IFTTT’s Do Apps Are Pretty Cool

IFTTT released a new set of apps that have kept me pretty entertained lately as I’ve worked on figuring out just how to use them. The apps are:

  • Do Button
  • Do Camera
  • Do Note

All three are available for iOS and for Android. Each app allows you to set up a certain action that happens whenever you hit the Do Button, take a photo with the Do Camera, or write a Do Note. With IFTTT’s endless connections to other apps, as well as hardware, the possibilities are pretty near endless.

Sure, a lot of the connections you can make aren’t much more than streamlining tasks you can already do from your phone. Consider this Do Camera recipe that sends receipt photos to a specialized Evernote notebook:

IFTTT Recipe: Save Receipts to Evernote connects do-camera to evernote

You could open up the Evernote app on your phone and fiddle around with it. But if you’re just trying to capture a receipt as you’re winding up lunch or grabbing office supplies, the Do Camera integration is going to be a lot faster. For a busy entrepreneur, IFTTT just made it that more likely that all of your business receipts will be available when you go to do your taxes next year.

8 Productivity Questions Writers Need to Ask

When writing is your profession, you have to do it, day in and day out. You can take the occasional break, but the number of words you put on paper (or on screen) directly corresponds to the number of dollars in your bank account. Even if you’ve got some good passive income streams going, you still have to write up your products and marketing materials. All of that means that anything you can do to become more productive is beneficial.

But every writer has a different creative process. What gets me in my chair and working isn’t necessarily going to get any other writer working. That means that we have to ask ourselves some questions about productivity and how we work as individuals.

  1. What does productivity mean to me? Is it just a question of clearing a couple of hours for writing? Or is it clearing out non-writing tasks? Or something else entirely? The answer usually has something to do with what you want to accomplish is a given day. Personally, my productivity is a question of writing a certain number of words per day. I have to have the time and the flexibility to make sure that I get the writing part of my work done every day. Most of the rest of my work can get handed off to someone else, if necessary and if funds are available. But I’ve got to write.
  2. What do I need to be able to write? I’m a big proponent of the idea that we don’t need anything special to write and that getting caught up in the system and the surroundings is just a way to create excuses to avoid actually working. But I freely admit that there are situations and circumstances that I simply can’t work through. Being productive means setting things up so that those situations are avoidable.
  3. How do I keep track of my writing work? With the solitary exception of fiction writers working on novels that ‘tell’ them what’s going to happen next, most of us need some pretty concrete plans in order to tackle a writing project. Keeping track of those plans becomes necessary in order to keep moving forward, but how you keep track of them is a personal question. I know writers who rely on sticky notes all over their walls because they need the physical reminder to keep moving. I know writers who make up very precise task lists. It’s all a question of what works for you.
  4. How do I divide up my writing work? Not every writing project can be done in a single day. That means breaking it up into concrete tasks. Of course, breaking down ‘write an article’ can be incredibly difficult — does ‘write the first 250 words of the article’ actually help guide you through the process? But there are ways to get things into a manageable set of actions. Personally, I break things down between the time actually spent writing and everything else. I have set times when I go through and do all the interviews I need for a given project, as well as set times for the writing aspects.
  5. How do I handle the non-writing part of my work? As much as most of us don’t want to worry about anything except actually writing, we’ve all got little details that need to be handled. Tasks like setting up interviews are a necessary part of our day. There are plenty of strategies for attacking your every day tasks, but as a writer, there’s an unusual aspect. How do you balance writing with everything else that needs to get done? If you’re off sending emails, after all, you aren’t writing.
  6. How do I follow up on my writing? My work doesn’t send itself out to clients, more is the pity. That means that I have to have systems of some sort in place to get my work distributed, paid for and other important steps. Writing may seem like a solitary game, but it requires regular communications as well as an ability to work around specific dates. After all, following up on an unpaid invoice three months later isn’t going to get you paid quickly.
  7. How do I make sure I actually get out of my chair? Writing, for the most part, is a sedentary activity. On top of that, it can be a bit lonely. It’s crucial to get up and out of our chairs regularly — such activities are just as important to our productivity as actually getting our rear-ends into our chairs and working. Just what that looks like can depend on your own goals and needs, of course, but I’ve had to put systems in place that get me up and moving over the course of the day as well as out of my home office and actually interacting with people on occasion.
  8. How do I get the new information I need for ideas? I could spend all day online, just browsing for new information. Despite the fact that I get some of my best ideas that way, it’s probably not the most effective approach to planning my work day. With that in mind, it’s important to consider how much time we’re spending on consuming media, rather than creating it, and how we’re processing that information.

I’ve been thinking about these questions because I’m working on a top secret project with Ali Hale over at ConstructivelyProductive. We’re getting pretty close to finishing up our project and will be unveiling it soon. But we’ve had to put a lot of thought into just how we organize our own approaches to productivity and how anyone in a creative profession can manage her work.

