8tracks: Your All-Day Stimulus Shelter

October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

The last few weeks? Busy busy busy. And it’s not the kind of busy that has me rushing from one meeting to another. It’s the kind of busy that has me shackled to my desk, with a million little blurbs of copy to write. This is no small feat, considering I work in an open-plan office that is rife with distractions.

In previous posts, I highlight apps like WriteRoom and Isolator that help address this. See no distractions, check. Now it’s time to hear no distractions.

Earphones are the office worker’s salve for the open-plan epidemic that plagues many workplaces. I would even go as far as saying it’s an absolute essential these days. I read somewhere that the brain is naturally predisposed to zero in on voices, so even when you’re reading or writing, the brain will gravitate to the voices it hears nearby. Add that to the other noise around you, and it becomes a bit of a challenge to truly focus. What the mind needs is a stimulus shelter. This is where earphones and music come in handy.

Now I don’t have to tell you that music is a great way to drown out office noise, improve mood and increase productivity. Some people have set playlists for specific tasks, but I just kind of wing it. When I’m particularly busy, I don’t want to bother with endless fiddling with my iTunes, deciding what song to play next, so I’m really glad I found 8tracks.

8tracks is a free social music app on the web or on your mobile device where you can stream playlists that users create for every mood.  Type in a genre, an artist, or even a keyword and 8tracks will generate a list of playlists you can choose from. Follow people whose musical taste you love, create your own playlists, and share them on your social networks. I can just leave it on, enjoy the music, and get working on that mountain of copy. I’ve been on 8tracks for a few months now and its gotten me through a lot of stressful work days. I haven’t made any playlists yet, but you can follow me and check out some of the people I follow.

Any suggestions on who else I should follow? Drop me a line here!

Choose from several playlists on 8tracks

 

Single-Task Like A Boss With Isolator

August 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

There are a million and one things happening on the internet and we want to be a part of it all. We have multiple tabs open on our browser, apps running in the background, email that keeps pouring in, and various other odds and ends beeping endlessly.  Follow, comment, like, share, update, refresh, subscribe…explode.

In my previous blog post, I talk about a writing app that helps address the distraction problem. But distraction-free working, I realize, isn’t just for writers. This technology-borne attention deficit is an equal-opportunity vexation.

Enter Isolator.

This tiny slip of an app is a wonderful addition to your arsenal of distraction-free solutions for today’s distraction-filled desktop. Isolator sits quietly on your menu bar until you need it. Set the background color, set the transparency (I recommend setting it opaque, otherwise it just defeats the purpose), and you’re good to go.

Turn it on when it’s crunch time and watch the world wide web melt away. Ah, glorious. That’s what it feels like when the voices stop.  Revel in that for a moment, then get to work. It’s time to let the magic happen.

Isolator isn’t on the Mac App Store yet, but you can download it here for free: http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/24052/isolator

Requires PPC/Intel, Mac OS X 10.4 or later

WriteRoom: A Writing App That Lets You Write

August 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Every writer needs time to let their mind roam. Ideas are often found where you least expect them, so going off-leash is highly encouraged. But once you have to sit down and do the actual writing, you gotta lock that imagination down and focus.

Distraction is the enemy of every writer. Lock yourself up in a room, turn off your phone, travel to a secluded spot, get the best noise-canceling headphones ever — do whatever you can to give your muse a fighting chance.

One of the tools I’ve found very useful in keeping the ADD at bay is an app called WriteRoom. I’ve been using it for years and have never been happier.

WriteRoom takes the bells and whistles of most writing apps and throws them out the window. No more worrying about how big your margins are, wrestling with an ungainly chart, or fiddling with your list-formatting. WriteRoom lets you focus on the task at hand so the words can spill out onto the screen. Just write. Worry about the formatting later.

The highlight of this app is its full-screen feature that blocks out everything on your monitor, freeing you from the bells and whistles of the entire internet. So it’s just you and your words. And you can finally complete a thought without any 140-character disruptions. You can set your background screen to whatever color you want too. You know, in case you feel like matching it to your mood. (Okay, that was a teeny bell. Or whistle.)

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WriteRoom is available on the Mac App Store or at http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom

Notebook Lust: Introducing NoteSlate

February 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

When it comes to typing vs. writing longhand, preferences vary widely. Some people feel that typing is the more efficient way to get the words flowing. Others, on the other hand, still feel that there’s nothing quite like good old pen and paper.

This dispute may very well come to an end with the release of NoteSlate — an e-paper tablet that lets you write, sketch, diagram, or doodle to your heart’s content.

Here's one of the product photos from their gallery

It has a whopping 180 hours of battery life and saves all your scribblings via a mini-USB port and an SD card slot, all for $99. And with it comes the Notes Late network that lets you add a whole bunch of extensions to make you even more productive. The are even optional upgrades for wi-fi and mp3 playback, plus future upgrades to view PDF files and incorporate text recognition.

Oh, and did I tell you it comes in different colors?

Gadget lust *ON*.

Honestly, I don’t need another gadget. But as an avid notebook hoarder and as someone who is starting to worry about our forests, I have to say I’m pretty intrigued.

How did your day go?

February 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here’s a really useful way to get the writing juices flowing.

Photo by Jeff Wilcox

OhLife is a nifty service that sends you an email everyday with one simple question: “How did your day go?”. All you have to do is dash off a few lines and press send. Your responses are then archived in the OhLife website which is, of course, private.

Originally intended to encourage you to write regular journal entries, you can also use it for daily writing exercises or just to ramble on about whatever topic comes to mind.

Getting this in your inbox everyday helps give you that much-needed nudge to take a few moments to write. I set up OhLife to email me first thing in the morning, but you can set yours for the end of the work day or right before you sleep at night. See what works best for you. Sign up for free here.

There are tons of other ways to jumpstart your writing and I’ll be covering some more of mine in the next few posts. But for now, I would really love to hear about yours. Got anything good for me? 🙂

Overture

January 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

The new year brought about the usual chatter about resolutions — stopping bad habits, starting new and good ones. Together with diet and exercise, blogging seems to have made it to the top of a lot of people’s lists.

Starting a blog. Reviving a stagnant blog. Blogging more, blogging better.

It’s a reasonable enough goal. But we shake our heads and talk about how hard it is to get started. To warm up. To just get going.

The fear of the blank page can be overwhelming — that big, empty space just waiting for us to make a mess of it.

But if I publish just a few words…

The quick brown fox is messing up the big, bad, blank page.

…then the page isn’t quite so blank now, is it? It’s not the most earth-shattering prose that ever graced a screen but hey, it’s something.

To all my lapsed-blogger or almost-blogger or blocked-blogger friends, this post is for you. Let’s just get going, shall we? Let’s scribble on the blank page. And doodle and smudge and squiggle until it’s not so scary anymore. Let’s just write. Just write, just write, just write.

Photo by Sarah

“Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the centre of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write…” ~ Natalie Goldberg

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