I recently read an Ann Friedman interview on the blog “Ways We Work,” which was fantastic, because Ann Friedman is pretty awesome. But I was intrigued by one question she answered: “What are the five tools you use on a regular basis?”
It got me started thinking if I had five tools I used on a regular basis, and of course the answer was yes. Maybe because I’m still in a top five mood, I don’t know. In any case, here are my five favorite tools for work and life.
- Morning Pages – this is something I learned doing Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and it is ridiculously valuable. It’s also really simple: handwrite three pages of stream of consciousness every morning. That’s it. Use it as a way to unearth problems, to vent, to stumble upon solutions, to ramble, to be silly, to be productive (though that is the one thing I try to control: not turning the pages into a to-do list), to be creative, to be inspired, to acknowledge depression, etc. I find my marriage is healthier when I do the morning pages, because then I don’t use my husband as a sounding board. I find my career is healthier when I do the morning pages, because they focus me back onto the work I want to and know I should be doing. And I find my mind is healthier when I do the morning pages, because I can sort through the tons of things pouring through or hiding in my mind on a daily basis. Some people refer to it as meditation, but I find it to be more uncontrolled processing. Hilariously, I remember my creative writing teacher at the beginning of college trying endlessly to help me figure out how to write without overthinking every word; I finally did it, Gwen! (Just a few years late.) The key? Sparkly notebooks. I’m a simple girl at heart.
- Habitica – so this app is only for the nerdy, I know. And I am very much a nerd at heart. Essentially, it’s a way to turn your life into an RPG (“role-playing game”), incentivizing you to form better habits and complete all the tasks and projects you really want to do in the real world. Currently, my character has earned her way to, among other things, a Panda mount, a cup of steaming hot cocoa (“warming drink or boiling projectile?”), and a sapphire sword to combat our enemies. Jealous yet? (I did warn you it was nerdy.) Silliness aside, this app has become invaluable to me. I have gotten SO much done I wouldn’t have otherwise; in fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have put up a solo show on the Ruby Princess without this app encouraging me to get everything done. (Blog post about that coming soon!)
- YNAB – The acronym stands for “You Need a Budget,” and it’s the budgeting/expense tracking software Mike and I have been using for a couple years. I love it. I’d tried several options, including Excel, Quicken, Mint, and even LearnVest, but ultimately YNAB won me over – at first just because it was the only program that got my husband interested in budgeting. Now, though, I love its flexibility, how easy it makes it for me to process my deductible expenses, and its aesthetic – it’s really, really well designed. They have tons of video tutorials and help forums, too. I love working with numbers (to the point where I wonder if I should have been an accountant), and this app/program just makes it better. My life and my business now depend heavily on checking in with YNAB regularly.
- Pocket – I’m that girl, the one who starts most conversation points with “I read an article recently that…” My whole family teases me about how much I love longform articles. But for years, I’ve struggled with recalling something from an article and not remembering what article it was. Finally, I have an app that corrals all of my articles in one place. Anytime I see an article I’d like to read, I “save” to my Pocket app, and they’re all there waiting for me. I can tag them with labels like “feminism,” “government and politics,” or “theatre” for easy reference later. And my archive is saved, so I can search my entire history of articles in seconds. I sound like an ad, don’t I? They’re not paying me, though; I just love this app.
- My vocal warm-ups – probably the most important tool I used on the cruise ship was my collection of vocal warm-ups from my voice teacher. Really, there were just two of them I relied upon – my pop warm-up from before I’d left for the cruise, and my head voice/belt warm-up my voice-teacher husband sent me when I needed something different for Magic To Do. Normally, I use whatever my last voice lesson’s warm-up was, but on the ship I couldn’t take voice lessons, so these two warm-ups became my trusty security blanket. I never felt prepared for a show unless I’d done a warm-up, even for a short ten-minute show. They kept my voice safe, they kept my technique improving, and they kept my mind relaxed. I’m excited to start regular voice lessons again now that I’m home, but I’ll probably always keep these two warm-ups for emergencies, just in case.
What are your favorite work tools or life apps?
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