Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Carolyn Greene’s Favorite Organizing- and Time-Saving Apps and Programs

It’s the beginning of a new year, and thoughts turn to becoming more productive in many areas of our lives: Work, time management, household tasks, cooking, and even pleasure reading.  So what’s a busy tech-toy-loving person to do?

Why, try out new apps, of course!  Here are my favorites, in no particular order:

Calendar / Planner:  Franklin Planner, Day-Timer, Dayrunner, At-A-Glance, Mead … I’ve tried them all and loved something about each.  But what I didn’t love was having to handwrite all my to-do’s and erase and rewrite every time something changed, which was every day.  So I started shopping for iPad and iPhone apps that would keep track of my tasks by due date and automatically carry over each undone item to the next day.  The closest I’ve found to the paper planners I enjoyed is Opus Domini:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/opus-domini-mobile/id492262685?mt=8

There’s a section for daily tasks and events, another for your master task lists which include multi-step projects, goals, mission statement, and contacts.  The link connects to a free app that you can sample before buying.  I use the iPad version and keep it open all day to keep me focused and on task.

If you’re one who likes the latest and greatest of everything, you may want to check into the soon-to-be-released, updated version called Opus One.  See it at www.piso13.com

Cookbooks:   For those trying to eat healthier, it takes a bit more preparation and planning than just tossing a TV dinner in the microwave or opening a can.  So why not let these cookbook apps help you out?

Paprika:  Find a recipe that’s easy, tasty, and blessedly quick to prepare?  Snap a photo and save the picture and instructions here.   Or you can comb the web and save recipes onto the app.  Also, let it help you organize your grocery list.  http://paprikaapp.com

Forks Over Knives:  Healthy recipes that’ll get you thinking outside of the box … outside of the fast food box and pre-packaged food box,that is.  http://www.forksoverknives.com/fok-recipe-app-now-available-for-iphone-and-ipod-touch

McDougall’s Mobile Cookbook:  More healthy recipes.  These are a little heavier on the starches to help you feel full but, like the Forks Over Knives recipes, are also plant based.  https://www.drmcdougall.com/health/shopping/apps/mobile-cookbook-app

AllRecipes Dinner Spinner:  If you prefer a little meat with your meals (or not), this one’s handy.  Type in which ingredients you have on hand, and up pop several possible recipes.  Or specify that you want gluten free or vegetarian options, and only those will be shown. And the free price tag is quite nice.  http://allrecipes.com/features/mobile

OurGroceries:  While we’re talking about food, let’s not forget the app that will eliminate your refrigerator notes forever.  Yes, those sloppily written lists on beat up scraps of paper that you never have with you when unexpectedly pop in at the grocery store to pick up a few things, and you have to call home to have someone read the list to you.  Or maybe no one’s home, and you have to rely on memory.  This app lets you and your household members add to and delete grocery items, no matter where you are.  No forgotten foods, and no more duplications.  There’s also room for errand lists and whatever other reminders or list items you need to share frequently with your family.  https://www.ourgroceries.com/overview

Evernote:  This powerhouse program keeps track of everything!  It’s so wonderful that I haven’t even begun to learn all of its features.  So far, I’m using it to keep track of my packing lists for when I travel and another file for jotting down Christmas and birthday gift recipient lists and potential gift ideas.  The subject of sock puppets came up recently, and it occurred to me that a special little girl in my life might enjoy one, so I wrote it in my Evernote file.  However, the little sweetie is still too young to play with an item that might have small parts she could swallow, so I’ve put it on the gift list for a year or two down the road.  No more last-minute scrambling for ideas.  https://evernote.com

FaceTime:  Stay in touch with your loved ones even though they may live states away, as my grown children do.  This is especially handy if, like me, you need their fashion advice on something you’re wearing that.  Having a bad hair day and don’t want to be seen?  Use FaceTime’s voice-only option for a free long-distance call.  https://www.apple.com/ios/facetime .  For non-Apple users, Skype is the way to go:  http://www.skype.com/en

Yoga Studio:  When I’m on a manic deadline, there’s no way I can devote large chunks of time to exercising.  What I like about Yoga Studio is that I can select an exercise by fitness level, a certain body focus, or length of time.  If it’s been a while since I’ve exercised, I’m not up to a fast-paced cardio session, and I only have a small amount of time, I can choose beginner, strength, and 15 minutes.  No special equipment necessary.  http://yogastudioapp.com

Writing Tools:  Okay, I almost wrote Writing Toys.  Even though these next suggestions are helpful work-related tools, I admit that using them still feels like I’m playing with toys.

Index Card Board:  What a great way to plan and sort scenes for your Great American Novel.  You can color code them, stack them, sort them, and write on the backs of these virtual cards.  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/index-card-board-for-ipad/id508074636?mt=8

Pomodoro:  Two words … deadline and A.D.D.  Okay, the second was technically three words (Attention Deficit Disorder), but I can personally attest that when you put the two together, stress ensues.  Sometimes a writer needs a little extra help staying focused and on task.  Enter the Pomodoro timer, named for the cute little tomato-shaped kitchen timers of the past.  This app allows you to set a series of working stretches, followed by short rest breaks and interspersed with occasional longer breaks.  Now, instead of wandering off whenever a distracting thought occurs to me, I know to keep working until the timer sounds.  If it can help this ping-brain creative person, it can help anyone.  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pomodoro-timer-focus-on-your/id703145045?mt=8

Scrivener:  This one has received many recommendations across many writing communities, so I won’t detail all it can do.  However, this writing program is handy for keeping my early-concept notes, synopsis, character charts, scene descriptions, timelines, research links, chapter files (of course), and much more all in one place … right beside my open document.  No more scrounging through endless Microsoft Word files, wondering what bizarre filing method I might have used for something I absolutely need Right Now!  Just open it up to the project name, and everything is all there, safe and sound.  http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

Whew!  That’s a lot of favorite apps, but there’sstill one writing app that’s uninvented yet (or perhaps just undiscovered by me) that I would really love to have and use.  It’s an app that lets writers black out specific dates as non-writing days, enter the total number of words to be written, and the deadline date.  Then the app would figure out for you how many words you need to write per day to finish in time, all while keeping track of your daily progress.  If any app developers are reading this and looking to turn this into an actuality, please consider turning into a game wherein points are earned and levels achieved.  Oh, yeah … I could totally get into that.  Consider me your first customer.

Okay, readers (and writers) … what are your favorite organizing- and time-saving apps / programs?

When Carolyn Greene is not writing or playing with her tech toys, she treasures time spent with her retired-fire-chief husband, son who’s studying for his Ph.D., schoolteacher daughter, sweet son-in-law, and new granddaughter.  And let’s not forget the two hyperactive miniature pinschers who crowd into her chair while she writes.  Carolyn writes romance novels for Love Inspired and mysteries for Guideposts Books.  Her latest Love Inspired release is Unexpected Reunion, the first in the Southern Blessings series.


  1. Thanks for the recommendations. I'm just getting started with organizational apps. So, far, only only iCalendar synched to Google Calendar. I'm definitely going to look at the grocery list one. And I'm going to admit that I'm among the minority of writers I know who has tired Scrivener for a book and doesn't like it.

  2. Jean, Opus Domini also synchs with Google Calendar. Finding and using new apps is often an exercise in frustration, so sometimes it makes sense to stick with what works for you.

  3. Oh, wow. I'm definitely going to try the calendar. I've been hearing good things about Evernotes.

    Great post.

  4. Thanks, Pamela -- There's a bit of learning curve with Evernote, but so far it seems to be worth it.

  5. Great info, Carolyn! Thanks for sharing.


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