Tag Archives: productivity

I spend much of my day looking at screens – from desktop to smartphone to tablet. I love what screens have to offer, but this year, I resolve to take more control of how I use my screen time. I resolve to be plugged in with more purpose.

I’ve spent time in the last months reading and researching with the goal of finding how to best use technology to make my 21st century life a better one. To take advantage of the ways screens can enrich my life.

With sites and apps in my arsenal, I’m using technology to better use technology. And so, my 12 picks for 2013 – one for each month of the year.


TIME: Volunteer Match
Cost: $0
Platforms: Website

I read recently that only 1 in 5 of us contribute to charitable causes. Giving doesn’t have to come in monetary form. Yet, sometimes it’s overwhelming to try and figure out where and how to help. Volunteer Match lets you find ways to help by zip code or city. You can find out what is needed right now or the third Thursday of the month. Simplifying the search removes the guesswork. With info to connect at your fingertips, there’s nothing keeping you from taking the next step.

Cost: $25 and up
Platforms: Website, iPhone, Android and Windows Phone

A number of years ago, I discovered Kiva and the concept of micro loans through friends. I went from feeling that I could never give enough to make a difference, to seeing just what we can do working together. The concept is simple. You donate in increments of $25 to a group that’s helping to fund a loan to the working poor. As the loan is repaid, you received your KIVA credits back, and then you can loan that money to another person in need.

THANKS: The Gratitude Journal
Cost: $0.99
Platforms: Website, iOS devices

Consider it your own Silver Linings Playbook. End each day writing down five things – from the marvelous to the mundane – that were good. It’s incredible we don’t do this by reflex. I wish I did. Now if not by reflex, but by habit. The lists don’t have to be made public, but you can connect to social networks, add photos and other bells and whistles. But even in its most basic form, it’s beautiful.


FOCUSED: Pomodoro Timer App
Cost: Free
Platforms: iPhone/iPad

Before I knew what the Pomodoro technique was, I was taught to use a kitchen timer with the same basic principles: you need focus in order to complete the tasks on front of you. You also need breaks from those tasks to gain that focus.

I’m not always writing in the same place and a Pomodoro app is wonderfully portable, and I love the simplicity of this one. Tap the screen and the countdown begins. After 25 minutes, I then have the choice between starting another 25 or opting for a timed break. Simple, effective, brilliant.

Cost: $1.99 and up
Platforms: iPad

I like to sketch out ideas on paper. I also like to save a tree whenever possible. Within virtual Moleskine-eqsue books, I can paint, draw, sketch and make notes, and then email them, print them or trash them. Like the PAPER creators say, “we noticed that somehow, along the way, software developed to help us be creative actually made us less creative. That’s because we believe our best ideas emerge when we use pencils and paper.” (All of the graphics in this post are made in part using PAPER).

BOOK RECS: What Should I Read Next?
Cost: $0
Platforms: Website

I recently gave Good Reads a break, realizing that I was spending time organizing lists of what I wanted to read and reviewing what I had when I could actually be reading. This very straightforward site uses the books you already love to help you decide what you should pick up next along with links to where to buy.


WITH WORDS: Project Gutenberg
Cost: Free
Platforms: Website, eReaders, Kindle

Project Gutenberg offers tens of thousands of digitized books for you to read for free on your in print, on your desktop, or eReader of choice (Kindle’s partnership with Project Gutenberg makes it easy to download free via Amazon. It’s a wonderful way to connect with the stories you always wish you’d read and old favorites, too. E-readers aren’t cheap. Offset the cost by filling yours with a library of free books that you can spend a lifetime enjoying.

WITH IMAGES: Instagram
Cost: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android devices

A few weeks ago, I wrote about issues surrounding the potential TOS changes for Instagram. I’m happy to hear they opted to listen to users and rethink the way they worded things, although, as users, if your account isn’t private, some things you’ve always given them permission to use. (Always read the fine print.)

While considering an alternative, I realized that part of the reason I love Instagram is that it does one thing and it does it well (as long as Facebook doesn’t mess with a good thing). As a photographer, I’m impressed with the image quality and the filters. For social sharing, I enjoy the interface and the pace at which it moves. When I want a visual diary to share, Instagram works because it’s unfussy. Less is more.

WITH PEOPLE: Paperless Post
Cost: Varies on usage, but can be free.
Platforms: Website, iOS devices

As someone who has yet to give up on handwritten correspondence, Paperless Post is the next best thing. With an incredible selection of cards, and the ability to customize down to the envelope liner of choice, it’s a luxe stationer of the digital kind. Wonka’s paradise for paper lovers featuring in house designs as well as a number of well-known stationers. PP makes email something to treasure.


RIGHT NOW: Freedom
Cost: $10
Platforms:Desktop for Mac and PC

Freedom is simple, and sometimes is simple is spectacular. You start the program, tell it how long you want to work/play without distraction and you cannot access the web or have it distract you until time is up. You can always restart your computer to stop the clock – there’s no Inspector Gadget self-destruction happening if you change your mind. But thinking about whether to restart your computer is just enough time to contemplate whether that tweet or google search really can wait.

