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The Ultimate Writing Productivity Resource

The Ultimate Writing Productivity Resource
The Ultimate Writing Productivity Resource

    Last week, I launched a new site I’d been working on for several months, dedicated to technology and the writing life. Since I’ve been eating, drinking, breathing, and sleeping “writing” all week, it seemed natural to pull together some of the tools, sites, and Lifehack.org tips I know of that can help make writers more productive, organized, and creative.

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    Note: Maybe you don’t consider yourself a writer. Chances are, though, that you have to write — papers for school, memos for work, presentations for potential funders, grants for your organization, posts for your blog, and so on. I’m pretty sure you’ll find a lot of useful information below, whether or not you officially call yourself a “writer”.

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    10 9 Free Apps Every Writer Should Consider

    1. q10: A cool, minimalist full-screen text editor that includes a spellchecker and a couple other nice features. (Win Only; Alternatives: DarkRoom, also Win-only; WriteRoom, Mac-only but not free; Writer, online app)
    2. Freemind: Java-based mindmapping software. Great for brainstorming and taking notes. (Runs anywhere Java runs)
    3. EverNote: Capture formatted notes from any application to a single place. The new version (in private beta now) offers online access, too. (A paid version offers niceties like handwriting recognition.)
    4. Zotero: Firefox extension that allows you to capture bibliographic information from web pages, organize citiations and documents, and create bibliographies in Word and OpenOffice. Essential for anyone who does research on the web.
    5. yWriter4: Novel-writing software created by a working writer with writers in mind. Keeps character descriptions, notes, and other essential information at your fingertips as you write. (Win and Linux)
    6. Sonar: Submission tracking software from the same guy who wrote yWriter4. Keep track of markets and submissions easily. (Win and Linux)
    7. Foxit Reader: A super-fast PDF reader. Opens almost every document much more quickly than Adobe Reader. (Win only)
    8. PDF Creator: Open source program to create PDF files from any application that can print. Installs a “virtual printer” under your programs “Print” menu; select it to save as PDF. (Win only)
    9. Enso Words: Provides system-wide spellchecking and word count; simply select text and enter a keystroke combination (“Caps Lock” + s for spellcheck, “Caps Lock” + w for word count, etc.). (Win only)

    Update: Sorry, I don’t know what happened to my 10th! I had 10 when I outlined the post, then added a few and dropped a few while I wrote, and… Very mysterious. I could cheat and add Scholar’s Aid 4 Lite, a freeware bibliographic reference manager, but you’d see right through that, wouldn’t you?

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    10 Online Apps and Services Every Writer Should Check Out

    1. Buzzword: Luscious Flash-based word processor from Adobe. Includes running word count, sharing and collaboration features, and revision history. (Alternatives: Google Docs, Zoho Writer, and ThinkFree)
    2. Luminary Writer’s Database: AN online submission tracker with some social networking features, like sharing markets with other writers (and searching other writer’s shared markets).
    3. WriteWith: An online collaboration environment. Upload documents and assign tasks to different authors.
    4. Wrike: Project management app with an email interface (useful for adding documents and assigning tasks). Useful for information management, too. (Alternative: Basecamp)
    5. Mozy: Automatic online backup of selected folders. Free version allows up to 2GB of storage.
    6. Toodledo: Task management system that integrates well with various services, including Jott, Twitter, and Google Calendar. (Alternatives: RememberTheMilk, TadaList, more)
    7. Google Notebook: Online storage for notes and web snippets, with instant capture via a Firefox extension. Organize into “notebooks” and “sections”.
    8. iGoogle: Personal homepage with hundreds of add-on widgets. Create a writing dashboard with notes, calendar, project management info, your todo list, and access to files on Box.net or documents on Google Docs (or most other online word processors). (Alternative: Pageflakes)
    9. Box.net: 5GB free online storage. Offers file sharing and integration with online apps like Zoho Writer.
    10. Jott: Transcribes voice messages to text. Call from your mobile phone to leave reminders, or to send items to over 2 dozen web services including todo lists, blogging platforms, and online calendars.

