October 6, 2013
When your to-do list becomes a monster, and an item next to a checkbox will actually take a long time and multiple people to complete, you need more than a checklist to keep track of it. What you really have is a project, and you need a tool designed to manage them. This week, we’re going to look at five of the best personal project management tools, based on your nominations.
Earlier in the week, we asked you for the best personal project management tools to keep track of all of the moving parts in your home renovation, family reunion, birthday party, vacation plan, or other pet project you need to keep track of.
Speaking as someone who used to be a full-time project manager, the available tools for businesses are really robust and packed with features, but when you need to organize something on your own or for a small time, sometimes lighter and more specific is better (not to mention more affordable). We collected your nominations, and picked out the top five. Here’s what you said:
Asana is a hybrid task and project manager. We covered the service when it launched back in 2011, and since then it’s updated several times, spawned iOS and Android apps, and boosted its collaboration features for both individuals and organizations. Adding multiple projects is simple, and you can keep track of them from the left sidebar. You can structure your individual project goals and milestones as a simple checklist from start to finish, order them by date or when they need to be done, or make them dependencies so one thing can’t be complete until its sub-tasks are finished. You can add more detail to any task or item, like notes, links, tags, and comments, and if you’re working with others, you can see changes they’ve made as well. Upload attachments, set due dates—it’s all there. Plus, Asana packs tons of keyboard shortcuts that make using it fast.
Asana is free for most people (you only need to pay once you get up to 15 or more people working on the same projects), and it’s just as good a corporate project or task manager as it is a to-do manager for your own pet projects or ideas. Best of all, they don’t pare down features in the free tier—all of the functional features are the same, with paid users only getting things like priority support and “guest” users. Companies like Dropbox, Pinterest, and Uber use Asana to organize their projects, and—full disclosure—so do I. It’s worth checking out if you don’t have an account.
If you’re a fan of Personal Kanban, or you like to use cards or post-it notes arranged in categories to orgaanize your thoughts and your tasks, Trello will appeal to you. we covered it when it launched, too, and even shared a method to shoehorn it into GTD. Trello is fast, flexible, and even fun to use, and in minutes you’ll organize all of the components for your projects into columns and cards that are easy to drag around, add supporting details to, comment on, and assign from person to person on your team. You can create different boards for different projects, set due dates or times for each card or set of cards, and more. Trello is even available on iOS and Android, and its drag-and-drop interface (usually) works well on mobile devices.
Trello is free to use, but Trello Gold, the company’s premium plan, offers larger file attachments and some visual upgrades like emoji, stickers, and custom backgrounds. More importantly, Gold is a way to support Trello if you love it, but all of the features are available for free. Trello is the project management tool of choice by teams at The Verge, The New York Times, Tumblr, and others, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s free and simple to get started with.
OneNote is more than just a great note-taking tool (although it definitely excels at that). It can also be an excellent personal planner, and depending on how you use it, it can be a pretty solid personal project manager. We shared some of our favorite OneNote tips in our guide to being productive with what you have at the office. Among more than a few project management-focused designs to help you organize complex projects with lots of to-dos and moving parts. Using OneNote as a project management tool can be tricky, since it’s not especially good at giving you a quick, top-down view of everything that’s going on at once, but there’s no reason you can’t build that yourself using the tools available. Plus, once you power up OneNote with plugins like OneTastic, or keep your files in SkyDrive (where you can get to them and your projects using the OneNote apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android), you’ll find OneNote can be a remarkably powerful tool.
The only downside to OneNote is the price. It’s part of Microsoft Office, but you don’t have to buy it along with Office. A stand-alone version will set you back $ 70. If you do want it as part of Office, you’ll have to shell out some cash to get a licensed copy, either with a copy of Office for yourself, or a subscription to Microsoft’s cloud-based office suite, Office 365. How much depends on your situation. If you have access to it at work or through a student discount, take advantage of it.
Evernote is another killer note-taking tool, but when it comes to the incredible things you can do with it, the sky’s the limit. We’ve shared some of our favorite uses for it and our thoughts on why it’s so popular, but its power is clear once you start using it. Adding simple notes is a snap, creating notebooks for multiple projects or parts of your life you want to organize is simple, and searching across everything you’ve entered is easy too. Don’t be afraid to create tons of notes and notebooks either—it may sound counterproductive to getting organized, but one of the best things about Evernote is that it can quickly make sense out of a lot of information and present it to you so you see what you need to see. You can even use Evernote to digitize your pen and paper notes, documents, and other files so you can toss them into the relevant project notebook you want to save them in. Evernote has a massive ecosystem of apps that feed into it and support it, not to mention its web clipper and its iOS and Android apps.
Evernote is free, but $ 5/mo or $ 45/yr will get you Evernote Premium, which offers compelling features like offline access to your notebooks, collaboration tools, more storage space, and improved search. Once you start using it, you’ll want to get premium pretty quickly. If you’re looking for a tool to organize your life, Evernote is a great one to look at, but it’s just as good at organizing your kitchen remodel (imagine a notebook with all of your ideas, receipts, links and clipped pages of fixtures or appliances you want to buy, contact information for contractors, bills, notes, and a project plan, neatly organized) or your family vacation (picture a notebook with clippings of the destinations you’re considering, your detailed travel budget, ticket and booking receipts, and more inside), too.
Azendoo is another hybrid task and project management tool, and while there’s a strong focus on teams and collaboration, it’s just as easy to use it to manage your own pet projects and personal workload. Plus, Azendoo plugs into other popular services, like Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box for storage. You do get some free storage with the service so you can upload files directly to your projects, and you can easily assign to-dos to other people, check on their status, make comments on individual tasks, track changes, and see how a project is going from a top-down view. Plus, it does it all in a simple interface that’s easy to get used to and simple to use. Azendoo is a webapp, but you can take your projects on the go thanks to its iOS and Android apps.
Azendoo is free, and while there are premium plans, the free version is likely enough for most people. It comes with 10GB of storage and the option to connect to all of Azendoo’s supported third-party apps. Azendoo is the project management tool of choice for teams at Evernote (ironically), Cisco, Toyota, Nike, and MIT to name a few. If you’ve tried some of the big names above and want something different, maybe a little simpler, give it a shot.
That’s all there is to it! Now it’s time to put the top five to a vote to determine the community favorite:
The honorable mention this week goes out to OmniFocus, which earned praise from many of you for it’s elegant interface, powerful tools, and useful views that let you focus on the tasks at hand, or forecast how well the project is going overall (and whether you’ll hit your target dates or not). Once you get under the hood, you’ll find that OmniFocus is extremely powerful, and can consume your time just organizing your tasks, events, due dates, and timelines. However, it’s designed exclusively for Apple users, and has individual iPhone, iPad, and OS X apps that you’ll have to buy individually (at $ 20, $ 40, and $ 80 each) in order to use them all.
These are just the tip of the iceberg though. We got so many suggestions this week that it’s really worth going back to the original post to check out some of the ones that didn’t make the top five. There’s likely a tool in there for everyone, even if it didn’t get enough votes to join the ones above.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it’s not because we hate it—it’s because it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest, but if you have a favorite, we want to hear about it. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at email@example.com.
Title photo by FAKEGRIMLOCK.