I never thought I’d be this person, but I use so many tools for my work – mainly online – that it’s a little ridiculous when viewed in a list.
Here, let me show you:
- Google Keep – for notes
- Trello – for notes
- Google Calendar – for planning our days
- Google Drive – for collaborating on documents and spreadsheets
- Dropbox – for backing up and sharing my hard drive
- Toggl – for timing myself
- Asana – for working on tasks
- Insightly – for organizing contacts
- Paper – for taking notes
There are a few others but I’m not going to mention them since they’re really marginal (and it’s getting embarrassing).
Here is an overview of how I/we use each tool and a bit about what I like and don’t like about them:
This is where I keep notes on the go. Like, really on the go. I can make notes in Trello, in a notebook, in Asana and in other places, but Keep is the simplest tool I know for this. You can quickly open up an existing note or a new one and throw pixels on the screen.
It has the option for a regular note or a check list. The check list works so easily and smoothly – it’s amazing.
The main drawback: The only reason we started using Trello was because Google Keep kept not syncing and we’d literally lose stuff we’d written because of this. It was very upsetting.
We started using Trello very recently because of the syncing problem in Google Keep. So, while Keep is where I keep my own personal notes, or notes relating to work that Nati, my business partner, doesn’t need to see, Trello is now the place where we write notes to each other and other things that we don’t have any other place to put.
This is some of the boards we created:
Notes to each other – For example, I write a note to Nati and after he reads it, he either archives it because there’s nothing to add or he moves it to the next column “To discuss” so we’ll remember to talk about it the next time we have a meeting on that topic. This is in place of WhatsApp – that way the message doesn’t get lost and we aren’t disrupting each other. And that way, WhatsApp remains the place to discuss time-sensitive things.
To discuss – This column is where we put things we want to talk about. For example, I need Nati’s help with my time management and so I put that in this column.
To do – All our tasks are supposed to be in Asana but since Asana is a very heavy website and a cumbersome app (read more below), sometimes new tasks go in here before they’re moved into Asana.
Other things – This is stuff to keep in mind.
There are a few more boards and we’re still figuring out how best to work with Trello but in general we try to keep it as empty as possible. Because it’s ideally only a short stop in our work flow and if things are there forever, it’s probably a problem.
One of the things I love about Trello is that it works incredibly smoothly. The syncing is basically instantaneous, the app and web version load extremely quickly and dragging-dropping is smooth as anything. After the syncing problems with Keep and the loading issues with Asana, these benefits truly please me.
One of the things we try hard to do is plan our work days in advance. We give ourselves a half hour at the end of the day to plan the following day. No, we don’t always go 100% according to our plan, but it’s an opportunity to think about everything we have on our plate and to prioritize well. It also means that even if things don’t go according to plan, we still have in mind what our priorities are. And in the cases that we do go according to plan, it’s very satisfying!
And in case you’re wondering, we give ourselves a half hour opening session at the beginning of every day to discuss anything of importance, an hour lunch break and a half hour closing session at the end of the day (to organize the following day).
Google Drive is in some ways the god of online tools. Often when working on huge amounts of content with a team, this will happen in a shared Google spreadsheet. I use Dropbox for most of my files (will discuss Dropbox below) but Google Drive is the magical place of collaboration. We have worked on projects using Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets and Google Slides.
The main drawback of Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets is that they are truly lacking compared to Microsoft Word and Excel. Word’s documents are way more attractive and both Word and Excel carry way more functionality than Google Drive. I see Google copying Microsoft over time but that is happening really slowly.
Dropbox is the way I keep my entire computer backed up. I pay an annual fee for 1TB of storage space and I have all my photos from my phone automatically upload to my account.
The thing I love the most about Dropbox is the sharing of content (as opposed to collaboration). When I need to send someone a bunch of photos, instead of attaching them to an email, I create a share link to the folder in Dropbox and send that to them.
I am aware of the fact that Google Drive works in a similar fashion (and costs the same, last I checked) but I have been using Dropbox for a while and love it so am not changing right now.
This is an amazing tool for timing yourself.
