Last month, during our Write by Midnight challenge, a friend recommended a writing app to me. I’d always been skeptical of those kind of writing tools. (Come on, either you write or you don’t; how could an app make you more efficient?) But, on a whim, I gave it a try.
To my surprise, it was a lot of fun. And because it was fun, it gave me a little extra writing motivation—for a few days. Then I got frustrated with the app. The problem was it didn’t do the things I thought it should do.
My complaints started small; it would only track my progress in terms of character or word count. Though I do like to track my words/hour, I’ve found that word count is only a good measure of progress in one phase of a writing project: the first draft. It’s not a good measure for the planning stages of fleshing out a story idea or revising stage. And I’m finding that those other stages take just as long, if not longer, than the writing part. If the app had just let me chosen a different thing to track, like scenes or percent chapter completed, instead of words, I might have continued to use it.
Because I did find the app encouraging, I went on a hunt for a personal, project management app that would let me specify how to track my progress. I found a ton of cool apps that did really cool things—some things I was already doing by hand, and other things I wish I were doing but don’t. But no single app did everything I wanted it to. So, after spending way too much time looking for apps, all I came away with was my project app wish list.
Here it is:
- Personalized progress meters: I want progress meters—not just word counters—that allow me to specify the different kinds of goals for the different stages and types of projects: story arc development and planning, dummy sketching, scenes or chapters outlined, written or revised. Whatever I want the meter to track for that specific project at that particular phase. (I haven’t found an app that does this, yet—at least not one that lets me try before I buy.)
- Time log: The app would include a time logger/day planner that breaks the workday (including weekends) down into half hour increments. And I want to have different categories of things—like art versus writing versus dog walking—in different colors. (I tried finding an app for this, but just wound up frustrated. For now, it’s easier for me to log my time by hand and keep track of the categories with different colored pens.)
- To-Do lists: I want to-do lists by day, week and month with deadlines for specific goals and benchmarks. (I really like the Trello app for this.)
- Rewards: I want rewards that I can personalize, not a generic ‘Congratulations! Here’s a strawberry,” but something more fun and active. Maybe, for every small, daily goal I reach, the app would let me play fifteen minutes on a Sudoku puzzle or one round of a colorful zap-it game. (No—I’m not demanding at all.) And for every milestone I reach (i.e. a bigger goal like finishing a chapter on my novel, or plotting out a short story), I would bank reading time. (Reading something on my OMG-I-so-want-to-read-that-book list is my kind of a reward.) The faster I reach the goal, the more reading time the app would give me, but if I’m late hitting the mark, the app would downgrade my reading time reward. (I guess I can do this by hand, but I think it would be really cool to have an app that gave me little notices telling me how much reading time I’ve banked as well as the rate I’m accumulating it.)
- Charts and graphs: I want pie charts and graphs that track my progress. (I love charts and graphs—the more colorful, the better. Yes—I know I’m strange.) I’ve found a few project management apps that look like they have these cool features, but their emphasis is on group projects and facilitating communication between project members. My projects are all solos. I guess I could use excel for this, but I’m not great with excel. If I’m going to spend time learning how to use a program/app, I’d like one that does more than one thing on my wish list.
- Free or a free trial: I want a free app or one that at least has a thirty-day free trial. There’s no way I’m buying an organizing app without giving it a go first. If it works and does everything I want, I’ll gladly pay for it.
- I want to write in Word: Lastly, I don’t want a writing app that only does all the cool stuff if I write my stories directly into that particular app/program. I like writing in Word. For good or bad, it’s the program I know best, and I’m comfortable with it. Besides, I’ve spent so much time and effort learning how to make Word (in all its iterations) do what I want it to do that I’m vested in it.
In my quest for the perfect personal project management app, I actually started fantasizing about writing my own app. I know that idea is insane, though, and the height of confident and clueless. I don’t even know if the correct term is writing, building or developing an app. And even if, after untold hours of learning and work, I managed to produce something that does everything I want it to do, no one else in the world would like it.
Anyway, I already have plenty of tools at hand to help me stay organized; they’re just a little spread out … and old-fashioned … and dull.
(*Sigh*) I really want to learn how to make an app.