When your to-do list becomes a monster, and every item requires lots of time and multiple people to complete, you need more than a simple checklist to keep track of it. What you really have is a project, and you need a tool designed to manage those. This week, we’re going to look at five of the best personal project management tools, based on your nominations.
Title photo by FAKEGRIMLOCK.
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 organise something on your own, often fewer features and more specific is better. Here are five tools highlighted by Lifehacker readers that help with that task.
Asana is a hybrid task and project manager. We covered the service when it launched back in 2011, and since then it has updated several times, spawned iOS and Android apps, and boosted its collaboration features for both individuals and organisations. 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 item can’t be completed 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 have 15 or more people working on the same projects), and it’s as good a corporate project manager as it is a to-do manager for your own pet projects or ideas. Best of all, features aren’t pared down in the free tier — all of the functional options are the same, with paid users getting extras such as priority support and “guest” users. Companies like Dropbox, Pinterest, and Uber use Asana to organise 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 organise your thoughts and your tasks, Trello will appeal to you. We covered it when it first came out, and even shared a method to shoehorn it into GTD. Trello is fast, flexible and even fun to use. In minutes you can organise 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 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. 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 for 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 favourite OneNote tips in our guide to being productive with what you have supplied at the office. There are plenty of project management-focused template designs to help you organise complex projects. 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, since you’ll have to pay for a subscription for the desktop version. However, it’s included in the 365 subscription version, which you can install on up to five machines.
Evernote is another killer note-taking tool, and when it comes to the incredible things you can do with it, the sky’s the limit. We’ve shared some of our favourite uses for it and our thoughts on why it’s so popular, and its power becomes 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 organise is simple, and searching across everything you’ve entered is easy too. Don’t be afraid to create lots of notes and notebooks either — that may sound counterproductive to getting organised, 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 use Evernote to digitise 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 paying $US5/month or $US45/yearr 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 organise your life, Evernote is a solid choice, but it’s just as good at organising 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 organised) or your family holiday (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, including 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 probably 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. If you’ve tried some of the big names above and want something different and maybe a little simpler, give it a shot.
Our honourable mention this week goes to OmniFocus, which earned praise from many of you for its elegant interface, powerful tools and useful views . Once you get under the hood, you’ll find that OmniFocus is extremely powerful, and can consume your time just organising your tasks, events, due dates, and timelines. However, it’s designed exclusively for Apple users, and has separate and expensive iPhone, iPad, and OS X apps that you’ll have to buy individually.
Have something to say about one of the nominees? Want to make the case for your own personal favourite? Tell us about your preferred alternative in the comments.