My WebApp Suite – The Best Free Solutions for Creative Work

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A recent post explains my firm belief that any impediment to create can halt creation altogether. Frustration breeds abandonment. This principle applies not just for music but the creation of anything, from businessess to photographs, paintings to school essays.

My major barriers to invention  are the following:

  1. Memory. I’ll have a great idea for a song, a book, or a blogpost, but I rarely remember it at the end of the day if I don’t log it somehow. Also, attempting to remember everything I need to do for a given day/week on top of any creative ideas I generate can be overwhelming. My head hurts and I begin to stress. Also, interestingly, nothing gets done in the end anyway.
  2. Money. I make a comfortable living, but all of the recommended hardware and software needed to create professional works and maintain businesses can get very expensive very fast. For many people, this is often the biggest reason to avoid delving into these areas altogether, along with ongoing subscription fees or service dues.
  3. Not enough time. Some of my days are packed with tasks and activities, with little time to unwind or relax. These are rare, but can snowball into a nasty habit of trying to fit too much into too little.

These obstacles, especially when taken together, usually result in tasks that take far to long to complete, if they are completed at all. Typically they are tossed out altogether to make room for other, more pressing needs. None of this is good. It’s a gigantic barrier to creativity and productivity. Unlike errands and simple to-do’s, creating a work of art or piece of music requires sustained effort over a long period of time. (See a related post here.) Good habits are key, but so are eliminating barriers and frustration points.

I’ve begun using a specific array of web-based software applications  to get my work done. It leaves little barrier to the creative process and reduces the amount of things weighing on my mind. You may be familiar with some of these, but it is the way I use them together that makes the result so powerful (Make sure to read through the whole post!)

My Personal WebApp Suite:

LISTS:

  • gubb.net – This is the best list-making application I’ve seen so far. I’ve created several: To-Do, Goals for 2009, Places to Check Out in NYC, Business Links, Travel Destinations, Ongoing Projects to Investigate, Groceries, New Words… You can use SMS texting to add items to each of these lists, and also retrieve a copy of the lists via text as well. I check my gubb.net page daily, and use it to dump all my tasks, long-term and short-term.
  • Google Calendar – I add everything from major events to my usual after-work routine to Google Calendar. It helps to keep me on a schedule, and I set up SMS text reminders to be sent 1 hour before each task/event. This eliminates the need to remember all the things I need to do and when. I simply add it to Google Calendar, and I will get texted later.

IDEAS:

  • Evernote – I use this to dump ideas surrounding a particular project. Photos, web clippings, text… I simply tag it to Evernote and associate it with the particular notebook I created for that project. Once filed, I don’t have to think about it and can move on with my day. (I don’t have an iPhone, but this program has a great iPhone App that makes filing easier.) This is great for individual projects too. You can clip quotes, photos, and pages for a book, album, or website you’re working on and file it in that particular “notebook.”
  • Twitter – I use this as a mini-blog, and to keep an eye on up-to-date info and news. You can text messages to your Twitter account as you think of them, which I will later read over at the end of the day to generate full blog post ideas. As a bonus, anyone following you on Twitter can comment and react to your post, giving you more potential content. I ask questions and get great recommendations this way.
  • bubbl.us – This is a mind-mapping program, and I use it for generating ideas with friends and colleagues. One big time-suck is meetings, and this includes “meeting up” with people to bounce ideas off of each other and share a couple drinks. Instead, use bubbl.us to deposit ideas and develop them. Each person can contribute and modify in their spare time, adding notes along the way. This way, you can use the spaces of downtime in your day to hold your meetings, and keep your free time free.
  • WordPress.com – WordPress is a fully-loaded, hosted blog platform requiring no programming skills whatsoever. There is no barrier to creating content, and no cost. Ideal for those not wanting to pay for, program, and host their own blog domain.
  • Gmail – Often I resort to e-mailing myself ideas from my blackberry. I then file them in my Evernote notebook at the end of the day and delete the e-mail. Whatever it takes to log the idea immediately before it fades into oblivion.
  • Google Reader – Rather than going to 20 different websites and blogs for my news and reading, I simply add each website’s URL into my Google Reader and file each appropriately. Google Reader feeds me updates automatically, bringing my daily site visit from 20 to 1.

TIME MANAGEMENT:

  • RescueTime – This is an application that runs in the background of your computer. I have it loaded on my home and work computers. It automatically tracks how much time you spend on certain applications and websites. I use this to keep an eye on notorious time-wasters (like Facebook), and to maintain ongoing statistics and metrics about my behavior that is just plain interested (I later log this data into my Daytum profile). You can have reports automatically sent to you regularly.

