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Focus on Art, Not on Features: Simple Online Tools for Writers

Focus on Art, Not on Features: Simple Online Tools for Writers
    Photo credit: Wouter Verhelst (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    As computer applications mature and its base of users grow, companies tend to continually tweak their functions and add features so that the programs can meet everyone’s needs. Sometimes, the changes are universally accepted, but other times it marginalizes users looking for a specialized and lightweight program.

    Some writers believe that modern word processors have so many features and options that it interrupts their focus and actually hinders their creative efforts. Because of this hindrance, some writers have forsaken the computer and instead use typewriters or pen and paper.

    That said, using those tools may also hinder the ability to create prolifically, but that’s the tradeoff. So what simple tools are available for writers who want to focus on their art and not be distracted by features?

    Basic Writing

    Even if you were to customize a word processor like Microsoft Word, hiding all of the menus and maximizing the writing space, you are still paying hundreds of dollars for features that you will never use. Instead, there are many free web and desktop applications that offer features you need — and nothing else. Below are some of my favourite free applications in this category.

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    Focus Writer

    Focus Writer is ingenious in its simplicity and developed around the idea that writers want to create writing environments that meets their specific needs. Except for a small toolbar on the top, the rest of the screen is open for writing space.

    You can adjust the settings of your font size, screen color, and text color. It is not about creating a visually appealing document, but instead, it is about using screen colors that are conducive to writing.

    The features that really stand out include:

    • Goals and progress bar
    • Writing timers
    • Portable edition available

    Internet Writer: The Internet Typewriter

    The one thing I really enjoy about Internet Writer: The Internet Typewriter is the way it emulates a chromatic display. The retro green on black display takes you back to the early 80s. Once you set your web browser to full screen, there is nothing to distract you from your work.

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    Key features:

    • No signup required
    • Automatic backup during your session
    • Word count
    • PDF export

    750words.com

    I have recommended this site to many people who are struggling with writer’s block or constant procrastination.

    750words.com revolves around the concept that writers should write at least three paper pages or the equivalent of 750 words per day. The writing environment is extremely sparse and the program’s formatting options are hiding on a hard to find options page.

    Key features:

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    • Email reminders to complete your 750 words for the day
    • Community support and achievement badges that are used to inspire and reward you for maintaining a writing streak
    • Many export options

    Basic Mind Mapping

    Mind mapping applications can suffer from the same feature overload that you see in word processors. The purpose of mind mapping is to guide your thought process in a logical manner and give you a clear path or overview of your work.

    While applications like Mindjet’s MindManager are incredible tools, the advanced features of these programs tend to entice users to muck around with a process that should be simple and straightforward. Advanced formatting and presentation features are great for sophisticated users, but these extended options tend to frustrate new mind map users.

    If you’re looking for a simple mind mapping app, here’s one that’s worth a look:

    Blumind

    Blumind is an open source program that is lightweight and distinct because of its simple interface. Because there are no pull down menus to browse or large command buttons to distract your attention, your eyes automatically focus on the map workspace. There are also two optional and unassuming window panels on the right side of the screen that offer some formatting options, a navigation pane, and a bullet list representation of your mind map.

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    If you are new to mind mapping or a seasoned user, Blumind offers everything you need to develop your map in a clean no-frills format.

    Key features:

    • Each node can have its own progress bar to judge the progress of an activity
    • Multiple Layout Types
    • Timer
    • You can export to a graphical format, text documents (bullet form), or the *.mm function that allows you to import your map into an open source program like Freemind.
    • Portable edition is under 1 MB is size

    Conclusion

    These applications are just a few of the free tools available online to help you focus your attention and maximize your writing time. And that’s what we’re all looking for  — or should be looking for — so that we can create really great work.

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    Published on July 15, 2019

    10 Simple Strategies to Make Your Life Better Starting Today

    10 Simple Strategies to Make Your Life Better Starting Today

    Habits are an important part of the direction you take your life, and — as I’ll share with you shortly — there are certain daily habits you can adopt right away that are guaranteed to improve your life.

    Think back to when you were just six or seven years old…

    At that age you probably didn’t have many habits. But, as the years went by, you picked up more and more good and bad habits.

    You may not have thought about it before, but habit forming never really stops.

    That’s why it’s never too late to change your habits and transform your life.

    So, if you feel burdened by your bad habits, start kicking them into shape by replacing them with these 10 positive, life-changing strategies:

    1. Go to Bed a Little Earlier and Wake up Earlier 

    Starting tonight, get yourself to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual. And, then make sure you get up tomorrow morning 30 minutes earlier, too. This small change can have a BIG impact on your day. 

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    Instead of furiously rushing in the morning to get ready for work, the extra time will give you a golden opportunity to start your day off on the right note. You can drink a smoothie while sitting on your porch, spend 10 minutes exercising and stretching, and still have time to read a few pages of an inspiring book.

    2. Be Grateful for the Good Things in Your Life 

    Setbacks and obstacles are inevitable in life. But, with a positive mindset, you’ll be able to overcome most of these. And, when you do, you’ll boost your self-confidence. 

