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Simple Project Management - 4 Free Tools for Streamlining Your Process

Austin Church

by Austin Church

Feb 28, 2013


You have every incentive to master simple project management. Your clients will be impressed by your responsiveness, your contractors and employees will enjoy not feeling like the ship is always sinking, and your bank account will be happier. The faster you finish projects, the more profitable they tend to be.

The challenge is seeing room for improvement when you're in the throes of project work. It's hard to find the time to rework your workflow when the work is flowing. There's a tongue twister for you.

Project management represents a lovely Catch-22: you have every incentive to improve your project management and every excuse to put it off.

In this short post I will attempt to break you out by outlining how I manage projects, both for my clients and for my own business development. I'm far from mastering the process, but I'm learning that building my process around robust services and tools gives me every chance at success. And keeping project management simple helps me to stay consistent.

1. Basecamp

When a new project comes in, the first thing I do is create a Basecamp project for it. Basecamp serves as a locker similar to the one where your lunch and books lived in high school. You can invite team members to join the project and create text documents and share them with specific members of the team. You can drag and drop any kind of file. You can assign to-dos, add milestones, and send messages. You can also forward emails to a unique address that feeds only into that specific project. 

I like Basecamp because it is one of the simpler project management platforms out there. I don't get sidetracked trying to deploy bells and whistles that don't make a significant contribution to efficiency.

I keep only one project for all my internal projects and for all of my client work. My assistant and I worked from a text document called "Projects." We give each project a level of urgency or priority—from 1 (least urgent) to 3 (most urgent)—and assign them to the person responsible. This way, no urgent project gets lost in the shuffle, and we have a way to capture the important projects that aren't urgent. We use a bullet-point list, and it works.

I have friends who swear by Trello and Podio. Try several platforms and find the one that best fits your needs.

Just don't overcomplicate the process. Simple project management keeps you focused on finishing.

2. Google Drive

Basecamp doesn't allow you to edit and share spreadsheets, so I do use Google Drive every once in awhile. We keep a spreadsheet of log-in credentials so that we don't waste time trying to track them down. Copy and paste this link into the Projects doc in Basecamp. Only those people with whom you have shared the spreadsheet will have access.

3. Evernote 

Disclaimer: I LOVE Evernote. You should know going in that I'm a diehard fan and therefore not to be trusted. I even bought Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly to help me get even geekier.

I draft all my blog posts on Evernote so that I can work on them in short 5- and 10-minute sprints on my iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. When I write out notes by hand, I take pictures and tag them so that they are easy to find inside of Evernote. I use the web clipper tool to bookmark and organize blog posts, tools, services, and other kinds of information. I use my unique Evernote Upload address to forward emails and keep them grouped with the right notebook. To-do lists, shopping lists, and bucket lists; ebooks, pdfs, and photos—Evernote appeases the information pack rat in me. And I can share anything I want.

Life Hack: If you're a fan of Moleskine journals, then buy the Evernote-branded versions. Why? Each notebook comes with three months of Evernote Premium for free. At $5/month, that means you get the journals for free.

4. Dropbox

I back up all my data on an external hard drive, but I keep copies of all my most important stuff on Dropbox.

The "desktop" version of the app makes for easy uploading, but the drag-and-drop functionality of the online app works well too. My iPhone automatically backs up all my photos on Dropbox anytime I open the app. Because I'm constantly sharing, moving, and receiving large files—source codes for apps, folders of pictures, design files, and sound files, to name a few—I love being able to create and share a new folder to receive files from other people. I also love being able to email the link to a folder that would have been too large for email.

In other words, I love workdays mostly free from error messages and size limits and wasted time.

All four of these services have limitations, but you probably noticed a common theme: they all live in the cloud. If my MacBook crashed or someone swiped it at a coffeeshop, my business could be up and running again in the time it took me to borrow a laptop. And I could make do with my iPhone in the meantime because all four of these services have iOS apps. 

And one more thing: as soon as I answer an email or take the next step forward on a project, I delete or file that email. My inbox is always a snapshot of what needs my immediate attention.

As exhausting as email can be, simple project management is all about looking for opportunities to be more efficient and turning bottlenecks into repeatable systems. 

Do you have any smart project management tips? Do you use some other free project management tools? Share in the Comments section below.

Categories: Business, Complete Elephant, Growing | Tags: simple project management, free project management tools

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