My Top Tools, Apps and Methods that Support Big Creative Goals

I remembered to defrost the fridge freezer today! Well… I was reminded by an app. The veg box arrives on a Friday morning so the best time to do it is when the fridge is empty on Thursday.

But there was some Coconut Ice Cream in the freezer! What to do? Eat it for breakfast, obvs – an organisational snafu… or was it?

I’m scoring a feature at the moment and there’s so much music to keep on top of that I had to up my organisational/project management game. So these are the apps and systems I’m currently using. Please note, it’s always work in progress and I’ll modify this list depending on what the work demands, now and in future.

These are mostly work tools. I use Evernote, Google Calendar and the Bullet Journal for life stuff too, but the rest is just for work. Perhaps if I used them more for all aspects of life then maybe we wouldn’t have the sort of ice-cream-for-breakfast scenario that was this morning’s calamity. 

Most of the apps mentioned sync across Mac OS (my Studio computer and QLab/Email laptop), iOs (iPad), and Android (Fairphone 2).

All of these tools are recommended without warranty or guarantee. There are alternatives available to all of them. What works for me might not work for you, so do your research before downloading/installing anything.

Organisation, Note Taking, Project Management – My 2nd Brain

Wunderlist

Purpose: To Do List 

Wunderlist syncs across all my platforms. Option to filter view to show only today’s or this week’s tasks. Makes a satisfying ‘ding’ when you tick off an item. Most importantly, it was free. 

Evernote

Purpose: Note-taking, Project Management

This is my second brain. I put everything I don’t want to think about right now in here. I went as paperless as I could around 5 or 6 years ago and Evernote was essential to this.

It has all the categorisation options I need: Stacks (Life/Work Areas), Notebooks within stacks (Categories), Notes (obvs), tags (more categories!). 

It can encrypt specific text in individual notes which is nice for sensitive data, though it can’t encrypt entire notebooks or stacks, which is a bit of a pain but not a deal breaker. 

You can attach pdfs, photos, audio etc to notes, and pdfs and photos can be viewed inline. 

PDFs and scanned/photographed handwriting are searchable.  

Reminders come through via email or device notifications. Note-taking is fast on android. 

It’s expensive, but has always worked well so it’s worth it for me.

Trello

Purpose: Project Management flow – ‘Kanban’ style

Trello gives me a really clear overview of how far along in the score I am for the feature I’m working on at the moment. 

It tells me at-a-glance what I’m waiting for feedback on and what’s left to work on at each stage (drafting, revisions, orchestration, recording, mixing etc). 

It’s this ability to ‘see the field’ I couldn’t get from either Evernote or Wunderlist that made Trello a recent but now-essential addition to my app arsenal.

Google Calendar

Purpose: Scheduling

GCal is so very basic. Simple, no-frills, and syncs seamlessly across all my devices, it has alerts and different calendars which can be colour coded and hidden when not in use. 

Bullet Journal

Purpose: Rapid note taking, reviewing, mind mapping

Nothing beats a pen and paper for speedy note taking in a meeting. My notes aren’t linear and I’ll scribble lines connecting disparate ideas and doodle things as I go along. 

I like the physical feel of pen on paper, I like the look of a blank page (oh, the possibiities!) and there’s no battery to drain and die at the most inconvenient time. 

Monthly spreads are useful for reviewing the past month and thinking about where you want to go in the next one, but I can’t seem to use a BuJo (Bullet Journal) for scheduling. GCal is so much better and easier and more convenient. 

The problem with my BuJo is that it’s become a very valuable and personal item to me, but I can’t encrypt or lock it in anyway short of never taking it out of the home. 

It’s also not searchable, and numbering pages then adding to the index is a bit of a faff tbh. I do like the process of transferring tasks from one day to the next in the daily log– it really does make you decide whether to keep the task or just delay or even bin it if you’ve migrated it several times. 

I think I might downgrade it to just the daily log very soon, and move ‘collections’ back to Evernote.

Goodnotes

Purpose: PDF annotations, mind mapping, photo annotations

Marking up theatre scripts is what Goodnotes was made for. And then you can send it to the sound op or sound designer for their reference. It’s so flipping handy and easy to use. 

