As a project manager, your personal organization and productivity is essential to your credibility. Can you imagine taking advice from a physician who was overweight and smoking? It would be difficult to overlook those points, even if the doctor was providing sound suggestions. Likewise, personal organization is essential for project managers. In this article, I will provide an overview of some of the productivity apps and programs available. The exact suite of apps you use will depend on your budget, your organization and budget. I hope you find this article helpful as you work to increase your productivity.
Keep in mind that productivity and organization technology will not help if you have no methodology. For personal organization and management, I recommend Leading Yourself with Getting Things Done. Once you have that basic framework in place, you can improve further by using some of these tools.
Task Management Apps
Tracking and completing tasks is the bread and butter of success at work and in projects. The art of writing down tasks in a useful way is an important skill. When possible, I aim to write down tasks that are complete and ready for work. For example, if I have a phone call task, I note contact details in the notes section of the task. Let’s get started.
1. Remember The Milk (Free and Paid)
Over the past few years, I have used Remember The Milk as my primary task management tool. I like that it is available as a web application and as a mobile app. I suggest creating several categories of tasks. For example, you can have a list for household management tasks, a list for Project A and an overall career management task. I also find it helpful to set certain tasks as recurring (e.g. to review certain accounts or websites on a monthly basis).
2. Nozbe (Paid)
Nozbe is a task management tool that I have seen quite a few people recommend (e.g. Michael Hyatt and Jeff Sanders). While I have not used it myself, it does look promising. I like the fact that there is an option to work with teams. Bringing your team onto a single app has the advantage of fewer emails sent back and forth. As much as I like email, it is not my favorite way to run a project.
3. Microsoft Project (Paid)
I have used Microsoft Project from time to time and find it to be an excellent product. You can plan tasks, create a Gantt chart and manage resources. I also like how the course integrates well with the rest of the Microsoft Office suite. The one challenge I have with the application is the sheer power and complexity of it. I will make an analogy to Microsoft Excel. I am a heavy Excel user (use the application for hours each day). Yet, I’m very aware of the fact that I am using only a fraction of the application’s power. Fortunately, there are many companies, books (e.g. Microsoft Project 2013 Step by Step by Carl Chatfield and Timothy Johnson) and other resources available to help you develop your skills with Microsoft Project.
4. Microsoft Outlook (Paid)
In my corporate work, I have used Microsoft Outlook for years. It is a powerful product especially if your whole organization uses it. In addition to email, I also find Outlook’s calendar and task management capabilities powerful. As an established and popular email application, there are many training resources and software enhancements available. For example, David Allen offers a guide on how to implement Getting Things Done with Microsoft Outlook. In an organizational context, the ability to book meeting rooms is helpful (and view the calendar availability of other people).
Calendar Management Apps
As Stephen Covey explained years ago in his bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” there is a constant tension between the urgent and the important. Successfully managing both requirements takes training and a robust calendar. For ease of use (e.g. repeating calendar appointments), I prefer digital calendar tools. That said, I often use Moleskine notebooks when I attend meetings, conferences and courses so paper tools are still valuable.
5. Google Calendar (Free)
If I could only have one calendar tool, I would choose Google Calendar. I was first attracted to it because it is free. Over time, I learned more about the app. For example, I love the fact that I had set multiple reminders for appointments (e.g. 1 week ahead, 1 day ahead, 1 hour ahead). That is a helpful feature when you have a task that requires planning and preparation. I also like the fact that you can have multiple calendars with different colours. I also like the fact that Google Calendar can be connected with other websites and calendar tools (i.e. it is easy to add appointments and events to your main calendar).
Tip: You can also create and send calendar invitations by email with Evernote. It is a great way to keep your meetings organized.
6. Week Cal (Paid)
When I’m out and about, I like to have a clear view to my calendar. To that end, I use Week Cal. It displays my Google Calendar in a readable and useful way. This was the first smart phone app I ever purchased. At $2.49, I think it is well worth the cost. I also like the fact that it integrates smoothly with Google Maps to show me where my appointments are located. The app is also available on the iPad and Apple Watch. The company states that they have over three million users, so I would expect them to be around for years to come.
7. Schedule Once (Paid)
Do you organize a lot of meetings and phone calls? Do those scheduled events involve people outside of the organization? If so, Schedule Once is a great tool. I started to use it in August and find it helpful. Rather than trading emails back and forth, you can create your calendar availability and give someone a link to request an appointment with you. If you are a consultant or coach, there is a lot to be said for this resource. It did take me a week or two to learn how to use the tool. Now that I have learned it, it looks like a charm. A free trial is available for those interested in using the website.
Note: If your scheduling needs are more ad hoc, I recommend Doodle as a useful tool to gather availability to set up a meeting or a call.
Keeping your information organized and available is important. In fact, I earned a Master of Information Studies degree where I explored this topic in great depth. In this section of the article, I will discuss a few apps you can use to keep your information organized. I will also point out that digital information management is only one part of the puzzle. For many of us, there is still a requirement to manage paper records and physical workspace. Those are important points to consider and they are beyond the scope of today’s article.
8. Evernote (Free and Paid)
I have used Evernote for several years and consider it to be an excellent product. With over 90 million users, Evernote is a robust company that we can expect to stick around for a long time. What exactly can you use Evernote for? You can use it to store meeting notes, keep notes on your goals (thanks Michael Hyatt! Learn more with his podcast Getting the Most Out of Evernote), keep track of interesting books, movies or other items you might like to use. There is also great value in using Evernote as a place to store your rough notes, outlines and project notes – all those points that you write in traditional notebooks.
Project managers will be interested to read about Evernote Business, a version of the service that gives you added storage and the ability to share information with other people in your organization.
Note: Evernote is a powerful tool and some people find it difficult to get started. If you have challenges with learning Evernote, cut your learning curve short by buying Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly. The book provides an excellent overview of how to use Evernote and ideas on how to get the most out of it.
9. Google Drive (Free and Paid)
There are many file sharing services available and Google Drive is my favorite. I like the fact that users receive several gigabytes of free storage. I have used the application to store and share documents such as documents and spreadsheets. If you have a lot of documents to share and collaborate with others, Google Drive is a great tool. According to the Google website, “Google Accounts include 15GB of free storage to share across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos.” That’s a significant amount of storage. There is also the option to purchase additional storage space if you need it.
10. Carbonite or CrashPlan (Backup Service)
In some large companies, there are backup services in place for the data stored on your corporate PC. That’s a great peace of mind benefit for keeping your projects running smoothly. However, what about your files on your home computers? It is important to keep those photos, documents and other materials safe in a backup. I like using online backup services because such services are a great way to proactively manage the risk of a flood, fire or other disaster with your data. Of course, these services are not free. Then again, a backup service is so important that I see great value in paying for it.
Question For The Comments:
What are your favorite apps that you use to manage your calendar, tasks, and information?