Posted on Jan 16, 2020
Editorial note: This month we are running a series focusing on foundations – how we can build solid foundations across all areas of our life to help ground us so that we can embrace all that our deen (religion) and dunya (the world) have to offer us. We will be covering foundations of marriage, faith, your morning routine, relationships, mental health/self care, technology, hijab and other areas. Each focus could really be a book, but we will try and break it down into the most useful, attainable and basic things we can do to build critical foundations in our lives.
By Layla Abdullah-Poulos
Professional women often have packed lives. In addition to their jobs and careers, social and familial obligations often layer our days making it hard to keep track of everything that needs to be done. Consequently, balls will be dropped. As a matter of fact, I recently had to pick up one of my dropped balls when my editor reminded me to write this article. Oops!
It happens. Allah is in control of everything. I’ve learned not to rake myself over the coals but to try to organize my waking hours the best I can satisfy as many obligations as possible. People often ask me how I “do it all.” I don’t, but with the help of the devices, gadgets and productivity tools below, I’m pretty productive.
The foundations of productivity for a writer and content creator can lie in having effective tools and gadgets on hand to help you organize and work efficiently. Depending on what your line of work is, the apps and digital devices you use will change. So, let’s talk about what helps me as a writer and content creator and what can help you in this line of work.
The author, Layla Abdullah-Poulos
Laptops, Droids and PCs
The devices and apps I use to get through life have multiplied over the years to manage multiple professional streams and a large family. I remember when getting a flip phones was a big deal. Now, I have four digital devices with which I navigate my day. When I’m teaching kids or online students, I’m coaching, editing, blogging, writing articles (journal and academic) and scheduling interviews. In between all of that, I author and promote short stories, novellas and novels. All of these things may require some level of graphic design as well as video or audio editing. I do most of it myself, which makes having the right tools important.
I start and end each day with my Samsung Galaxy S8 in hand. You may like your iPhone, but I like my Samsung. I prefer the older, smaller version. It wakes me up for Fajr; and at night, I lay my head on my pillow hovering it over my face to check my calendar and to-do lists. There is something to be said for not being so married to technology, especially first thing in the morning and last thing at night – something I will address with my next article in this series on “foundations.”
But with six busy kids and a husband who can spend days away from home because of his schedule, text and direct messages often provide the main source of communication for us. Before that, we didn’t connect as much. I also get to stay in touch with friends and family as well as open networking streams ripe with opportunities to collaborate.
Methods and Apps for Communication
There are tons of messaging apps, which can make communication complicated. It would be nice to have one app where all our messages come. But,every person you will work or build a relationship with will have their favorites, which means anyone who wants to connect must use multiple apps. I find that they each serve a good purpose. For example, If I have an interviewee who prefers sending voice responses, then WhatsApp is great. Facebook Messenger offers users the chance to contact people outside their friends, creating an opportunity for new networking connections.
Messaging and communication apps. Image source: Pixabay
Not everyone uses all apps. I have to be able to reach out to young creatives through Instagram or Snapchat. A lot of them wouldn’t be caught dead on Facebook. Their words, not mine! It may seem like a lot, but people who are able to adapt and hone their digital communication skills get heard more and open new, productive connections. I have been able to work with great organizations like the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and Soundvision as well as contribute online platforms solely through my digital access.
As a professional writer, author and editor, my Samsung laptop is probably the most precious thing I have. It allows me to engage in my life’s work of asserting my voice to highlight diverse perspectives. I also use it to home school my children. I volley my cursor between two screens, teaching, developing lesson plans, writing and researching, and I have a camera in my laptop for online meetings, podcasts, live social media sessions and interviews.
Digital Tools for Writing & Editing
Digital writing and editing tools are the foundations for all my work in writing, editing, teaching and content creating. If you aren’t using these already, you may want to consider doing so.
- Google Docs (free) – Good for writing and sharing documents.
- Wordpress (some versions are free) – Great site for creating and contributing to a blog .
- ProWritingAid (some free) – An editing tool to polish content.
- Natural Readers (some free) – This is a text-to-speech software that helps with editing by listening to text while reviewing.
- Speechnotes (free) – This is a speech-to-text that converts voice notes to text.
