My favorite 7 free productivity tools that will help you while creating music
I love productivity, and I love using my time wisely. I love being tidy in physical and digital spaces not to get distracted while I’m working. I love searching for new ways and tools to improve my productivity. I love it because it gives me work & life balance.
Even if we do what we love, it’s still professional work that lets us pay the bills. So we have to approach it like that. We can work 80 hours a week to make an album in a month, and then we hate it when it’s published. Or we can work 20 hours a week through 4 months while keeping our minds sane. It’s up to us. But I wouldn’t say I like burnouts.
Why don’t we use productivity tools while creating music as songwriters, producers, mixing engineers, mastering engineers, and record producers?
These are my 7 favorite productivity tools that will help you:
Everybody needs a to-do list. It doesn't matter where you keep your list, but you definitely need it. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the work, and I don’t keep any to-do list, but I get even more overwhelmed because I can’t keep up with the work.
Once, I completely forgot that I had to mix a song. The artist wrote to me about how it was going after a couple of weeks, and this was the moment that I felt the punch in my stomach. So I decided to use a to-do list all the time.
I prefer using Todoist as my main to-do list because, first of all, I like its minimalistic UI design. It has a dark mode feature which I like the most because I spend a lot of time staring at the screens.
Also, you can create project folders so that you can separate your works from each other. I have different project folders for every kind of work that I do, like mixing, mastering, recording, producing, writing, teaching, personal, etc.
The second feature that I love about Todoist is the priority flag. But I use it as an attention flag. Reds are for the most attention needy projects and blue flags for the least. For example, I use red flags for producing but blue flags for preparing a mixing project. I also use yellow for the average like revisions. I use the grey flag for personal things like washing clothes. (Yes, sometimes I write personal to-do’s to feel like I’m super productive.)
It’s so important to know how you really spend your time. But you don’t know if you don’t track it. I’ve been using Toggle for a long time to track my time while working. The first week, I realized that I don’t spend much time working as I think I do. After, I realized how much time I spent on some clients and so little on some. I’m a mixing engineer, so I get paid only when I work. If I can finish more projects in the time that I work, I can earn more money. Or I have to ask for more payment from the ones that take more time.
I was working on live shows as a sound engineer before the pandemic. It's a fact that too much time is wasted on those events. You have to dedicate at least ten hours of your time to work at a live show as an engineer. Of course, if you’re lucky enough. But if you’re not, and if a show is in another city, you may spend your two days on it.
I realized that the time I waste at live shows could also be the time that I spend on my laptop mixing songs at my studio, which also makes more money. They just pay for the work that I do at the live shows, but they don’t pay for the work I can’t do at my studio. My hourly rate was 10x at my studio and 2x on the road. Besides, I can spend my free time with my family when I’m working at the studio. You can’t track its value with any tool.
So I decided not to work on live shows if they don’t pay me enough. Also, I decided to make more effort for the clients that I spend less time with because those are the hassle-free ones that I want to keep working on in the future. (Sorry folks, it’s the only life that I have. And I don’t have time for your drama.)
I have one more time-tracking tool for you. I use both Toggle and RescueTime for tracking my time, but for different purposes. You don’t have to do anything to track your time with RescueTime. It tracks your time automatically, and it says how much time you spend on productive work and how much time you spend on Netflix, or so.
You can add your work hours to it. So you can see clearly, how productive you’re while working.
Everybody has their own ways, but working all the time is exhausting and not sustainable for me. If you want to keep yourself sane and want more stability in your life, you have to determine your work hours. This way, you can keep yourself away from burnout and keep loving your job.
I constantly change my routines, and I give myself some space to don’t feel like I’m in a corporate job. Sometimes I don’t work on a weekday, but I work on Saturday this week. But generally, I work 9 to 6 on weekdays, and I don’t work on weekends. I can say that this was the best decision that I made about my job.
I don’t look at the stats of RescueTime often, but I can see when burnout is coming by looking at the stats because you lose your productivity rate at those times. You read all the comments on a Facebook post, you watch a Youtube video that you think that you have to -but not. So I can take a rest when I feel, or I see it through RescueTime’s data.
If you don’t want to hassle with Toggle manually, you can just use RescueTime and run it in the background all the time, so you can look at the stats once a while and decide if it’s time to rest or not. Also, it has an automatic project-based tracking feature if you use its premium version.
I love Pomodoro. If you don’t know what it is, it’s working/studying for 25 minutes periods and resting for 5 minutes. I love it because I feel like my brain gets tired after 30 minutes. Also, my ears are getting tired too. So I take a rest regularly. The timing changes according to my work, but the main idea stays.
Most of the time, I use Toggle to track Pomodoros. It stops automatically after 25 minutes, and I take a rest. Sometimes I don’t want to use the Toggle because I use it just for working, but I want to use the Pomodoro technique. For example, when I’m practicing piano, I use Flow. It’s a simple app that does the job. Also, you can use it if you don’t want to track your time but use the Pomodoro technique. You can also change the Pomodoro time to your needs. So if you think that an hour is best for you, your Pomodoro can be an hour. It depends on you.
Almost every productivity lover uses Notion. They use it because it’s awesome, and you can do nearly anything with it. You can use it as a to-do list, checklist, spreadsheet, etc. I use it because I want to keep all my notes in order and I don’t want to forget anything. I have a folder for blog post ideas, a folder for revision checklists, another one for book notes.
I love digital note-taking, but lately, I’ve become a notebook and pen lover. I use my notebook more often than Notion. It makes my thoughts much more straightforward. I can think while I’m writing. And it feels damn good to write with a pen. It always stays near me, so I can write my random ideas and plans to it. (I think I recommended my notebook instead of Notion, but I should’ve to be real.)
The last one for the people who can’t focus on the work and find themselves browsing the internet or scrolling through social media. The app blocks those distracting websites the amount of the time that you want. It has a simple UI design. You can edit the blocklist; you can just pick the ones you wish to block or just use the presets.
I haven’t used it for a while because I use the Pomodoro technique. But it would be practical to use both apps at the same time.
Also, I encourage you to stay away from your phone while working. Use it on “do not disturb” mode, or take it to another room. The most creative killer thing is a random notification from an app or a phone call from a friend who wants to pass the time with you. Don’t let anything ruin your flow state while working on something.
These days, I started to use Google Calendar and Google Tasks. I use Calendar for the same reasons as everybody. I set up meetings and set five different email notifications to not forget that email. I invite people to those meetings so we can use Google Meeting. Zoom always makes everything harder for everybody, and it needs a premium subscription to do meetings for more than 40 minutes. I have Gsuite, so I can do meetings for hours without any extra payment. I also couldn't find any bug or trouble with it.
If you can't live without deadlines, using the Google product family can be perfect for you. This way you can see what's coming, and what you can do about it.
I know I recommended to you Todoist earlier, but I also use Google Tasks these days. I think it depends on my psychological statement that week. I like the simplicity of Google Tasks. Also, you can use it on your Calendar, so you can see easily if you're busy that day or not. If I have too many meetings, I don't add any more tasks that day.
These seven productivity tools are the ones that I use on occasion. They make my life easier. But if you have better tools in your arsenal, please tell me about them, so we can geek about it.