Productive Much? Let’s Share What’s Working – Part IV: The Virtual Notebook


This is the fourth and final post in a 4-part series on the tech tools I’m using to help me be more productive.

Most productivity blogs will compare two applications that store and organize your content, allowing you to add notes and share information easily.  Both use the metaphor of a “virtual notebook.”  These are Evernote and One Note.  Both are accessible as desktop programs (Mac and PC), web-based apps and mobile apps.  I used to use one and now I use the other. 

Evernote is the one I used to use.  It’s great at grabbing and organizing content of any kind.  It also lets you write notes.  It has great tagging and search capabilities.  But for me it doesn’t lend itself as well to project management.  One Note does it better.

One Note is a Microsoft Office product.  For a long time it sat on my work computer until one day I decided to investigate it.  Now I use it for a ton of things–taking notes at meetings and events, taking notes on what I’m reading, and organizing projects.  I even drafted these productivity blog posts in One Note.

What I like most about One Note is the way it’s set up.  Like Evernote, there’s a notebook paradigm, but One Note really takes this idea to heart.  Like the looseleaf notebooks you’d buy for school, each One Note notebook has tabbed sections and pages.  You can even create sub-pages. 

Here’s a picture of one of my notebooks:


This is my notebook on everything book-related.  The tabs at the top are sections of the notebook.  The first section consists of notes I took at the Golden Crown Literary Conference last year.  Each page of the section (listed on the right) includes notes from a session I attended.  The photo shows my notes from a session on writing historical fiction.

If I want to share any notes (i.e., a page) with a friend or colleague, I can easily do that via email.

In addition to organizing your note taking, One Note lets you insert pictures, photos and screenshots.  You can also insert entire files of any type and store them on a page of related content. You can also create a table in One Note.

Content can also be tagged within each page.  If you look at the above photo on the top right, you’ll see a partial list of the tags, including “To Do,” “Remember for Later,” “Important,” and “Question.” 

I’m using One Note to manage a big project at work where I need to organize a lot of information and have it in one place.

I will say that one limitation of One Note is that because it’s a Microsoft product the Mac version of the desktop app is not as robust as the PC version, but overall it’s a great application for managing a lot of information and keeping it accessible.

The Most Important Tool

For any of the tools I’ve discussed to work well, you have to use The Most Important Tool–your brain.  There’s a lot you can tag to do or read later, but then later catches up with you.  So using Pocket to read what you’ve saved, keeping up with your Feedly subscriptions so they don’t overwhelm you (I go through my Feedly feed every morning), and getting back to those emails you’ve labeled *To Do is what really make these systems work.

I hope these posts have been helpful.  Maybe one thing resonated with you and will help you?  

Please, please, please let me know.  And if you have other/better ideas, let me (and everyone) know as well.


Productive Much? Let’s Share What’s Working – Part III: Swimming in the Internet Sea


This is the third in a 4-part series on the tech tools I’m using to help me be more productive.  If you read yesterday’s post on taming email, I’ve added an important clarification about the use of labels in Gmail that you may want to check out.

The internet is amazing because it contains so much accessible information. 

The internet is maddening because it contains so much accessible information.

I have a few tools I use as a kind of life raft to guide me through the Sea of Info.

  • Feedly puts it all in one place.  Feedly is an aggregator of content from any site on the web.  You “subscribe” to blogs or sites and every new item (or post) appears in your feed as a separate story.  I subscribe to about 100 sites, though many do not have daily content.  I group my subscriptions as LGBT, News + Info, Philanthropy, and Writing.  A couple of great things about Feedly:
    • You can zip through each story by scanning the headline and then hitting the J key to go to the next story.  Moving too fast?  Hit the K key to go back.  Feedly lets you click on the headline to get to the website but doesn’t disappear.  It just opens a new tab in the browser.  It also has a Preview function that lets you see the content from within Feedly. 
    • You can share content via email, twitter, or Facebook.  And you can save it to either Evernote or Pocket.

The screen shot below shows you the left column of my Feedly account.  I have 150 unread stories, and you can see how they are arranged into categories and individual sites.


  • Newsletters inform me of things I might like to read:  I subscribe to a bunch of these that the NY Times produces (Personal Tech, Boomers, Movie Reviews, What We’re Reading) and also receive a daily digest from The New Yorker (both require a subscription).  Also, if you use Pocket (which I’ll talk about in a minute), you get a periodic email letting you know about articles you might like to read.