I also have two tablets. In my work, I have a full roster of books to read and review. Digital reading has helped me afford an extended library of portable literature and offer authors constructive feedback on their work. I also connect my tablets with my laptop and smartphone to create content for my author’s blog, online publication contributions and book promotions. I can also connect a tablet to my portable Bluetooth keyboard and write almost anywhere, something the many deadlines I have demand – these kinds of keyboards (so many affordable options on Amazon) are a great investment for expanding the usage of your tablet.
I recently added a Google Home Mini to my gadgets. I fell in love with it when I was visiting a friend who has a Google home. While I probably won’t go so far as smart lights and thermostat control, this small device helps me while I’m writing and running back and forth in the house. I constantly lose papers, so lists are mostly useless, but with an “Okay Google,” I get a reminder for myself to make a doctor’s appointment or put the food away before going to sleep.
Yeah, I forget to do that a lot (put the food away before going to sleep)! Consider getting yourself one to help remind you of the bajillion things you need to do throughout your day.
Productivity Apps To Organize Your Work
All those foundational devices you acquire to be productive won’t mean much without productivity apps. I have a lot of them. Time management, communication and content creation apps are at the crux of my personal and professional survival. Remember the dropped balls mentioned earlier? Well, a lot more of them would be scattered around my feet without Google Keep, Calendar and Asana (project management) to remind me. Unlike a sticky note sheet, they buzz and send notifications, making them hard to ignore.
Since my phone is usually around me to coordinate things and make the occasional phone call, I am in earshot and can see the lit screen reminding me that I have something to accomplish.
Moving and shaking does not happen the way it did 20 years ago. I arrange the majority of my collaborations and interviews through text messages, email, direct messages, Slack, WhatsApp and Zoom. I can recall at least three contract negotiations via direct message last year, and a lot of authors I coach and edit reach me that way.
Content creation is essential for writers and authors. Storytellers, journalists and writers of thought pieces need to connect with readers – the more, the better. It is not enough to write something. In my line of work, I have to do content and book promotion through different marketing channels like social media, email, influencer outreach and paid advertising to get “eyeballs” on what I create. Consequently, some proficiency in creating promotional material is required. Below is a list of my favorite content creation apps for use on smartphones, tablets and computers:
Promotional (to Create Content and Art)
- Canva (some free) – A great app/site for graphic design and creating images for social media and marketing purposes.
- Adobe Spark (some free) – Also great for graphic design.
- PhotoLayers (free) – This is a photo editor that allows adding layers to your images.
- Photoscissors (some free) – Good for background removal.
- Vimage (some free) – This is an image animator.
- Ripl (some free) – Ripl helps create slideshows and video clips.
- Adobe Photoshop (fee) – You can’t go wrong with Adobe Photo shop. It’s fantastic for graphic design, background removal, layering, and so much more.
- Adobe Audition (fee) – This audio editor to make audio content and for podcasting.
*Note: I have Adobe Creative Cloud (mother of an art student) and get all Adobe products for one monthly fee. Anyone who wants to streamline the apps can use Adobe. Some of the Adobe apps are complex and require training, but a content creator proficient with using new technology may find that it’s worth it.
Stock Images and Audio (to Find Images to Use for Your Content)
Any content you create needs art and images, and the challenge is to find some that are free and fair use to use as is or to create something else. Or, you need to buy a subscription to a site like Shutterstock or Getty to be able to use their beautiful imagery. Here are some of the sites I use for imagery (and some suggested by my editor):
- Pixabay (free)
- Pexels (free)
- Shutterstock (fee)
- Wikimedia Commons (free)
- Flickr Creative Commons (free, but with some limitations)
- Unsplash (free)
- Getty Embed (free embed links)
- Bensound (some free) – royalty-free music
The cool thing about learning how to create content independently is that it gives writers control over their branding. Indie authors must become especially adept at producing appealing content with the messaging they want to convey. I use the above apps to let readers know about my work. The more skilled I become, the easier it has become to create content and move onto the next thing. If I can’t do something, then I will go to the online marketplace, Fiverr and outsource to an affordable freelance service.
Alhamdulillah, I know a number of Muslim women who use online communication to stay involved and relevant in their professional sphere and start new ventures. They are opening opportunities for themselves and amplifying their voices unrestricted by physical boundaries. My children need me home, and I need to be Layla Abdullah-Poulos and Lyndell Williams (my pseudonym for my work as a romance author). With an arsenal of productivity tools, I get to do both.
There are so many apps and digital devices out there that help us do our jobs. What are your foundational digital tools for your work? Share in the comments below!