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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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    Last Updated on July 10, 2020

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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