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Time-tested tools to keep you on track

After spending a chunk of the holiday break shredding old tax documents, I can definitively confirm what I have long suspected: that I used to be more addicted to acquiring tools than using them wisely. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still a fan of the right tool for the right job. But I’ve gotten way (WAY) better at defining the job and breaking down the processes involved, which makes me much smarter about the tools I use—and especially the new ones I might “need” to buy.

You’ll note that these are not acting-specific apps; I trust you to find the best of these on your own. For me, getting my “real” life to run more smoothly had a truly beneficial effect on my acting “life”. So here are the actual tools (along with some processes) I use to help my life run smoothly today.


  1. Waze & Google Maps (android/iOS, free). Both are big enough to need no explanation, so I’ll just offer my process: I Google-traffic-map anyplace I haven’t been before to get an overview of directions and orient myself, then use Waze to get there. I also find Google invaluable for pedestrian mapping (you need to know your MPH on foot, though), as well as for transit.
  2. Quarters. Yes, parking meters now take plastic, at least in Los Angeles. But I still keep a roll of quarters in the car for speedy in/out (and sometimes, just to keep it real). Bonus: in a pinch, they double as actual money!
  3. Emergency $20. Tuck it away somewhere in your car (or on your person) where you won’t spend it easily, but where you’ll remember it’s there when you need it. I’ve done this for 20+ years, and can count on one hand the times I’ve spent the $20. But boy, have I been glad each of those 5 times.


  1. Multiple calendars. Before there were digital calendars, I arrived everywhere on time and rarely missed birthdays. Problem is, sync is great until it isn’t, and then BOY, is it not. This year, I rotated in a small paper calendar with weeks and a month-at-a-glance and it’s been a game-changer. Yes, there is double entry with this system, but it’s so much easier to map out a week or a month with paper. Mine is small enough I may end up giving up digital altogether and going back to paper. Time will tell, right?
  2. A clock in every major room and a watch on my wrist. Yes, really: I have a clock in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, as well as the clock on my computer and phone. You laugh, but I am rarely late, especially when I use Waze’s “leave now” feature. And I know that no one needs a wristwatch now that we all have phones, but it is far, far easier to glance down at my wrist than dig a phone out of my backpack or pocket.
  3. “Past/Present/Future” wall calendars. I no longer use this, but having three calendars above my desk—for the month before, current month, and upcoming month—was great time training, and very useful when planning my freelance life. I didn’t need spaces to write anything, just the grid of days itself. These calendars are super-stylish and look great in threes.


  1. GroceryIQ (free, cross-platform & web) This app is so stupid, it’s brilliant. All it does is let you make shopping lists, but shopping lists are key both to containing spending and not forgetting needed items. It lets you set up as many store lists as you like, and add as many items as needed. It lets you set up favorites and sort by aisle. It lets you view items by store or an “All Items” view. It’s completely idiotic, and probably the best app I’ve ever downloaded.
  2. TurboScan (5.99, cross-platform) There are other apps that scan to PDF; I know, because I’ve bought them, and no longer use them. TurboScan is the easiest, takes the best pictures, and gives you tons of options to export.
  3. Spreadsheets (free on Google, from 6.99/month Microsoft). Again, I’ve tried—and given up on—some very fancy budgeting software. A plain old spreadsheet set up with formulas has changed my life. (Well, a spreadsheet and a lot of help in using it.) Frankly, if Quicken or YNAB or any other solution works to help you track your income or spending, keep using that. The main thing is to measure that sh*t. I didn’t for a long time, because I made enough money to get away with not doing so. Or so I thought. It caught up with me, eventually. Track. Your. Money. Full stop.


  1. TextExpander (Mac/Windows, monthly or standalone pricing) This is the first app I put on any new computer or device. It does so, so much more than just autocorrection and text expansion; unfortunately, it’s one of those things you just have to try to become a true believer.
  2. Mastermind group (or accountability buddy, etc). The best tool is a like-minded human whom you can use as a sounding board and for mutual support. We are better together, in case you hadn’t already figured that out; I owe my great, big, beautiful life to the teammates I’ve had along the way. Plus, helping other people helps you grow. Win-win.
  3. stikK (free, web-based) A few times when I’ve really needed to get something done, I made a pact with friends that if I didn’t do it by the deadline, I’d give $100 to a cause I loathed. stikK is the free, online version of this: set a goal; set the stakes; add support and GO GO GO. (And seriously: think about a donation to a hated organization if you fail to see it through. It’s highly motivating!)

Wishing my best to you and yours for a wonderfully abundant 2018 full of fun, learning, and growth!

Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeaker-layabout who started calling herself “The Communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.