Today I’m going to take a detour and instead of talking about entertaining things I love, I’m going to tell you about some of the products I use to get through my day.
Every writer (or anyone who works from home, really) has a routine – a set group of things they do and things they must have near them to make them more productive and keep them sane. I’m no different. Every morning I turn on my computer and immediately load three programs: Pandora Radio, TweetDeck, and Firefox.
Pandora is internet-based streaming radio. Wikipedia defines it as “an automated music recommendation service”. It’s ridiculously easy to use and infinitely customizable. I have strange and varied taste in music, and I can find everything I want to hear on Pandora. To start, you enter a song or artist you like, and Pandora will play songs and artists similar to the one you selected. By using the “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down” buttons, you can refine what songs and artists are played. You can also choose from an extensive list of pre-generated channels based on genre. This option is helpful if you are looking to try something new.
I must have music playing while I work. It drowns out the background noise and helps me focus, but it also influences what I write. If I’m writing something sad, I tune into my “Trace Bundy” channel – a channel I’ve customized to play mostly guitar- or piano-prominent instrumental music. When I need to really focus on something, I switch over to my “Ambient Radio” station – soft instrumentals most people would call meditation music. If I’m working on something fast-paced or angry, I switch to “Fall Out Boy Radio”. For heavy, emotional, or slow scenes, I have “Adele Radio”. For upbeat, goofy stuff I switch over to “Maroon 5 Radio” or “Glee Cast Radio”, depending on my mood. My latest find and new favorite is “Chill Out Radio” – a fabulous mix of electronica with slower rhythms and flat keys.
If you want to try it out for yourself, just go to Pandora.com. Registration is free and painless – yes, you have to provide an email address, but they very rarely email you – and you can start listening right away. The first 40 hours a month are free. If you use up your hours before the month is out, it’s 99¢ to listen for the rest of the month. If you’re like me and can use 40 hours in a few days, you can subscribe to Pandora One – the premium, ad-free service that gives you high quality sound and unlimited plays for just $36 a year. I’ve had Pandora One for just over a year, and I honestly don’t think I could work without it.
I know most people say that Twitter is a huge distraction, and it certainly can be, but it is also the easiest way to stay connected to what’s going on in the world. But… I don’t like keeping it open in a tab in my browser while I work. There’s just something about having that tab open that makes me want to click it. With TweetDeck, I can have instant access to my feed anytime I want without constantly being aware that it’s there. My favorite features in TweetDeck are the notifications and the “Mark all as seen” button. I set my notifications to once an hour and use it as a timer, letting me know when to take a short break. The other advantages that brought me to TweetDeck in the first place, like seeing pictures and videos in the window without going to a browser tab, have since been adopted by Twitter. The disadvantages are few and only moderately irritating. I have an older phone, and the upgrades to the app are designed with the newer technology in mind. My old tech can’t handle the upgrades, and tends to crash whenever I try to use it. Also, my Direct Messages never show up in a timely manner. This isn’t such a huge problem for me since I can just open them on Twitter, but I can imagine it could be a bigger problem for others.
I’ve been using Mozilla’s Firefox for about eight years. I have tried all the other browsers and always come back to Mozilla. Let’s get the ‘dislikes’ out of the way first: it can get bogged down pretty easily, it is a big memory drain, and it sometimes has the functionality and attitude of a haggard old moose (No, I really don’t feel like doing that right now. I think I’ll take a nap. *crash*) That said, I think it’s the best browser on the market. I like the versatility and customization – you can make it as app-laden or clean as you want, and with hundreds of apps, you can make it do almost anything you could think of. I work with a browser open all day. I just want a product that works, and Firefox works for me.
That’s the most important point, and a huge reason I can’t stand silly software wars. Choosing software should be about what works for you. I like open source software for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it works best for the way I work. I like simple, clutter-free, and user-friendly. I want to be able to use it without learning a new programming language, but I don’t want Windows Me-type help.
What about you? Is there anything you can’t work without? Any suggestions for products I should try? Let me know in the comments!