My Top Seven Project Management and Productivity Tools

The Seven Tools I Can’t Work Without

 a pen checking a list.Having a to-do list is great, but what do you do when a single item on that list requires multiple steps and people to ensure it is completed? In this case, a simple check box on a to-do list won’t be enough to keep track of it; you need a project management tool. You’ll also need productivity tools to ensure that everyone working on the project can access files and communicate properly. With so many project management and productivity tools out there, it can be difficult to choose which ones would be best for your business and your project. Here are my picks for the best and most versatile choices available today.

Asana

Asana is a service that can be used as both a task manager and project manager. Available online, on Android, and on iOS, this app features excellent collaboration tools for both businesses and individuals. It is simple to add multiple projects, while keeping track of everything from the left sidebar. Structure milestones and project goals as a checklist, order them by date, or set up dependencies so that one portion cannot be marked as complete until all of the sub-tasks are completed. If you’re working with others, add notes, comments, tags, and track changes others have made easily. You can also set due dates and upload attachments.

One of the best things about Asana is that as long as you have fewer than 15 people on a project, it is free to use. Even better, access to popular features isn’t locked if you’re using the free tier – paid users receive things like priority support or the ability to have a guest user view their project, but don’t receive additional usability. Pinterest, Dropbox, and other major companies all use Asana to manage their projects, so it’s obviously more than capable.

Camtasia

When it comes to collaboratively creating videos, it is hard to find a better program than Camtasia. What began as a simple software demonstration tool has emerged to a full-featured informational and educational video creation tool. Camtasia allows you to capture screen-based activity, including menu choices, cursor movement, and interface interaction. All you have to do is hit the Record button, and everything you do on your computer is recorded until you click Stop.

Once you’re ready to edit your video, Camtasia allows you to import video from a variety of sources. Work with any of the objects in your video project using the Canvas, dragging them or resizing them as needed. You can even animate any of these objects over time. Additionally, anything on the Canvas can be turned into a clickable hyperlink that can take users to any location within the video, or to an external URL. The interface is simple and user-friendly, making it easy to get started and begin producing video in a very short period of time.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a file-synchronization tool that allows you to access files regardless of the computer or device you’re on. There are versions available for personal and business use, and the program is easily downloadable from the company’s website. Unfortunately, it is only available for PC, Apple, and Android devices – there is no Mac functionality at this time.

Storing files on Dropbox is easy and automatic. Simply save the files to your Dropbox folder and you can access them from any device where you’ve installed the Dropbox app. You’ll be able to see a history of actions completed on each file, and even have the capability to retrieve deleted files or earlier versions of files if need be. The only down side to the program is that it does not allow you to collaborate on files synchronously.

Evernote

Evernote is a web-based solution to note-taking. You can edit text, upload photos, and even includes a voice recorder. These elements can be used individually or together to save, organize, and edit a wide variety of notes. Available as a Web app or on any iOS or Android device, Evernote allows you to access your content from almost anywhere.

The Web app features three panes: on the left you’ll see your notebooks and tags, in the center is a list or preview of all notes meeting your search criteria, and on the right is the full editing and viewing area. Once you open a note you can see reminders, schedule deadlines, and opt to receive actual reminders, or a daily digest. The app is very intuitive, and is available in both free and premium versions.

FrontApp

FrontApp is a collaborative email application that lets you work with a team on issues like sales, customer support, and hiring. You can assign conversations to teammates and comment on messages. A real-time activity feed and notification center ensures that you stay in the loop. Analytics allows you to follow the activity of your teammates, and you can create tags and canned responses for greater productivity.

One of the best aspects of FrontApp is that you can add your hared email addresses, Twitter accounts, and soon, you’ll be able to integrate with a variety of other social media applications as well. Download the app for Mac, Windows, web, and mobile.

Google Docs

Google Docs has one of the best free word processing applications out there. Set up a free Google ID, and automatically receive access. This tool contains all of the most popular features from word processing software such as Microsoft Word, and has the added bonus of allowing you to work collaboratively with others on your team. Once created, files can be converted into a variety of formats, such as PDF or HTML, and you can review your documents using the print review feature.

The collaborative function is what makes Google Docs really stand out, though. A built-in chat allows you to discuss and make changes simultaneously, while convenient tracking allows you to see which changes were made by whom. Because it’s a web-based application, you can access your documents from any browser on any computer or mobile device, making this a very versatile productivity app.

Slack

Slack is a collaborative messaging system that is available as a web app, as well as on iOS and Mac. While many choose to use the app exclusively as a messaging device, Slack is actually designed to integrate with other project management tools such as Asana to aggregate information into an easily trackable “channel”.