FINANCES

  • tweetwhatyouspend.com – This is a web application that works in conjunction with your Twitter account. Simply send a direct Tweet to “twys” with an item you purchased and how much it cost. It will add the purchase to your page, allowing you to track and monitor your spending throughout the day/week/month. This is particularly good for cash purchases, which are always tough to keep track of. Now you can Tweet your purchase as you buy it, and check your twys account regularly to review. For instance, I allot myself a certain amount of spending money, and I use this application to keep track of all my purchases to make sure I don’t go over that limit.
  • Mint.com – The best free software for tracking your personal expenses. Add your various accounts to the site (credit cards, savings, checking, investments) and Mint aggregates all of the data. You get sent reminders for bill due dates, and graphs for tracking your spending habits. All automatic, all dynamically updated. Mint.com saves you from checking 5 different financial websites. More time for you to spend on that verse you’ve been working on. You can also take your twys data and split out your ATM withdrawls on Mint, consolidating ALL your spending into your Mint.com account.
  • GnuCash – This is not web-based, but it is open-source, free, business accounting software that I use for keeping the books on my company, QuikCallus LLC. The Mac version needs to be compiled manually, and is a major time-suck that requires some technical know-how. Stick with the PC version if at all possible, which has an easy install process. Remember, reduce holdups and delays whenever possible.

DESIGN:

  • Picnik – Many are familiar with Picnik as a sister-application to Facebook. It is a quick and easy way to tweak photos and optimize images. You may be surprised at the amount of features this web app contains, as I’ve used it to do professional-quality enhancements to images.
  • Aviary – This a web-based alternative to Adobe Illustrator. The power in the Aviary suite of applications is staggering. Create logos, t-shirt designs, website banners… All vector-based, and all without a single bit of software to install.

MUSIC DISCOVERY/INSPIRATION:

  • Last.fm – It’s Facebook for music lovers. Discover new music, listen to free streaming radio based on your preferences, and track your listening habits (A Last.fm “Scrobbler” tracks the music you listen to on your PC and your ipod, sending the data to your Last.fm account and generating recommendations and other users’ with similar tastes.) I leverage Last.fm to discover fresh sounds that keep me engaged.
  • StumbleUpon – Go to StumbleUpon.com. Install the browser plugin. Select your preferences. Press the “Stumble” button. You will be sent to a great website you’ve probably never heard of, rated by you and other users for quality control. Stumbling has sparked countless ideas for me, as well as blog post ideas.

THE TRICK:

I’ve listed 16 apps here, but you can do some major consolidation by introducing the final piece of the puzzle:

iGoogle – iGoogle is a custom home page you create, that you can break out into “tabs” that contain specific tpyes of information. iGoogle is my primary portal I go to at the beginning of each day to kick things off. I have six different tabs set up:  Home, News, Finances, Sports, Feeds, and Music.

In each tab I add “widgets,” which are mini applications I can spread out and organize into an appealing interface. So my home page has general stuff, such as weather, a link to my gubb.net lists, and my Google Calendar. News contains general news stories from various sources. Sports has sports scores and news. Finances has various financial news reports and the stock info I’m tracking. Feeds contain a Twitter widget (so I don’t need to go to Twitter.com) and a Ping.fm widget (which I use to send status updates that populate in Twitter, Facebook, or both!).

My Feeds tab also includes a Google Reader widget. That’s right, you can check your RSS feed right from the iGoogle homepage, eliminating the need to go to yet another site for your content.

SUMMARY:

Every one of these applications is free (I don’t own copies of Illustrator, Photoshop, or Quicken as a result). Some are automatic and run in the background (like RescueTime and Last.fm) freeing up some more mental real estate. And some simply aggregate and consolidate the benfits of individual sites (Google Reader brings all your feeds into one place, and iGoogle puts Google Reader on your homepage. Mint.com brings all your financial data into one place as well…).

Each of these products used individually could be unwieldy, and may cause more work for you to do in the end. But by tying each together you are utilizing technology to create efficiency rather than simply waste more of your time.

This is just an example of the system I have set up. What solutions have YOU come up with? Let me know!

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6 Responses to My WebApp Suite – The Best Free Solutions for Creative Work

  1. Harry says:

    I really liked your blog! Keep the articles coming I am going to pass your site to others.

  2. Kirk Brown says:

    This is good information. I’m glad I found it. Thank you for providing this. I provide professional web design services and solutions and can relate.

  3. seelemonsonline says:

    this entry helped me procrastinate for hours just by exploring these applications. Picnik and Aviary alone will change my life :). Thanks!

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