Cost: $15
Platforms: Desktop for Mac

The makers of Freedom have also created Anti-Social, which doesn’t disconnect you completely, only from the social sites, which in some ways makes it the best of the two. Freedom is now cross platform, and hopefully Anti-Social will follow. If you’re on a Mac, buy them bundled together, and save $5 (plus potentially priceless time).

Cost: Free and Paid Subscriptions Available
Platforms: Desktop, Online, iOS devices, Blackberry, Android, Windows Phone

We can bookmark and pin and save things for another day in so many ways, but it’s truly impossible to keep up with it all. With Evernote’s web clipper, I save a copy of what I want to read to my Evernote file, and later, on my desktop, tablet, or phone, sit down to read it with full attention. For free, you can view them as long as you have a web connection. A $5 monthly subscription buys you the option of offline reading amongst many other features.

Turn on Freedom, then set the Pomodoro app for 25 minutes at the end of the day, or maybe over your morning coffee, to read through what you clipped via Evernote. 25 minutes of quiet, focused time? Oh, quiet. I sometimes forget that.

Add that to your Gratitude Journal.


Includes personal link to Paperless Post.


If Emily Posted – The When

Math was never my favorite subject, but in college I took a course in sacred geometry that blew my mind. At 20, I found an appreciation for the way numbers, nature and our everyday lives intertwine. I wish we were taught sacred geometry from childhood, made to see math as more than rote exercises. In middle school, as I’d head to Drama Club after school, I never understood the why someone would join Math Club. Now I do. There is beauty in numbers.

But the thing about numbers is that they are what they are. Ten minutes is ten minutes. An hour is an hour.

Time is something I never have enough of these days. And it’s probably my least favorite thing about living right here now in this very moment. The future was supposed to filled with all sort of modern conveniences but the speed with which we can move, read, watch and share is exhausting (thanks, conveniences!).

I feel super old, but happily nostalgic, sharing with my young cousins stories of waiting to get photos back from the lab (a whole day?), of waiting for the video store to get back one copy of the movie you wanted (queue wasn’t really a word used Stateside until Netflix, kiddos), of waiting until someone got off the phone to be able to reach them or leave a message on their tape machine (when they ask what a tape is, try not to cry).

We used to listen to lots of busy signals. And yet, we weren’t so impatient.

Yesterday I was discussing to-do list strategies on twitter with other freelancers. Most weekends I call workends. My work lacks that sort of definition. The sort of thing we’re primed for in school.

I was once told by a teacher that we had antiquated bells between classes to prepare us for work in factories.

Imagine if those bells were to prepare us for a life online – it would be a cacophony of chimes and whistles and twittering birds.

I recently read about something called Attention Deficit Trait (ADT). Dr. Edward Hallowell, who coined the term, was interviewed by TIME magazine:

“The pace of most people’s lives these days induces it. We’ve never seen in human history the technology that we have today. I think it’s basically technology driven. Why are we doing it? The short answer is because we can—because we can transmit so much information, we do. Because we can access so much information, we do. Because we can sign up for so many tasks, we do.”

It’s fascinating, and I think it’s something most of us can relate to. The really scary part?

That interview was from January 2006.

Facebook was barely two years old and still just for students. iPhones were a year away. As was twitter.

In January 2006, we were practically tree sloths. Cue those bells.

I think there’s value in all of these social media tools, totally. I disagree when people say they’re just toys.

But here’s the thing: I have accepted the fact that I will never read, write, see or do all the things I want in a day. Or in this lifetime. But how I spend my time is of value to me.

I was at a dinner with some blog friends last summer. A small dinner party celebrating with Holly Becker and Leslie Shewring upon the release of Holly’s book.

Over sangria and pomme frites, the question of how you decide what to read in this sea of information came up. My answer was this:

Offline I buy books and magazine subscriptions. Online most content is free. So, I imagine if I had to pay to read blogs, where would I subscribe? Where would I put my money. Because time has value. Time is money.

Make a list of the sites you’d want a yearly subscription to. Highlight the ones you’d even want to give gift subscriptions to because they have info you often share.

Quite easily I can make a short list of the sites that I find the most useful, informative and entertaining. It doesn’t mean I won’t visit others, but it shows me that I can create some ordered chaos in my online day.

For productivity, nothing beats an old fashioned egg timer. I used to use a kitchen one but now my iPhone does the trick. I first read about it in a magazine and then some bloggers mentioned it, too. It works well when you have various projects and need to allot time to them through the day. It also forces me to take breaks. Breaks are important. The more I use the timers, I create good habits. I narrow my focus and get more done.

Creativity is about habit, Twyla Tharp reminds us time and again (love that book). As lovely as it would be to imagine writing as a fountain of inspiration into which we can dip when we choose, it’s not. It’s a lot of staring at a blank screen/page and really great ideas that don’t pan out. And some that do.

The timers help me keep me focused, keep me productive and keep me from losing my mind.

Maybe bells aren’t just for factory work after all.