Systematizing your world: 5 links to handy tools to customize your system

CheckmarkAs I told you in yesterday’s video, systems have saved my life more than once. With them, I’ve accomplished more in two years than I’d accomplished in four years before that. Carol Tice and Neil Tortorella discuss the importance of putting everything into a system, too, in chapter 4 of the book I reviewed Tuesday.

So where do you get started?

Here are a few of the tools I use to keep things on track (and have seen others recommend as well):

Google Calendar

So simple, it’s often overlooked, but this is a powerful tool for organization and planning. The beauty of this tool is that you can set up a different calendar for each project you have going – blog, work on your novel, short stories, work projects, personal schedule, etc. When you’re working on one project, you can hide all the others. When you need to see what your day has in store, you can show them all at once and move things around as necessary to ensure it all gets done. Checking and updating the calendar daily makes it part of your system.

CRM Software

OK, so I’m cheating a little with this one because there’s a lot of good ones out there and you need to choose the one that works best for you. First, CRM software refers to client relationship management. One I tried recently and really liked is Nimble. It pulls information from your social media profiles and thus reduces the amount of work you have to do in setting things up. It collates your interactions with clients, reminds you when to contact folks, and helps you keep track of projects in process. Others I’ve heard about include RelateIQ, Act!, and SOHO Organizer. Some will pull from your online activity and are managed online, others work on your desktop and each has its own benefits and shortfalls.


I use Trello lists to help me keep track of general processes or ideas that don’t fall within a specific project. For example, things I want to keep in mind when I’m working to perfect a headline, what to do when I need to generate article ideas, or specific things to look for when revising. This is also where I’ll keep ideas that haven’t yet been assigned to a story or article. Trello allows you to set up different boards (like those major life categories I mentioned earlier this month), various lists on each board and any number of cards on each list. You can attach files, images, and links and you can create checklists. Something you can’t do, though, is organize those lists into hierarchies.


A lot of writers I know use Evernote to keep track of their writing projects, placing each project in its own folder and everything associated with that project goes in the folder. A benefit of this program is that it’ll cross platforms allowing you to see your folders on your desktop, laptop, tablet, and cell phone. At least, that’s my understanding. I tried this program for a while, but it didn’t really work for me, partly because I don’t usually work on other devices and therefore tend to prefer Word and folders stored in my hard drive and backed up on Dropbox.


I mentioned this one in yesterday’s video. I like to use this program to help me organize my daily to-do lists. It’s keyboard-driven, so it doesn’t work well on tablets or cell phones, but you can check the list from either type of device and cross things off. What I like about it is that it’s easy to rearrange items and I can create hierarchical lists that expand and collapse as needed. So I can have my entire week listed out and then collapse every day except the one I’m living in now and all activities except what I’m working on now. Today’s list might look something like this:

  • Work
  • Creative writing
    • short story for Switchgrass
    • revise Chapter 12 Delta Shadows
      • incorporate changes to Gabrielle
      • include information from James
      • add kudzo from Mary
  • Household
  • Creative time
  • Physical care

What do you use?

QuestionsSomething I’m still seeking is what I’m calling a submission tracker. I want a piece of software, even if I have to design it myself, that will keep track of which ideas I’ve pitched to whom, who accepted, and what the deadlines are. Does anyone use something like that that they really like? Is it fairly customizable so you can add, change, or delete fields as needed?

Or maybe you use a different type of software that combines one or more of these functions that you’d like to recommend. Be sure to leave your suggestions in the comments!

Wendy Strain

My entire life is full of writing and creativity. Whether copywriting for exciting new projects, crafting web content for creative companies, ghostwriting, editing, coaching, or exploring my own imagination as a fiction writer, I am constantly engaged in stretching boundaries and exploring possibilities.

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