Who has two thumbs, speaks limited French, and struggled to get out of bed for this first post-holiday morning back at work?
Don't get me wrong -- it's only been in recent years that I wake up each day feeling hashtag blessed about the fact that I get to do what I'm passionate about for a living alongside some of the smartest people I have ever known.
This surprises me, given how every other article I read recently has to do with the rise of Skynet as a reality; you'd think they'd have figured out how to do all of that by now, right?
Just kidding, I love robots -- from a distance.
Plus, hyperbolic posturing about the robot apocalypse aside, there are a lot of ways technology and automation have already transformed the way I map out, write, and produce the content for a lot of our strategies.
Since neither content (or pimpin') is easy, I'm going to share the apps and tools I use every single day -- and consider indispensable -- to produce a good portion content you interact with on this website.
If you've ever worked with me on a project, you know I live and die by GatherContent, a centralized content creation, production, and collaboration platform I can only assume was created by Zeus from on-high -- it is that magical.
I'm resistant to change -- especially when it comes to someone trying to "evolve" or "improve" my processes, but Jessie-Lee was persistent.
"You'll spend less time chasing down approvals, trying to find drafts in Google Docs, and digging through your emails," she said, zeroing in on my biggest challenges. "Everything is one place, with real-time visibility into the status of every single piece of content in a project."
Lo and behold, she was right. Flash forward to now, there is no project I work on in which I don't use GatherContent in some capacity.
Video credit: GatherContent
From within GatherContent, I can work with multiple collaborators, give access to my higher-ups so they can see the status of a project or single piece of content at any time -- whether it's 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., they don't need to email, call, or smoke signal me to find out the status or deadline of a piece of content.
For writers, I can leave comments and assign out changes. In addition, either the writer or I can overwrite whatever content is there. There is a rollback feature that allows someone to see what changes have been made without whoever made the changes having to highlight them or call them out.
Finally, GatherContent keeps me sane. It isn't free -- although the pricing is very reasonable, especially if you're a small business. (If you're an agency dealing with lots of clients or content production, you'll need to be smart about how many projects you set up.)
But what GatherContent saves me in time, content project administration, and sanity makes it worth it to me. I'm infinitely more productive with it, and I would consider it the most important tool I use.
I also can't even imagine managing all of the different projects I oversee without it. It's life-changing.
Of course, if you're one of those folks who loves searching through endless Google Docs and emails, and spending more time calling and emailing about content projects instead of actually doing the work, you probably won't need it.
I have a confession to make: I absolutelyhatedwriting when I was younger.
In fact, one time when I was eighth grade, I turned in an essay where the last paragraph was the same sentence copied and pasted over and over again, just so I could meet the minimum word count requirement without having to put more effort into it. (My teacher didn’t appreciate my sense of humor.)
Obviously, I've come around since then.
But my change of heart only came about because eventually I realized that (a) I was good at writing, and (b) it wasn’t the act of writing I despised so much, but rather I hated the cluttered and distracting writing experience of Microsoft Word.
Whether you’re a seasoned content creator or you’re a new kid on the inbound block, you undoubtedly know how hard it is to write and edit your own work -- and not just because you are too close to your writing to gauge its quality.
It tells you what grade level your work reads at, and it scans your work for sentence complexity, passive voice, and overuse of adverbs.
While you have the option to write directly in the Hemingway app itself, I find these kinds of mark-ups to be very distracting while I am trying to form my ideas for the first time.
Instead, I usually type of my first draft in Bear and then copy it over to Hemingway, when I'm ready to switch my brain over to editing mode. (But how you choose to use this app is entirely up to you!)
You can use Hemingway for free through your web browser at www.hemingwayapp.com, or you can download the desktop version for $9.99.
OK, Grammarly isn't new, but you know what is? Grammarly for Google Docs.
It's not a separate tool from standard Grammarly. It's just a new feature that is so freaking valuable, I have to call it out separately, on the off chance that those of you who are familiar with the product haven't heard about this.
For those unfamiliar with Grammarly, however, it is a standalone desktop and web app that also has a Google Chrome extension that scans your writing in various places across the web -- or as input by you -- and provides editorial suggestions.
It's not perfect, but it has saved my patootie more times than I care to admit; especially when I'm rushing through emails early in the morning.
Unfortunately, as with any technology, there were a few blind spots for the tool -- places online where Grammarly could not go -- the most annoying of which was Google Docs, one of the most widely-used content collaboration and word processing apps out there.
Even though I spent the early part of this article swearing off Google Docs for GatherContent or Bear, I still use it a lot.
For example, sometimes I want a word processing application where I can also fiddle around with images and more visual formatting that GatherContent and Bear purposefully avoid in their feature set.
Then, at long last, Grammarly made the announcement we've all been waiting for -- Grammarly for Google Docs was now in beta for those using the Google Chrome extension.