So, Cindy, when do you find the time to actually read that stuff?

Well that’s where Pocket comes in.  Pocket lets you store the stuff you want to save for later and tag it into categories.  Pocket can be accessed on your computer and any of your mobile devices.  When I’m sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for my appointment, commuting on the bus, or needing to kill time before a meeting, I can read all sorts of great stuff I’ve saved using my phone or my iPad. 

Also, Pocket is a great place to store info from the web that you’ll be using to research a book or for any work-related project.  Below is a screen shot of my Pocket home screen with the tag box open.  As you can see, the list of everything I’ve saved is there and each item has been tagged.  I use the tag “to read” for my own leisure reading.  I also have a “to watch” tag for new web series or videos that I’ve come across as well as “to listen” for podcasts.  There’s even something called “untagged items” that lets you see which items you’ve saved but haven’t yet tagged.

Pocket- My List.clipular

One great thing about reading content you’ve saved to Pocket is that Pocket cleans up the text so it’s much more readable, without the distraction of website ads and graphics.  If you want to see the original site, Pocket also lets you do that.

There’s a browser extension for Pocket that gets added to the top of Chrome.  Anytime you want to save something from the web, you just click that extension and you’ll be asked to type in your tag and hit save.  It’s that simple.  Also, Feedly has a save to Pocket button as well.

In the final post tomorrow (Part IV), I’ll let you know how I organize my notes and content to manage projects and keep information accessible in a virtual notebook.

Please, please, please let me know if these strategies seem helpful, are crazy, would never work for you or could save your life.  Also, if you have other/better ideas, let me (and everyone) know.

Productive Much? Let’s Share What’s Working – Part II: Taming the Email Beast


This is the second in a 4-part series on the tech tools I’m using to help myself be more productive.

There’s a lot out there about getting your inbox to zero. If you can successfully do that, and keep doing it, more power to you.  I frankly cannot.  But I do have a system using Gmail.  Why Gmail?  It’s ability to let me label my mail, put it into folders, and use stars and filters make it a robust system.  Here’s what I do with email.

  1. Labels instead of Folders:  In Gmail, labels and folders are essentially the same thing.  Once you create labels (which are easily set up in the Settings area), you’ll see a list of your labels on the left side of your Inbox.  You just click on the label in the list and it functions like a folder, filtering out everything other than what’s labeled for that category.  So if I only want to see tax-related emails (e.g., charitable gift receipts) I just click on the label I created called “Tax Related” and there they are. 

IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION:  Hat tip to Cassidy Summer for pointing out that Labels in Gmail are not the same as Folders.  Folders enable you to move an email out of your inbox into a new location, i.e., the folder.  Alternately, labels let you tag an email that remains in your inbox as a read email, but is retrievable when you click on the label name.  In essence, labels act as filters, not folders.  Once you read and tag an email with a label, it’s location in your inbox is no longer relevant.

  1. The Important Stuff to Save and Do:  I have two categories of important stuff: things I need to save for something coming up (e.g., emails with travel info like hotel reservations or airlines) and things I need to do (respond to a friend, edit a document, etc.).  All of these get starred and labeled.  The stars are all grouped in one place and each starred email has a label that either says “*Star Save” or “*Star To Do.”  For someone like me who uses a lot of labels, using the * symbol in the label name places the label at the top of list so I can click on all my To Dos and go through them.  A lot of people like using separate To Do programs and apps.  Google Tasks is an example of one.  I’ve tried many of these and some are very good.  But I find that integrating my To Do list with my email works best for me.
  2. Grouping the Inbox: Emails in my inbox are collected into groups as follows: first is anything unread, then anything starred and then everything else (in Gmail that means what’s been read but not deleted).  To group your inbox, go to settings and then click Multiple Inboxes.  Google calls each group a “panel.”  My first panel is “is:unread” and my second panel is “is:starred.”  This way the top of my inbox takes me to the place where my attention needs to go—new stuff and follow ups.
  3. Calendaring and Tasking Emails:  I can make an email into an event on my Google Calendar by clicking on the “More” menu once I’ve got the email open and then selecting “create event.”  You can also turn the email into a task for Google’s To Do list.  I’ve tried this and it works well, just not for me.  My method with the star and the label keeps the email visible on the screen and much more in the front of my mind.

