) needed to have a due date and time, and several notifications associated with them. Some items are more suited to a Kanban approach (To Do, Doing, Done). I also loved ticking off lists, and because I’m visual, I liked to include drawings or pictures.

(BTW, apparently I’m not the only one who gets frustrated with all of these To Do apps. Wire magazine’s article It’s 2016. Why Can’t Anyone Make a Freaking Decent To Do App? sums it up nicely.)

In 2015, I gave up on apps, and used a paper based system instead. Although I loved it, my quality leather covered folder/journal with room for many inserts quickly wound up looking like a bloated carcass. I stuffed it with a planner, a to do list, a birthday list, index cards, post-it notes, those zip-lock plastic envelopes, an address list, a small sketch book, amusing postcards, inspiring quotes, and scribbled pages ripped from other notebooks. It was held together with elastic bands. It developed a sort of stained charmed as I dropped Coke Zero and chocolate on the pages, and smeared the handwriting because I’m left handed and few pens have ink that dries fast enough (the Paper Mate Inkjoy pens seem to work). As much as I loved using paper it turned into a liability when it came to lugging it around in my backpack/handbag and I lived in fear of it either a) exploding or b) notes dropping out and getting lost. Or worse–a note dropping out and being found by someone I knew and becoming a laughing stock because my grocery list said: try and find a giant Toberlone and eat it.

In 2016, I’ve circled back towards using apps and found myself using Outlook for work meetings, Trello for team related tasks at work, and ToDoist for personal tasks. Ick. In 2017 I decided that I wanted to find something that didn’t require me to subscribe to use all the features, and would satisfy most of my needs to record appointments, capture items visually, and use a check list.

A couple of days ago, I posted that I wasn’t sure about Google Keep. Turns out I hadn’t figured out some of the tricks with Calendar and Keep. Now I’m more familiar with the features, I’ve changed my mind. Google has done a great job of integrating everything together, and producing something that ticks off most of my wants for an app.

My boo-boos when I did the initial setup were…

  1. Not realizing that Google Calendar in the browser lets you switch between a reminder and a task view. I had it set to task view. After switching, all of my Google Keep reminders popped up in the browser view for Calendar. You can also enter separate reminders into Calendar which don’t pop up in Keep.
  2. Reminders don’t disappear in the phone app. I got that wrong. They stick around. If you mark them as ‘done’ they’ll display with a strikeout through the text. They can be also be rescheduled.
  3. Keep is kind of like a cut down version of Evernote. Consequently I employed one of my Evernote tricks to the labels. The labels default to sorting alphabetically, but if you number your labels you can force them to sort in any order. Keep is great for jotting down tasks that need to either be scheduled at a later date, or you just need a general reminder. The checklist feature works. I have a housework checklist set up with a reminder for Saturday morning. The reminder displays in Calendar, but then I can go over to Keep and check the items off.

In conclusion, Calendar and Keep are a nice balance of events, reminders, tasks and visual notes.

Oh, and I’m sticking with Habitica because it’s definitely helping with developing habits.

So, at this point in time, my quest for a To Do system seems to have come to an end. For 2017 anyway. I won’t mark this task as ‘done’ just yet because I know I won’t be able to stop myself from testing out whatever shiny new To Do app comes out next. That is, if I don’t go back to paper by convincing myself that if I find the perfect paper system that will solve all of my issues.  If I start writing about FranklinCovey planners, someone stop me…

Is Google Keep a keeper?

I’ve been experimenting with Google Keep but at this stage, I’m undecided. It has a heck of a lot of positives, but it has a major issue for those of us needing an old school task manager.

First let me say that Google Keep is pretty, and it’s great with free-form notes and lists. As the notes appear as ’tiles’, it’s fantastic for visually inclined people. You can attach files, and change the color of the tiles. I’ve experimented with including emojis and, and yes, it works. You can also assign tags to the tiles and that allows you to categorize your notes, lists and reminders. Impressively, it allows you to draw in a tile, take voice notes, or a photo. You can include collaborators on a tile by tile basis. It also does location based reminders, which means that when you wander into the supermarket, Google Keep displays the grocery list you created the night before. And more importantly, Google Keep is free, which is a win for anyone on a tight budget.

However, it’s not so great from a pure task management perspective. I discovered that Keep carries over a Google Calendar trait. Google makes a clear distinction between an ‘event’ and a ‘reminder’. In Google land, an event can have a notification set to occur before the due date and time.  This is great for important things to remember–like birthdays.  This is because you want time to buy a card and a present so that you don’t look like a moron on the day. Or you’re going to be clear across town in another meeting and need an alarm to give yourself time to get to your next appointment.  Alternatively, in Google land, a ‘reminder’ has a due date and time, but doesn’t need a separate notification to occur before the due date and time.

To summarize: if you want to record an event (such as a birthday) that repeats every year, and you want an alarm to remind you one week before the actual date (so you can buy a card and present and not look like a moron on the day), then you create an event in Google Calendar. If you just need to know that it’s about time you phoned your mother, or you need to line up at the post office and post some bills, then you can set up a reminder in Google Keep. If you have to queue at the post office to pay bills on a regular basis, then you can set up the reminder to repeat itself.

And now onto an even more confusing aspect. Google Keep has two views: Notes and Reminders. The Notes view displays ALL tiles (tiles with or without a due date). The Reminder view displays tiles assigned a due date and time.  And here’s where it gets annoying–in the Reminder view any tile past it’s due date and time disappears from this view (whether marked as ‘done’ or not) and can only be found again in the Notes view. Things get even more confusing in the Notes view as the tiles are presented as an unsorted lump. To sort the tiles you need to manually drag and drop them.

