My Must-Have (Digital) Productivity Tools

Digital media tools

This post is one that I regularly update with my absolute must-have digital tools that enhance my productivity, creativity, and digital-life sanity.

1. Zoom

Zoom is my go-to online meeting service. I use it for client meetings, personal chats, online courses, and even to pipe in guest speakers for in-person events. I’ve found it nearly foolproof since participants can join on any device—including a phone—using video + audio, or audio only. Find out more about Zoom. You’ll find both free and paid plans.

2. Evernote

I resisted using Evernote for years, but over the last two years, it’s become integral to my workflow. I use it for what I call my “primary to-do list,” which is broken down by day of the week, as well as for first drafts of blog posts, research notes, interviews, and conference talk outlines. I also use for “composting” ideas. If you’re the kind of person who has a million stickies on your desktop, or multiple documents where you’re dumping notes, then take a serious look at Evernote.

3. CrashPlan

This is my continuous back-up system for my computers. It runs faithfully in the background, 24/7, and I don’t have to think about backing up, ever. The annual fee is worth it—check it out.

4. Scrivener

I finally took the leap and started using Scrivener when I began assembling my book, Publishing 101. I will never write a book in Word again. Of course, the big drawback is that Scrivener is not at all intuitive, so you’ll have to carefully go through their free tutorial; you can also find online courses available to turn you into an expert user. I recommend you download and use the free trial version for 30 days as you decide if you’re OK with the learning curve.

5. Canva

Even though I’m an expert user of InDesign and intermediate user of Photoshop, I love Canva to brainstorm ideas and put together quick visuals for social media. (See image at the top of this post!) This free service smartly recognizes that more and more of us need easy tools to design things that look halfway decent, and don’t have the time or resource to hire a professional. While Canva has serious limitations, for lightweight work, it’s perfect.

6. Dropbox

I couldn’t function on a daily basis without Dropbox, which is cloud-based storage of my work files, especially since I change machines so often. It syncs across my desktop, laptop, mobile devices, and I can also access it through any computer if I have login credentials with me.

7. Google Drive

I use Google Drive in addition to Dropbox as a cloud storage system, but specifically for those documents that I collaborate on (where multiple people might need access)—or when I want to share public links.

8. Paprika

Paprika is an app where I store all my recipes. It helps me meal plan during the week, generate shopping lists that get sent to email, and categorize recipes according to my own criteria.

9. LastPass

LastPass is a password manager that helps ensure you never forget a password again—or use bad password hygiene (making you vulnerable to attack). It generates strong passwords and stores your login credentials, securely and locally; whenever you go to a site that requires those credentials, it autofills them for you on a browser. You can get started for free.

10. Acuity Scheduling

This is a full-featured appointment/scheduling software that allows clients to book free or paid appointments with you. No more back-and-forth emailing to set up appointment times—it syncs with your Google calendar (among others). Acuity can be embedded into your site or shared as a link. Free to start, $10/month for most features you want.

11. Zippy Courses

Zippy is my preferred tool for creating and selling online courses. If you have a self-hosted WordPress site, you can buy the Zippy Courses plugin. Or, if that’s too technically complicated, they offer a fully hosted solution for an annual subscription fee. I see at as the most sensible and easy solution for anyone accustomed to WordPress sites.

12. Wave

Wave is a free and robust online accounting service for tracking income and expenses related to your business. It also generates invoices that clients can pay online by credit card.

13. MailChimp

MailChimp is the email newsletter service I use, which is free until you reach 2,000 names. If you’re serious about online marketing, but are still at the beginning stages of building your business, you’re better off using this and not TinyLetter.

14. VisualHunt

VisualHunt is my favorite tool for finding Creative Commons and public domain images to use in my online courses, blog, newsletter, and elsewhere.


What tools are part of your daily creative life or business? Let me know in the comments.

Also: Every two weeks, I send out a newsletter about new digital media tools and resources I’ve discovered. Subscribe.


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Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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49 Comments on "My Must-Have (Digital) Productivity Tools"

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Christina Hollis

Thanks for this. I don’t know how I managed before Scrivener. You’re right about needing time to get used to it. As well as the useful instructions, I found the “Scrivener For Dummies” book by Gwen Hernandez (ISBN: 9781118312476) invaluable, and there are lots of helpful videos on YouTube.

Stacey Shubitz

I’ve been an Evernote devotee for awhile now. Couldn’t live without it! I just tried Canva this morning and found it easy to use. Up next: Paprika (and maybe a couple of others). Thanks for this round-up, Jane.

Rebecca

I would also give a plug to Canva. And Piktochart as well.

A.K.Andrew @artyyah

Thanks so much for this round up Jane. Evernote lost me this year when I realized I could incorporate most of my research into Scrivener which is where I need it, whether it’s for work on a novel, blogging or short stories. Canva was a great new discovery & love the fact it’s a snap to use. Now I need to check out Asana & Paprika. Happy Holidays!

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Retirement Lifestyle / Nomadic Adventurer

I discovered the Scrivener site while during NaNoWrMo, and I just about lost my mind in learning and discovering the many facet of its wonderful features.

I love everything about the program from separating the characters with photos, scenes locations, and research all conveniently located in one program. This is a writers dream.

I have never been so organized, and I’m looking forward to many different avenues of writing.