Please remember that no automated editorial assistant is infallible and it doesn't fully replace the need for you to proof your own work. Review every suggested edit; never blindly accept them all.
I used to spend so much time at work trying to find the perfect work playlist on Spotify to keep me on track. Music is supposed to help spark productivity and creativity, right?
Wrong. Well, for me, anyway.
I don’t know whether I’m defective or something, but most of the time I find myself distracted by music.
Either I get wrapped up in the song itself -- even if it’s only instrumental -- or, when one song ends, I don’t like what comes up next, so I break from my work to spend 20 minutes trying to curate a new ideal soundtrack.
Noisli is a stunning, minimalist (and free!) background noise generator. Or, as they like to say, Noisli is “your productivity companion.”
Even though there aremultiple studiesshowing the positive effects of ambient noise on productivity, Noisli confused me when I took it for a test drive a couple years ago, during a particularly challenging copywriting project.
At first, listening to noise while working seemed… strange. Not to mention completely boring. Now? I’m a total convert, and it’s pretty much all I listen to when I’m trying to get sh*t done.
With my free Noisli account, I’ve created and saved custom blends of sounds -- which you control using the soundboard shown on the left -- that can set the tone for my entire working day.
Sound options include rain, thunderstorm, wind, forest, leaves, water stream, seaside, water, bonfire, summer night, fan, train, coffee shop, white noise, pink noise, and brown noise.
As my former Creator's Block co-host (and long-time work pal) Jessie-Lee knows, my favorite Noisli blend is one I call "rainy trainy." It’s a personalized symphony of thunder, rain, train, and fan sounds. There's also a splash of coffee shop, for good measure.
I created this soothing blend because I love traveling by train and have been doing so for years -- in my 20s, when I would travel home to Washington, D.C., while living in Boston, and now, when I travel to and from my home in Annapolis, Maryland, to IMPACT's home office in Connecticut.
Fun fact: You can also share blends of sounds with other people.
I learned about this gem when I was working with Franco Valentino of Narrative SEO on a comprehensive SEO analysis we published last year. Now, I don't leave home without it, so to speak -- especially when I'm crafting individual pillar strategies.
If you have SEMRush, simply click on “SEO Content Template” in the menu on the left near the bottom and enter the keyword you want to base a piece of content around. It will spit out recommendations on everything -- target length of your content, links and semantic keywords you should include, and much, much more.
It also has a rich-text editor, where you can test the content you're creating that targets a particular keyword string against the recommendations it provided:
SEMrush costs money, but it's also worth the money. They have a lot of different pricing plans, depending on the needs of your organization.
Given how ubiquitous Evernote is, it almost feels like a copout to include this in my list. That said, I spent years not understanding how or why millions of people and scores of businesses trust the elephant-branded app, before it finally clicked for me last fall.
Now, I'm an Evernote freak, too.
For the three of you who haven't heard of Evernote, it's a note-taking application you can download or use through the web. You can clip things from the web, create templates, scan and attach documents, and sync your notes across multiple devices (if you pay for the premium version).
I also love how I can easily share notes in my Evernote -- for example, a table of contents developed during a pillar strategy brainstorm. By clicking one or two buttons, I can share an accessible URL that stays updated if I make any changes to the document, instead of having to copy and paste the information into an email or a Google Doc.
But for me, its application is simple.
I've created notebooks for my podcast, my pillar strategies, and general notes for content I'm working on. It's where I store all of the preparation notes for pillar strategy sessions, the questions I'm going to ask a Content Lab guest, and where I outline longform pieces.
There isn't much to say about Evernote that hasn't already been said by somebody else. But what I will say is that so much of what I have gotten out of it only came about once I understood it was all about how I organized and setup my Evernote.
If you're looking for a virtual notebook to help you make sense of all of the back and forth that shouldn't live in disparate emails or Google Docs, but also has no business living in something like GatherContent, I can't recommend Evernote more.
Even though all seven of these tools and apps have revolutionized the way I think about and approach my work, the best piece of advice I can give you about how to boost your content strategy and creation capabilities is this:
Have an open and brutally honest discussion with yourself about what specifically you don’t like about your content production and writing processes.
No app or program can tell you what your problem is or fix a writing or collaboration roadblock you can't identify; they can only help you once you have some idea of what pain point you’re trying to address.
The answers will vary drastically from person to person and organization to organization, as they should. For instance, while my struggles were rooted in distraction and focus, as well as keeping multiple contributors and stakeholders on task or updated, yours may be founded in writer’s block, tracking versions, or drafts lost in inbox purgatory.
So, while I think each of you will like at least one of these apps, I hope you’ll also do yourselves a favor. Figure out which are the most important content challenges you're trying to solve before you download anything I've recommended here.