Recently I've been using a couple tools a lot, for reasons that are worth noting (worth it to me, anyway). Increasingly, I find my choice of technologies depends on fairly small and specific things, keyed more to the way I'm able to use them than to functional specs.
The first is WriteRoom. I've had it for a while, but I've now made it my default basic text editor. The interesting thing about WriteRoom is that it revives an old interface for a new purpose: it turns it into a tool for focusing an author's attention. This is writing without distraction, the Web site promises.
Walk into WriteRoom, and watch your distractions fade away. Now it's just you and your text. WriteRoom is a place where your mind clears and your work gets done. When your writing is complete, exit WriteRoom and re-enter the busy world with your work in hand.
With so much e-mail and information pouring in, the digital life we lead can sure be a blur. If you've found it getting harder to focus on the words you want to write, if you've forgotten how great it feels to really write distraction-free, then let WriteRoom help you rediscover your muse.
Of course I find the spatial metaphor interesting.
But what I find I really like about it is that it's particularly well-suited for writing late at night. I have these regular bouts where I'm up until 2 or 3 at night writing– periods when I can really get a lot done, or have those conceptual or organizational breakthroughs that every writer finds really satisfying. Most of the time I'm not writing something that requires elaborate formatting or layout, so I can use a simpler writing tool. But when I'm in bed, the lights are out, and I'm trying to work without keeping my wife up, the amber lettering on a black screen seems especially fitting. The amber and black screen are gentler on the eyes. They focus attention on the words at a time when I don't have much energy, but have some of my best ideas.
The other tool I'm using a lot these days is Skype. Of course, I have lots of ways to talk to people– two cell phones (one used mainly for text messaging), but I'm finding Skype really good for work-related calls, for a couple reasons.
First, I just bought a headset, which has made it possible to walk around while talking. Before I had it, I had to lean over the computer and yell into the microphone (wherever it is on my computer), which is not a superior communications experience. With the headset, on the other hand, the sound quality is excellent, and I can get up and move about. Much better.
Further, when I'm working, I'm never at my desk– I don't even have a desk– but I'm always at my computer. (When I'm not working I'm also often at my computer.) Since I actually lost my office phone a long time ago, it's a lot easier to do calls through Skype.
Finally, the combination of talking and texting makes it possible to share notes with the person you're talking to, pass URLs back and forth, etc. Since I generally have to send a follow-up e-mail after any phone conversation, having the ability to write those notes in real-time is really useful. And since Skype can save text threads, you can use it as an archive of previous conversations. That's really useful for things like weekly conference calls, which I'm now doing with some Oxford students I'm advising on a project.