I constantly have a huge pile of things to do, mostly relatively small tasks but some longer, more involved ones. I regularly feel like I’m not getting anywhere and generally exist in fire-fighting mode where I’m doing whatever’s most urgent.
Because my life is stuffed full of sheets of paper with urgent to-do lists scrawled on them, for a long time now, at least several months, I’ve been looking for project and task management software that will organise things for me. I tried several packages and until now, nothing has been working for me. Here are my findings.
RTM is a very popular online task management product that is designed for individuals. It was one of the first ones I tried. I had reasonable success with this but ultimately couldn’t keep it up.
- This is for task management, not project management, but I need both. I don’t need reminding to spend five minutes buying milk. I do have three separate business interests with associated finance and resource management issues and a full life outside of work. RTM’s shopping-list approach was just not going to cut it. I can’t even imagine what it is like having only 18 tasks relating to work and being able to categorise all of them under ‘work’.
- I don’t love the user interface, there really isn’t anything about it that motivates me to engage with it.
- At the time I tried it out, RTM had limited functionality but it seems to have improved now, not that I am going to sign up again.
Right at the other end of the scale of price and functionality, this behemoth is used by very large organisations. It was too much functionality for me. You can use it to manage thousands of employees and allocate budgets worth millions of pounds but it will not tell you to clean the fridge and take the rubbish out. It is all project and no task.
- For large companies, not individuals.
- Look at that user interface, I just want to die. It makes me want to stay as far away as possible from my task list. It really screams You Are Not Supposed To Enjoy Yourself At Work. There is no chance I would keep using this even if it were more tailored for individuals. Just looking at it drains me of all motivation.
- On the plus side, what I really loved about MS Project is the ability to produce Gantt charts. This is so, so useful if you are trying to keep track of a lot of projects and follow all their deadlines, setting progress milestones in the right place and getting things done in the right order. I wish all project and task management software could do this. Also, the reporting function is brilliant and I totally would have used that for work, when you need to send people project updates and timelines.
I gave this one a good try over about three weeks and didn’t like it, it is basically just an online spreadsheet. Who wants to spend 40+ hours a week looking at that? If anyone knows of anything more soul-destroying in this life than spreadsheets, I would like to know what that is.
- Can’t argue with its functionality, which is in the territory between project and task management that I needed. Apparently it can do Gantt charts, but by that time I didn’t want to use it any more.
- Affordable but not free. More than I wanted to pay, even if it is a business product and only a small fraction of what Microsoft charges.
- Looks depressing. Want to quit work. This is why people have pictures of beaches on their desktop.
Another very popular product. Still not working for me, even though it includes gamification elements, which I commend.
- Good enough functionality.
- Includes gamification (appreciated).
- Still far too boring and inherently miserable for someone with my ability to resist doing anything useful.
And finally … I think I’ve finally found the Holy Grail.
OMG, I am in love. This is it, this is what I’ve been searching for. This is something I can look at for 40+ hours a week and not feel like slashing my wrists. I am a very visual thinker, okay. Spreadsheets and tables of tiny text and numbers are not going to do it for me at all. That’s not how my brain works. I need to see things represented graphically and I need a drag and drop interface where I can physically move things around according to their progress.
- Inherently geared to projects while still letting you manage tasks. What you see there is a Board. A Board functions like a pinboard and it represents one project. As of right now I have 14 boards, and I expect this number to increase as I use Trello more.
- Each board consists of a set of lists. These are task lists. What you do is click on the board to create a new List and add tasks to it. Lists can be called anything you want, such as Ideas, but the software encourages you to use at least three lists per board which are titled To Do, Doing and Done, which appeals to me and represents how I think and work. At the beginning you have tasks piled up in the left hand column, then they gradually get moved to the right as you make progress on them.
- Boards can be grouped into Organisations. Remember my big, colourful Life Plan that I drew? Well now it exists in the form of Organisations. There is an organisation called The Yellow Zone which is about health, fitness, diet, housework and family. It includes four boards right now and that will increase as I start to create new boards for things like weekly meal plans. The Red Zone is work and money, currently has 7 boards and will probably end up with loads more. The Blue Zone is things that nourish my soul like writing for the fun of it, doing Chinese, all creative activities.
- Tasks, OMG, tasks are great. When you click to create a new task, let’s say ‘write a proposal for XYZ Ltd’, a task window pops up and you can upload attachments, add photos, add comments as the task progresses. You can attach coloured labels, creating linked groups of tasks within a single board. Best of all, I can link it to my gmail account. I found out that when a new task arises in my email inbox, which is where most tasks begin, I can simply forward the email to the relevant Trello board and it will automatically create a Task for me with the email subject line as the task header.
- Looks so pretty. Trello is basically free, if you upgrade to the premium version then you can add your own background wallpaper to each board. This is really worth something to me. Firstly, I can have a piece of nice art instead of soul-destroying deserts of plainness. Secondly, I can have a different background for each board and this is so, so helpful because I can instantly identify which board I’m looking at without having to read the title. If there is a picture in the background of a swimming polar bear, I know I’m looking at the Health board. If there is a Chinese painting then I am on the Chinese board.
- Downsides – you can’t make Gantt charts with this. It’s not built for long-term time tracking over months or years. That said, you can attach due dates to tasks, and then you can view all of your tasks, across every project, according to when they are due. Brilliant. It will show me what tasks are due today, this week, this month.
I am really enjoying using it. I am systematically going through all the paper based lists on my desk and around the house and putting all these things I’m supposed to do up on Trello. I will soon be able to see the entire picture, and that is what I have been needing.