Image by Flickr user Chris Metcalf

Ask Me Anything: Finding Time, Following Up On Leads and Networking

Kathryn Lang asks,

I want to know how you end up with eight hours for writing. I have yet to be able to make that happen around my home. 😀 Maybe I should just run away.

Some freelance writers struggle to schedule around day jobs. Some struggle to schedule around kids. There are plenty of other problems that can creep into a schedule — and sometimes they show up in combination. All of that means that setting a writing schedule can seem entirely impossible.

Because I know what can happen if I’m not careful, I’m very protective of my time. No matter who asks me for a favor or who I need to schedule an appointment with, I’m willing to say no if it doesn’t fit into my schedule. I do set aside a couple of day-time hours for errands and appointments and such, knowing that if I schedule time in, it’s easier to recover from the disruption of time away from the computer. To make up for that time, I may spend a couple of extra hours at the computer after dinner or on the weekend.

Just because I work for eight hours a day, though, doesn’t mean that you have to. I’m lucky to have a pretty flexible schedule (no kids yet, full-time freelancer), but my schedule would change in a heartbeat if I had another priority above work.

Kathleen asks,

When someone emails you interested in your services, what do you say?

It can be hard to decide how to approach a prospective client. If you start with your rates, he might get scared off. If you start with trying to educate a client about why you charge a certain way, he might get bored.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a good starting point is to ask the client about himself and his project first. In general, most people don’t include enough information about their projects for me to offer a fair quote, so I list out the details I need. Because so many clients start out by asking rates, I do have a boiler plate paragraph explaining that I charge per project and why.

I also make a point of asking about the client’s goals with a project. More times than I can count, a client has come to me with a project, hoping to reach a specific end — but I can tell from my experience that the project will need to be tweaked or altered in order to achieve that goal. If I can mention that up front, I can often save both myself and the client a lot of worry.

Matt Willard is looking for tips to find opportunities to connect with the people relevant to the writing work he wants to find — and he’s a humor writer.

Connecting with potential clients and editors before you actually try to get them to put money can make it much easier to convince them of the value of your writing when the time comes. The problem is, for some niches, it’s hard to find those people. Humor writers like Matt may actually have the hardest time of it: assuming that you don’t want to get into scriptwriting or other related projects, your main opportunities for selling your work will be to humor magazines and humor websites.

That means that you’ve got to build strong connections with humor editors. You need to at least make yourself known to them. The best starting point is likely to be the publications that these editors work for. Commenting on articles can be a way to build up a presence among what the editors think of as their community. Do it often enough and they may even recognize your name when you send in a submission. Those comments do have to be meaningful and well-thought out to really get the attention of editors, though.

It’s also worthwhile to get involved in some of the forums and groups on various social networking sites that share jokes and humorous links. Just looking on Facebook, there are hundreds of groups dedicated to jokes. Get involved and start sharing (among other things) links to your own writing). I’d suggest not limiting yourself to your own work — you’ll be better able to become a part of the overall community if they don’t see you as only promoting your own work.

This sort of approach works for more than just humor writers, of course. It’s just a matter of creatively connecting with the folks in your field.

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Have a question about the business of freelance writing? Ask it in the comments and I’ll answer it next Saturday!

5 Tips for Productive Writing

When you’re freelancing, your income directly relates to the amount of time you can spend banging away on your keyboard. That makes time management a particularly important skill for any writer. These tips can help you make the most of the time you can spend working.

  1. Set clear priorities: If you can narrow your work load down to three specific things you need to do today — like write interview questions, finish an article and pitch a story idea to an editor — you’ll usually be able to get those things done. It’s okay if those three tasks seem fairly minor, even if you’re freelancing full-time. You can always work on the rest of your task list once you’re done with those three items, but you’ll be sure that you’ve accomplished the most important things in your day today.
  2. Have a work buddy: Because most of us work at home, by ourselves, it can be hard to stay on track. After all, there’s no boss breathing down our necks. Having a work buddy — someone who can hold you accountable for what you accomplish each day — can be enough to help stay focused on your work while no one else is around.
  3. Work in blocks of time: I tend to work for an hour and then do something else, if only for five minutes. If I’m really in the zone, I might work longer, but if I’m struggling, just getting up and moving around can get my brain working again.
  4. Know your own schedule: Are you one of those writers who does best when you first get out of bed? If that’s the case, it’s well worth your while to shift around the rest of your schedule so that you can write when you’re at the top of your game. That may mean getting up a little earlier or a little later, or even recording your favorite TV show, but during the time you write best, you’re typically more productive. That means that shifting your schedule may mean more free time in the long run.
  5. Take time away from the computer: Time may be money, but we’re also working in a field that requires a lot of creativity. The law of diminishing returns will kick in eventually — if you write for hours on end, the work you do as you get tired just won’t be as good as the work you do when you’re fresh.