    10 Sites Every Writer Should Bookmark (Besides Lifehack)

    1. Becoming a Writer Seriously: Tom Colvin is a working writer who gives tips and advice on writing, including great in-depth reviews of software and otehr tools for writers.
    2. Freelance Switch: Essential reading for freelancers of any sort, including writers.
    3. How Not to Write: News, tips, and amusements for writers when they’re not writing.
    4. Men with Pens: A great site written by freelance writers. Funny, irreverent, opinionated — and great advice.
    5. PODdyMouth: Everything you could ever want to know about print-on-demand publishing. Writers beware — there are a lot of scams out there, and PODdyMouth works hard to uncover them.
    6. The Renegade Writer Blog: Great advice aimed at freelance writers, from the authors of The Renegade Writer.
    7. Time to Write: Multi-faceted author Jurgen Wolff offers tips and advice on writing, promotion, and creativity.
    8. Write Now is Good: Author and editor Kristin Gorski writes about writing, creativity, inspiration. Write Now is Good is good.
    9. Write to Done: Leo Babauta, ex-Lifehackista and master of Zen Habits, shares the secrets of his success.
    10. Writing Power: Real down-in-the-trenches advice on things like narration, revision, and word usage from English professor Loren Blinde.

    30 Lifehack Posts Every Writer Should Read

    1. 10 Steps Toward Better Writing
    2. Fifty (50!) Tools which can help you in Writing
    3. Improve Your Writing with these Editing Tips
    4. Tips and Tricks for Distraction-Free Writing
    5. Persuasive Writing for Students, Webmasters, Bloggers, and Everyone Else
    6. How to Start a Writing Critique Group
    7. Eliminate Common Writing Mistakes
    8. Beat Blank Page Syndrome: 10 Tricks to Get Your Writing Started
    9. 7 Steps to Help You Better in Writing
    10. Writing as a Form of Self-Healing
    11. Writing — Just Do It!
    12. My Trick for Writing
    13. Rico Clusters: An Alternative to Mind Mapping
    14. Limit Your Word Count When Making a Point
    15. How to Become a Creative Genius
    16. 6 Lies About Creative Writing You Should Never Believe
    17. Writing Tip: Develop Your Style
    18. 9 Tips to Productive Revision
    19. A Guide to Becoming a Better Writer: 15 Practical Tips
    20. Six Ways to Start the Writing Process
    21. Book Discussion: Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick”
    22. Lifehack.org How-To Wiki: Project Planning
    23. Lifehack.org How-To Wiki: Writing
    24. Blog Your Way Through Writer’s Block
    25. A Simple Way to Publish Your Own eBook
    26. 10 Tips from Lincoln on Writing a Kick-Ass Speech
    27. How to Punctuate a Sentence
    28. 11 Tips to Carve Out More Time to Think
    29. Essential Resources for Creativity (163 techniques + 30 tips + books!)
    30. Communication: “Shipping News” Your Writing

    5 Online Communities Every Writer Should Join

    1. Writing.com: Focused around a forum where writers offer each other support, advice, and critiques, Writing.com also offers an online portfolio, writing.com email, online submission tracking, and otehr services. Some features are paid, but you can also earn points by doing various tasks on the site.
    2. MediaBistro: Membership group for freelance writers with forums, articles, courses, and job postings. Paid members (AvantGuild, $49/yr) also get discounts on research resources like Lexis-Nexis, access to market information, and can even sign up for health insurance, dental insurance, and other niceties often unavailable to freelancers.
    3. Meetup Writing Groups: An online space for arranging off-line events, Meetup has dozens of writing groups in almost every major metropolitan area, and often a couple or more even in smaller towns. Enter your location to narrow the search down to local groups.
    4. My Writers Circle: A forum just for writers, with critique groups, job postings, advice, and general writerly chit-chat.
    5. The Writer’s Cafe: An online community with forums, reviews, and contests.

    Anything to add? Let me know in the comments!

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    Published on May 18, 2021

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

    The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

    Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

    Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

    Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

    There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

    Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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    Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

    We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

    Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

    A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

    The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

    Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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    Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

    Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

    Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

    While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

    Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

    These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

    Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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    Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

    Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

    Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

    Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

    Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

    Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

    As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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    This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

    Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

    Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

    These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

    Actions Speak Louder Than Words

    Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

    Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

    Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

    More Tips Improving Listening Skills

    Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

    Reference

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