It’s also good for photo-ing handouts and then annotating digitally, and for signing digital contracts (I like the look of my signature in Goodnotes; in other apps like this it looks a bit scratchy/scrawly/angular). It doesn’t work on android but then I’d never want to use it on my phone anyway.

At the time of writing I’m on version 4; version 5 is getting some DREADFUL reviews on iTunes so if you can get 4, do. Don’t bother with 5 til they’ve proper fixed it. 

Backups – When the Gods of Tech aren’t smiling down

Crashplan

Automated backup of all my tunes and other documents and backups (yes I do backup my backups) to the cloud. ‘nuff said.

Goodsync

Semi automated backup of everything of value on my main system to two separate local hard drives and an old Mac Pro. I like triple redundancy. 

I could do this local backup process through Crashplan, but I don’t like it so much in practice because:

  • CP encrypts/encodes the files so you have to go through the CP app to look at the backed up files on the backup disk. If you look at them directly they don’t make no bleedin’ sense at all.
  • it can’t find the external drives or old Mac Pro sometimes and it’s a faff to reboot the app and reconnect the drives within the program.

ForeverSave

ForeverSave creates a backup versions of the files I’m currently working on – like an autosave Time Machine for specific file types or apps. It’s saved me a couple of times when Logic X hasn’t auto-saved a file during a crash (though it usually does). It saves after a customisable time interval, so at the very worst you’ll only ever lose, say, 10 minutes, or whatever you decide you’re happy with.

If it’s a big file then saving may stall the program for a second or so – if that’s annoying and you’re ok with the risk you could go always set the save interval to a longer duration. My system’s pretty fast after some recent upgrades so I’m happy with the currently tiny interruption though. I take it as an opportunity to close my eyes, take a few slow, deep breaths, clear my head, and then jump back into the fray.

Focus Helpers – I’m only human

Freedom

This is an awesome Mac OS and iOS programme, in principal, for selectively blocking the internet and/or various apps, but causes problems with one of my software sample instruments.

Their support is brilliant but I just got fed up with trying to make it work, and the problem was intermittent so a bit hard to pin down, and I was right in the throes of starting this feature and I didn’t have the brainspace to keep faffing with it (and by now you realise I do hate to faff about. I’m a low-faff zone).

It needs to be re-opened on iOS after sleep so if your willpower’s not great it’s easy to get around. Thankfully iOS now has inbuilt Screen Time controls that are good enough for me.

Self Control

Really basic automated .hosts file modification on Mac OS to temporally block specific sites you ‘blacklist’ in the app. It doesn’t have any scheduling or custom profiles, but it’s quite nice to actually have to make the decision to stop checking the news or email or whatever you’re looking at online instead of just doing your effing work Heather.

OFFTIME

Like Freedom but works on android (and iOS, I see now, but I haven’t tried it on that platform). Lovely, straightforward, clean interface, and has scheduling, different customisable profiles (e.g. Focussed Work, Sleep, etc) and selective app blocking.

I love this for stopping me being tempted to check my email or generally wasting my life on the internet after 9pm. 

Menubar Countdown

When I’m in a crappy mood (hello PMS!) and all I want to do is sit on the couch under a duvet, watch a Star Trek and eat Oreos but I can’t because deadlines, dream job, etc., I set the Menubar Countdown timer for 25 minutes (or 45 or 10 or whatever), and just work for that long (a la the Pomodoro technique).

More often than not I’ll keep working after the timer’s up – I just need a little incentive to get going, and the promise of a break in half an hour does the trick.

I like that it shows the time ticking down in the menubar without you having to click on it or anything.

In conclusion

I only use what I need when I need it for doing the work I’d rather automate or spend as little time as possible on, for remembering things stuff I don’t have to, and to be my willpower.

I stop using a tool as soon as it becomes unnecessary – for instance, when I’ve finished on this feature, I’ll probably stop using Trello and maybe Wunderlist too and use Evernote and GCal a bit more to keep track of smaller projects and to-do reminders. I like to keep my systems as simple and minimalist as possible.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that being organised and productive for creativity’s sake is great and all, but randomly having to eat ice cream for breakfast is better. Or something.

What are your go-to tools, apps and methods that support your big creative goals?

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