Slack allows you to create multiple groups and multiple channels, and even set up a separate email login for each group. Additionally, you can set up access to various channels within a group to allow member to collaborate more effectively and efficiently.

I hope you have found this information helpful. It can be quite difficult to choose from so many available options. This is especially true if you are not even sure what your project management needs are. Of course you could always just use sticky notes along with a pen and paper. This is 2014, however, and we are fortunate to have access to so many tools. So give one of these a try today and see how it can help you do more.

My Networking Adventure in Australia

Sydney by boat.

A couple days ago I was in Sydney attending a networking event for young professionals. One of the reasons I write my Hurricane Business Consulting blog is that I love networking and exchanging new business marketing ideas from a diverse group of people. When this opportunity came up it was an easy decision to make the trek to the land down under.

After a pleasant, but quite long, flight I arrived in Australia for the first time in my life and was excited for what was in store for me. Since the event wasn’t until later in the evening I decided to play tourist for a couple hours and take a power nap before the event. It was a great decision and I certainly want to go back to Australia and play tourist some more.

I arrived at the event wearing a suit and feeling stuffy. My normal work “uniform” is much more casual, fitting in with my slight disdain for the ‘old ways’ of marketing. Not surprisingly, all the other young men and women in attendance were wearing suits and some looked to be as uncomfortable as I felt. It seemed as though every profession was represented. I met lawyers, software developers, an architect, a real estate investor and quite a few e-commerce professionals.

I have to admit, with all of the virtual consulting I do with my team members and clients I felt a little awkward at first in that room full of people. After a social lubricant or two introductions and conversation flowed much easier. During the night, I had a slight epiphany. This “old school” business idea was quite relevant and refreshing. I never realized how isolating our new virtual way of business can be. It sounds funny but people seem much more human in person than they do on Skype.

By the end of the event, I had collected 4 business cards and 10 LinkedIn contacts. I have to admit, I’m so used to social media that I didn’t even bring a single business card. After the event concluded, I found myself feeling a little more confident in what I am doing to help businesses. It was informative to hear the struggles people have and how valuable the kind of service that my blog provides really is. Because of the more casual tone of the conversations I found it much easier to get a feel for whether my blog is relevant for people. I think sometimes my somewhat anti old school attitude can seem a little too casual for serious individuals.

Overall, I had a great experience at the networking event. I am convinced networking events are still relevant and quite useful. I made sure to message my new contacts as soon as I got back to my hotel room so that we could make plans for our next in person meeting.

I recommend that you seek out and attend at least one networking event this year even if it’s in your city. Be sure to tweet me and let me know what your experience was like. Oh, and bring business cards!

Photo by Jimmy Harris via Flickr.com https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

 

Free Online College Courses: Are They Worth Your Time?

In the last few years there has been a trend for universities to make some of their courses available for free online. Several major universities have made a substantial effort to put a significant amount online. Stanford, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Tufts, Notre Dame, and Weber State were some of the early leaders in this initiative. The general format was to upload video of past lectures given to enrolled students and include notes, sample quizzes and tests that students were given that semester. Sometimes answer sheets were also included as a reference. No grades were given to people following along at home and no college credit was received. I have watched several lectures and found the information to be quite good, though basic in most fields.

Fast forward to today and the growth and improvement has been significant. In addition to more universities uploading classes to their own

Image credit: Coursera.org

websites there are now two large platforms for free online education. The two platforms are Coursera.org and Edx.com. Both platforms offer all classes for free but have added something the universities were previously not doing. Assignments and class participation are graded on a simple level and there is an option to pay a fee for a certificate of achievement and in some cases there is eligibility for college credit.

A significant number of major universities from around the world have entered this free college course space and some have even begun to offer groups of classes as sort of a mini major or certificate. I have taken a couple business classes on Coursera and I have to admit that I did learn quite a bit. The information and presentation were very high quality. I found the courses to be quite up-to-date and relevant to the current business climate with several covering social media and content marketing. The staff from the universities actively participated in the class forums and answered questions. This gives the feel of an actual learning experience like you would get from a paid program. The interaction with my fellow students was the most beneficial for me. It was great to interact with people from all over the world. Some students even teamed up and became virtual partners in new ventures! That is a benefit I didn’t even conceive of. I am still a fan of traditional networking but the reach you can have with platforms like these is astounding.

The real power of the internet comes to light in situations like this. It is really exciting to follow this trend and see what comes next. As you are already aware, success in business requires constant learning and refinement. I am still a huge fan of attending classes in a traditional setting because of all the inherent benefits that come with it. Having said that, I can now confidently recommend that you investigate the free learning opportunities that are now available online. You may just find the information you need to give your career or business that much needed boost over the tipping point.