Sunday, March 08, 2009

#72: Six Grant Writing Tools That Keep Me Sane & Productive

Typewriter "Hermes"Image via Wikipedia

Here are the tools that keep me productive and sane as the clock ticks down the minutes till deadline.

Two monitors: I thought two monitors was overkill, but G. pushed me into it. Now, I can't imagine how I worked on anything complicated without them. When working on a grant I have my notes, background documents, and the RFP on one screen and my narrative on the other. Some days I have fantasies of adding a third.

If you aren't familiar with Evernote, watch a couple of the quick videos on their site. I use Evernote to organize my whole life. I use it for my funder database, research database, assignments, recipes, favorite quotes and images --- my whole life, including an idea journal.

You can save your notes, clip info from the web with its address with one click, tag each item innumerable ways, keep several different notebooks, some public and some private, and never lose anything. Whew!

It self-synchronizes the notes saved on my desktop machine, web account, and laptop so I have the same information everywhere. I could use it on my cell phone, too, but I live in the mountains -- cell coverage is too spotty to bother. (Free and premium versions available; I recently upgraded to the paid version, mostly because I felt they deserve my support.)

Basecamp: this is the project collaboration site I use. I've used it for years. All but my most technology-averse clients love it; and even the tech-haters are delighted that when they need a file or a copy of the grant, it's right there. Basecamp handles milestones, messages, to-do lists, and keeps track of every version and revision of files loaded. I love having everything in one place. No more opening and closing emails and files to find what I'm looking for. It's not free, but it's well worth the price.

WetpaintImage via Wikipedia

While I love Basecamp, I find the writeboards (on-line white boards) awkward. I started using a Google-groups wiki for the team to explore issues. Then, one day in the middle of preparing a grant, Google sent me an automatic message that I had exceeded my limits!?! What limits???

Scratch Google groups. I transferred the project to a Wetpaint wiki and haven't looked back. [There's a short video on their home page that explains a wiki.] No one seems to mind the ads, so I use the free version.

LiveScribe Pulse: When I first saw this pen I wanted it. I was afraid it would be another of those gadgets that sit unused, though, so I resisted. Months went by and I couldn't get it out of my mind, so finally, last August, I bought one. If you're unfamiliar with this pen, watch the videos on the site.
I am thrilled with it. I've thrown my other pens away. It's great to have my notes transfer from my notebook to the computer. It's also great that I can search my notes. But the very best is the ability to record the conversation that accompanies the notes. Now, when I wonder what 'that' meant, I touch 'that' with the pen and the conversation at that point plays back. Magic!

The sound is terrific. The search capability, terrific. And the service is terrific, too. I dropped mine and the camera broke. I called them, they sent a new one immediately with a pre-paid envelope to return the broken one. No hassle. (Registering at the LiveScribe site extends the warranty to a full year.)

Automatic backup and synchronization: I'm forever running out of the office at the last minute. I used to find myself at meetings with the file I needed back on my desktop machine instead of on my laptop. No more.

I'm fortunate to have G. take care of the geek side of my business. He knows he can't count on me to initiate any of the back-up, updates, maintenance, or synchronization that needs to occur. And, he knows I can't afford to be without the right file or to have computer problems when a deadline looms.

So, he's always improving on the way to make all that happen automatically. He's not free, and he's mine. If you're interested, I'll ask him to write a post about the pro's and con's of the different approaches he's tried to keep me in-line and on-line.

If you aren't a geek and don't have someone like G. already, find someone. There's nothing worse than worrying about the technical stuff, or wasting time trying to figure it out when you should be writing.

I realize now that I've told you what I use, I haven't said much about how I use them. I'll take them one at a time in future posts. And, I'm happy to answer questions.

I'm even happier to hear what tools you count on. Tell us. Please.
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Anonymous said...

We wrote about the issue in Tools of the Trade—What a Grant Writer Should Have. You might want to avoid ever using a third screen unless you can immediately afford one, because it will produce the same feeling a second screen does:

As to which model is best, I prefer the Mac Pro because it is easy to add multiple video cards—meaning you can also attach lots of monitors. I use three and might add a fourth if I can find a good rack system. [... I]t is actually very handy to have multiple monitors because I can arrange relevant data on all of them by having the proposal I’m writing on my 23″ primary screen, a file from the client on the 20″ screen to the right and a pertinent website on the 19″ screen to the left.

Ruth Wahtera said...

Thanks, Jake, for sharing your post. Yes, a third monitor is very enticing.

I like your essentials -- good chair, sound system, window. I'd add mobility for a change of scenery, too.

April Northstrom said...

Ruth, I truly enjoyed this post and have enjoyed becoming familiar with your blog. I've recently started my own grant writing blog to share my experiences and offer resources. I look forward to following your future posts!

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