David Nevin

Great post! Very Useful

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Marcy McKay

Seriously, Jane. When the hell do you sleep? This is beyond fantastic. Thanks so much for your generosity.

Briar Kit Esme

Think “Scrivener is not at all intuitive” is a subjective opinion, not an objective fact. Personally, I have found Scrivener to be very intuitive.

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[…] had more time! Kariss Lynch shares tips for managing time as a writer, and Jane Friedman lists her favorite digital tools of 2014 to make the most of the time we […]

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Laura

Great list, thanks! Guess it’s time to bite the bullet and get Scrivener.

I use a few of these tools (love Canva and Evernote), but there are definitely some on your list that are 100% new to me. My 2014 online toolkit also includes SquareSpace, SumoMe, and Death to the Stock photos.

Thanks, Jane!

nymediaworks

Jane, do you happen to know how Basecamp compares to Asana for project management?

elieaxelroth

I’ve used Scrivener for years too. I love the ability to write scenes and move them around without having to go back and forth in the manuscript. And you can file your research or photos in the relevant chapter.

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Rachel

Hey Jane, I’m new to all this and next year I start my first blog and your information has been incredibly useful. Thanks

Marsha

I trialled scrivener for a few weeks and realised I needed more help. Gwen Hernandez’s course was thorough, and I now, like you, would not turn to Word, esp for book-length projects.

daretoeatapeach
Funny, I didn’t find the learning curve on Scrivener intimidating, but Asana I just can’t wrap my mind around. Though it is true that after using Scrivener for years I’m still learning all that it can do, from day one I had no trouble importing my project. It was intuitive enough that it was never a barrier to get the writing done (the problem there is between computer and chair, as they say in tech support). On the other hand Asana perplexes me. I create tasks and they seem to disappear. Any little to-do item requires a great deal of… Read more »
Tim Dietrich

Thank you for sharing this awesome list!

You mentioned that you are using Scrivener. I’m wondering if you also write using a tablet (iPad, etc). If so, what app(s) are you using?

CathyDulingShouse

I find it interesting that you don’t write on the iPad. Our teen has had an iPad since its inception and hasn’t used a laptop much at all. She started a blog and only writes from a laptop. And I thought iPads would take over the world! 🙂

Mary

My visuals I love: Canva + PicMonkey + SketchPad (https://sketch.io/sketchpad/)
I agree with you about Scrivener and Evernote and so many of the others.
For WordPress users on .org site – I love WordFence – a security plugin.
Thanks for sharing the list – it’s helpful!

Angela Ackerman

I look forward to these lists of yours–you always find the best tools.

One that has really saved my bacon is Buffer. Now that I have added subscription software to my resume, I have to manage several different accounts on different platforms, and I want to be able to continue providing great links to articles and resources for these audiences. Buffer allows me to schedule so that I can curate during my downtime (watching TV, waiting for appointments) and schedule as needed. This gives me back more time for interaction on these platforms too. 🙂

Andres Kabe
Thanks Jane, a terrific list. Try Ulysses, a wonderful writing app (so sweet to actually draft with!) that, whilst Apple-only, exports easily (via iDrive) to my desktop Word (which I use because it meshes with EndNote). I’m about to kick off with Scrivener, more for post-production than anything else, but I could end up intoxicated like you. Ulysses stores writing in the cloud, so I no longer use Dropbox or Google Drive or OneDrive, but can make do with marvellous Evernote for sundry extra cross-platform sharing. Dashlane is my LastPass. Evernote’s to-do-list functionality is okay for simple tracking but I… Read more »
joanna elm

Yep, Scrivener and Dropbox have changed my life for writing my third thriller. Because I split my time between two locations I was always carrying flashdrives around, trying to figure out the most recently saved documents. Dropbox is perfect.
As for Scrivener, fabulous. And agree wholeheartedly with Christina Hollis, Gwen Hernandez’s guide Scrivener for Dummies is invaluable. However, it’s not so difficult to master the basics. I would certainly perservere before forking over more than $250 for video instruction.

Anne Janzer

Great list, Jane. I’m a big fan of Rainmaker Platform, because it takes care of my blog, author website, email marketing, landing pages, and online course platform all in one place (with excellent support.) I also am a big fan of Buffer for managing the social media part of the author platform. (And I like its associated Pablo program for creating images with quotes.) Plus I’m exploring The Right Margin for project planning. Oh, and PickFu is great for A/B testing titles and images.

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Dr. Barbara

Have you tested https://restrictcontentpro.com, a membership site plugin?

Colin Dunbar

Thanks for this post, Jane. Always to learn what other authors use.

Patricia Hilliard

I use Mozy. It has saved me twice when my computer crashed. Well worth the price. Within minutes I could download all my precious documents and photos to my new computer.

Walt Socha

Scrivener…don’t leave home (or stay at home) without it…!

Ted Garvin

I use LibreOffice Writer for writing (I run Linux and find, even now, that Windows emulation is hit and miss).

Hannah
Thank you – but Evernote? Pshah. You can keep it. When I’m writing a book that demands loads of research from multiple sources (like history or historical biography), it just doesn’t work for me. I absolutely love Notetaker from Aquaminds, which I’ve used for years. I only even tried Evernote because Notetaker had turned into a downloadable app, rather than an application you had to download off their website, and a couple of years went past before I noticed – so I needed a simple update and lazily didn’t get it, but bought Evernote as a quick fix. Big mistake.… Read more »
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