    This is something you can definitely be grateful for. 

    However, if worst-case scenarios are playing out in your life, then sometimes, to stay strong, you’ll need to keep your mind on the good things that are happening to you. For example, your relationship with your partner might be crumbling, but your career is continuously getting stronger. It’d be easy to feel downtrodden and miserable about your relationship problems —  but, it would be much healthier to keep your mind and gratitude on these things that are going well, such as your career.

    3. Drink Water All Day Every Day 

    I’m sure you’ve heard the advice of drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, but are you following that advice? If not, you’re robbing your body and mind of essential hydration. 

    With the right amount of water intake a day, you’ll be amazed how good you feel — and how good you look!

    4. Take 15 Minutes to Set Goals for the Day, and Then Tackle Them One by One 

    This strategy will put your life into a new stratosphere! And, it’s very simple to do. 

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    Simply spend 15 minutes in the morning (either at home or at work) planning what you need and want to achieve during the rest of the day. Once you’ve listed your tasks, the next step is to put them into order of priority. 

    For instance, you have three things to do: catch up with your emails, write a project update, and prepare a briefing for your CEO. It’s best if you put these in order of importance. In this example, your emails can probably wait until you’ve created your CEO brief and updated your project documentation.

    5. Turn Off Your Cell Phone (or Put it on Airplane Mode) When You’re Focusing 

    A 2012 study found that even looking at a cell phone or feeling it vibrate in your pocket can significantly distract focus and reduce your ability to complete complex tasks.[1]

    It’s no surprise really, as our thoughts are subconsciously drawn towards checking our phones when they’re switched on. It’s a bad habit — but one that most of us have. However, when you need 100% focus (like I do when writing my articles), then switching your phone off, or at least putting it into airplane mode, will free your mind and supercharge your focus. Try it and see!

    6. Walk as Much as You Can 

    Have you noticed that most people’s lives are sedentary? They drive to work, sit in front of a screen all day, then drive home and binge on the latest Netflix series. It’s no wonder there’s a growing epidemic of obesity and mental health issues. 

    Our bodies are made to move — so we should move them! This can be as simple as walking up the stairs to your office instead of taking the elevator, and going out for a walk around the block at lunchtime. In the evening, instead of arriving home and crashing on the sofa; spend 20 to 30 minutes walking around your block.

    When you make these things a habit, you’ll be amazed by how much better you feel. You’ll have less stress — and more energy.

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    7. Be Mindful of Your Surroundings

    How often do you stop, think and appreciate the “here and now”? I’m guessing not very often. But, I understand why. Modern life is demanding and fast-paced. There’s precious little time to appreciate the small things. 

    But, if you want to live a healthy and happy life, you must break out of this trap. You can do this by allocating 15 to 30 minutes each day for mindful meditation. This could be in a park, in your garden, or even in your lounge. The trick is to focus 100% on your surroundings. 

    For example, if you’re outside, watch how the leaves on the trees blow around in the wind. By keeping your focus on this movement, you’ll clear your mind from your usual stresses and strains. This will give you brain a much-needed break. And, as well as improving your mental health; you’ll find your creativity gets a boost, too.

    8. Ask for Help When You Need It 

    No one can know or do everything. Which is why you shouldn’t be embarrassed to delegate tasks to others when needed, ask questions when you don’t have the answers, and work with partners and colleagues to clarify intentions. 

    When I first set up Lifehack, I tried to do everything myself: blog writing, website creation, marketing, financial planning, etc. However, I quickly learned that it was much better to hire some help. Not only did this inject some fresh ideas and inspiration into Lifehack — it also made the whole operation way more enjoyable!

    9. Practice Self Care 

    Are you looking after yourself as well as you should? If not, then take steps to improve your diet, exercise more, and to speak to yourself with encouraging words and thoughts. 

    The latter suggestion is often overlooked. But how you speak to yourself determines how you feel, what you believe, and what you achieve.

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    10. Embrace Learning 

    You cannot transform your life without learning something new. That’s because the process of change forces you to adapt. But, many people stop learning as they get older, as they find the learning process boring and bothersome. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. It can be fun and rewarding. 

    Whether you decide to learn to play guitar or study the basics of accounting — embrace learning, and begin changing your world for the better.

    I’m sure you’ll agree that these 10 strategies are simple enough for you to start putting them into action in your life. (I suggest you begin today!) 

    Nevertheless, you’ll probably need to use some extra willpower for the first 30 days or so, as this is the typical length of time it takes to create a new habit. After that, these strategies will be part of your day-to-day life, and you won’t need to think about having to do them. In other words, they’ll have become habitual actions.

    If you need any further encouragement to get started with the 10 strategies, then consider this:

    Even just adopting one of the strategies can turn the tide in your favor. But, when you implement all 10, you’ll create an unstoppable trend towards success, health and happiness.

    So start making your life better — today!

    Featured photo credit: Javier Garcia via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Deborah R. Tindell and Robert W. Bohlander, Wilkes University: The Use and Abuse of Cell Phones and Text Messaging in the Classroom: A Survey of College Students

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