Here’s a peek at my Gmail:

Inbox (1) - - Gmail.clipular

The labels are on the left (including my To Dos and To Saves near the top).  The inbox shows me unread email first and then the stuff I need to save or do.  Color-coding the labels makes them stand out really well.

In tomorrow’s post (Part III), I’ll tell you how I learned to navigate the treacherous waters of the internet’s sea of information in order to save and share boatloads of stuff.  And finally, in part 4, I’ll let you know how I organize my notes and content to manage projects and keep information accessible in a virtual notebook.

Please, please, please let me know if these strategies seem helpful, are crazy, would never work for you or could save your life.  Also, if you have other/better ideas, let me (and everyone) know.

Productive Much? Let’s Share What’s Working For Us – Part I: Access Everything Everywhere


This is the first in a series of 4 blog posts about the tech tools I’m using to help me be more productive.  

Over the years through trial and error I’ve figured out a bunch of things that work to keep me informed, efficient and productive.  Believe me, I’ve failed many times and I’m probably still failing and iterating, but there’s some tried and true things that I know I can rely on to help me accomplish what I need to do. 

So I thought why not share some tips with you, get your feedback and hear what works for you.

To begin, here’s what you need to know about me. 

  • I’m tech-focused, which means I like and rely on technology tools to create systems for myself.
  • I gorge on information and ideas.  I love to read and learn about topics I care about.
  • I curate and share info according to what I think specific people (or all people) might like to see.
  • I need to access my tools and information on all of my devices–my work computer, my home computer, my iPad and my iPhone.
  • I work best when I have deadlines and structure my time because I love to goof off by playing computer games, doing crossword puzzles and watching web series.

Hardware Agnostic Access

I use two laptops, a PC at work and a Mac at home.  I also use my iPhone and an iPad.  So I need consistency across devices and the ability to access files and apps no matter what I’m using.

Chrome: My browser of choice is Google Chrome which will maintain my bookmarks, history and apps no matter where I sign in using my Google account.  Chrome also has a really good app store that gives me access to all kinds of tools and shortcuts.  I mostly only use free apps.  

One of the most useful apps I have on Chrome is the redesign of my browser home page using a series of “tiles” that I created for quick access to sites I use a lot (Gmail, Facebook, You Tube, my blog, Thesaurus).  Here’s a screenshot of one that I use at home.  It’s a Google extension called Taplika New Tab.

FullSizeRender 2

Dropbox: To access files across devices I use Dropbox, a cloud file storage application.  By putting my files in Dropbox I can access them anywhere—home, work, and on the go.  Dropbox apps on my iPad and iPhone give me access to documents there, in addition to the integration with the Finder on my Mac and the File Explorer on my work PC. 

For writers using Scrivener, Dropbox comes in handy as a backup for your files and as a method of portability.  Since Scrivener is a desktop program (as opposed to a cloud-based program) it lives only on one computer.  But it allows you to sync your files (each scene in a chapter is a separate file) to Dropbox. The sync’d files are in Rich Text Format (rtf) so they can be easily opened in any text editing program, including MS Word.  And if you make changes to these files, the next time you use Scrivener, any changes to the Dropbox files will be sync’d back.  Until the folks at Scrivener come up with a web-based product, Dropbox is a great way to keep writing whenever you’re on another computer.

Three other neat tricks I do with Dropbox. 

  1. Automatic photo uploads from my iPhone into a folder.  It helps to find photos quickly and reduce the number of photos you keep on your phone. 
  2. FileThis, an app that automatically takes new bank statements, credit cards bills and Amazon orders and files them into Dropbox (a great way to go paperless!).
  3. Book Drop, an app that creates a folder in Dropbox so that when you buy an e-book from a non-Amazon site and download the file, just placing it in the Book Drop folder automatically sends it to your Kindle.  It’s magic.

In tomorrow’s post (Part II), I’ll tell you how I’ve tamed the email beast without “getting to inbox zero.”  And in the following days I’ll be letting you know first how I manage to swim in the sea of internet content without drowning and finally how I organize my notes and content to manage projects and keep information accessible in a virtual notebook.

Please, please, please let me know if these strategies seem helpful, are crazy, would never work for you or could save your life.  Also, if you have other/better ideas, let me (and everyone) know.

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