On the positive side, if you go to Google Calendar on your phone, you can see a combined list of your Keep reminders and Calendar events, correctly sorted by date and time. But just like in Keep, the reminder disappears from the Google Calendar app as soon as the date and time passes, even if it was never marked as ‘done’.

From my perspective, I have a greater need for a pure task manager. I need to know what’s happening for the next seven to 30 days, and I need to get this list sorted by due date and time. I need reminders before the event occurs. If I missed a date and time, I need to scroll back to the date, and reschedule. I can do this in Keep but it involves going into the Note view, and locating the tile again.

Google Keep seems more like a notebook for non-urgent lists and tasks. I wouldn’t want to keep a critical appointment in it. For that, I still need to use Google Calendar.

At the moment, having to consciously decide what type of appointment I want to create, and then decide whether to create it in Keep or Calendar seems like an annoying overhead. Then again, it’s a freebie and I can learn to love a freebie. Only time (and due dates) will tell.


The Guardian (the newspaper, not the movie characters) lists seven top to-do list apps

In my never ending quest for a decent To Do app, I blundered into this article. I’m currently using ToDoist and Habitica, but hadn’t heard of Google Keep. I’m going to try Google Keep as well because it’s free. Free is good. Free with pretty colors and an app that looks like a notepad is even better. I’ll post which one I like the best out of the three and let you know which one worked for me.

Habitica: hatching magical pets and collecting weapons because writing

purple-wolfIn an effort to establish regular routines (diet, exercise, leaving the house, writing actual sentences), I’ve been trying out a site called Habitica. Habitica’s aim is to ‘gamify’ your daily tasks so that every time you accomplish a task you’re rewarded with items completely useless in Real Life ™ but still fun to have. (I tell a lie, you can make up your own rewards such as ‘go to the movies’ but let’s pretend for a moment you’re going to stick with collecting weapons that give you +6 Constitution.)

I decided to try it out because using the site is free, and I don’t have to pay anything to play. Right now, I’m at level six, and I’m riding a totally cool purple wolf because I earned enough for some hatching potion.  I also have a dragon’s egg, a panda’s egg and a fox egg which I’ll hatch later. I also have some crazy  glowing spear thing that I haven’t used yet. Which is my way of saying that ‘yes’, so far this site has been effective in making me stick to a schedule.

Habitica is available on Android and IOS, making it even easier to tick off your tasks and earn more pretend money to spend on those strangely compelling pretend things. Subscribers can buy even more pretend things, and it also helps out the developers, but you’re under no obligation to do that. You can still effectively play without the gems that allow you to buy much cooler pretend pets and weapons.

There are limitations (sigh, there always is). This isn’t the place for a traditional To Do list. If you need an app to remind you about upcoming birthdays and anniversaries, stick with Google Calendar, Outlook or a specialist app such as ToDoist. But for items like; ‘don’t write and eat chocolate at the same time’, or ‘shower before writing’, or ‘stop wearing your pajamas all day’ or, ‘stop pretending you’re watching Netflix for research’, it’s ideal.

So, my fellow writers, if you need a way to motivate yourself, and have some fun at the same time, Habitica might just be the app for you.

Having said that, I need to report back in about six months from now. Just in case I get bored and let my Habitica avatar and pets die a horrible, painful death from lack of attention. I’ll let you know…


ProWritingAid: Interwebs good, but also, Interwebs bad

I’ve been continuing to use ProWritingAid. And it continues to be a mixed bag. On the upside it has some handy features. For example, I’ve fallen in love with its report on ‘Overused Words’ and ‘Repeats’.  It’s inevitable when writing a novel that a bunch of phrases and words get repeated over and over again. (Hee, hee, see what I did there, ProWritingAid.) It’s hard to remember that I’ve described a tree the same way sixteen times. Or started a sentence with ‘Besides,’ an embarrassing nineteen times.

ProWritingAid points that out though, lovingly highlighting every word in Word with different colors. My manuscript looks like a toddler attacked the pages with a set of markers. The colors startle me into another rewrite where I curse my limited ability with the English language.

On the downside, because ProWritingAid needs the Interwebs, I find myself running the reports and staring at the results in alarm before watching YouTube videos to offset the anxiety.

Oh, ProWritingAid, you little minx, you giveth and taketh away so much.


ProWritingAid… Grammar good sometime, but also, bad

I recently subscribed to ProWritingAid. And yes, it’s like an all singing and all dancing editor. It covers everything you can think of that you’d want to check. Passive sentences, sticky sentences, repeats. You name it, it seems to check it. I’ve found this a great help and way cheaper than having to pay someone to do the editing.

Unfortunately, ProWritingAid has one fatal flaw – you have to login every time you want to use the darn thing. So, if you’re using the Word add-in you have to be online, despite entering a licence code. If you’re using the desktop version to edit your Scrivener files, you have to login. And if you happen to close the session and then go back to it – you have to login again. (Serves me right for not checking this in more depth before I subscribed.)

Having to login to the desktop app and be online for the Word add-in tells me a couple of things about the people that invented ProWritingAid: they are paranoid about software piracy, and they’re lazy app developers. Why? Because I tried logging in and disabling my WiFi temporarily. Then I tried using both the desktop app and the Word add-in. They have to connect to the server. Basically these ‘apps’ are shells that go out and call the server to do most of the work. Which is a way of saying you might as well use their website and not bother with the apps a subscribed user can download.

Needing to be tethered to the internet is a giant pain in my butt because my primary time for editing is on my work commute. When I’m offline. Or more to the point, can only connect via my phone.

I noticed the Hemingway app is only $19.99 and doesn’t require a licence to work, so I might use that for the commutes.

In conclusion…  ProWritingAid does many good things but its one hundred percent reliant on being connected to the interwebs. This can be inconvenient for those of use trying to steal editing time in places with no connection (trains, buses, planes, hotel rooms, and at work when using your personal device).