I try to time myself throughout my work day. Because of the nature of my work, I only need one task per client/project, which keeps things simple. I also have a task called “Admin” where I time anything that is not billable but is work. That includes: working on leads, business development, accounting, marketing and the opening and closing meetings of the day.
And why Toggl? It’s simple as anything and just does what we need it to do. Recently we created a shared workspace where we can time ourselves on shared projects and we’re pretty happy with that so far. I also love the email I get at midnight every Saturday night which shows me what I worked on the past week.
And why time yourself? Because then you know what you’re doing with your life :) and you can price things more accurately as time goes on.
Yes, it’s often really hard timing yourself, both emotionally and technically. Sometimes it stresses me out and doesn’t let me get into a work groove. Sometimes I feel self conscious about how long something is taking and I just want to do it without thinking about that. Sometimes I make a mistake and time myself on the wrong “task” and then need to try to figure out how long to remove from that task and add to the right one.
But I still believe it’s important, especially if you have your own business, and I guess the way to get past the emotional obstacles is to try to take the data with a grain of salt.
Oh, Asana… It’s the talk of the world.
I was so resistant to use it. I really hated it at first because it wasn’t useful to me and so I found myself still keeping notes in a notebook on the side. It was so frustrating.
But we knew we needed a project management system and Nati thought Asana was a good one, and so we persisted through my resistance. In concrete terms that meant that we spent many hours and tons of thought on figuring out how to make Asana work for us.
And we succeeded!
I don’t even know where to start talking about Asana. I guess, the best place to start is by saying that we pronounce it differently than everyone else. I pronounce it the way I learned to pronounce it in yoga class, putting the emphasis on the first syllable. But, it seems that since it’s an American product, the accent is actually put on the second syllable. We refuse to cave in on this. Sorry.
It’s during the opening session of our day (which periodically is longer than the normal half an hour) that we move tasks from Trello to Asana and organize Asana. We have understood over time that a project management system only works if you go over everything written there on a regular basis, around once a month. We have a “Project” per project and we love using the assignments, deadline and tags. I love the calendar view. In the list view we love the ability to create sections by putting a colon after the title of a task.
We’re trying out the new boards option (copied from Trello) and so far we don’t love it as much as Trello, mainly because you can’t see a long task name (which is really important to us) and it’s very spacious with big font which means you can’t see a lot of info in your screen at once.
The main drawbacks of Asana have nothing to do with the functionality and everything to do with the user-experience. Namely, the web version loads so slowly that it’s almost funny (we take turns laughing/crying about how long my PC takes to load and how long Asana takes to load). And the app is so annoying to work that I often opt to use Keep or Trello and then move things to Asana later.
I’ve now decided to give the app more of a chance and am playing around with it more but from what I know, here are the issues I have with it (the app):
- You can’t choose the default workspace or project that the app opens up to. The default for me is the workspace I need the least and the tasks is “My Tasks” which is also something I need less. I don’t see a way to change these settings.
- You can’t share from the browser to Asana – This is a huge drawback for us. We often need to share first to Trello and then later move things to Asana.
- It’s too hard to add a new task to the right place – with the correct project, assignee, etc.
- You can’t start editing a task simply by tapping on the text; you need to tap the tiny little edit button first.
- You need to tap “Save” to save your edits but since the “Save” button is passe, I am concerned I’m going to lose my changes.
- Switching between projects is a basic need for us but in the app you need to tap twice just to get to a complete list of projects.
K, I’m trying to say that we love Asana, not hate it. I guess the point is that it’s so amazing that the drawbacks still aren’t enough to keep us away.
This is our shiny new CRM (contact relationship management). I’ve been searching for a CRM that does what I need for so long. And managing contacts is one of the biggest challenges in a business. There are so many categories of people – service providers, potential clients, colleagues and many more – and it is so hard to keep on top of people according to your needs. And so we were pretty (hesitantly) excited when Nati happened upon Insightly. First, it has a nice user interface. Phew. Also, the free version offers a lot of functionality.
The entry types that we use are Contacts, Organizations, Leads and Opportunities. We don’t use Tasks and Projects because we need all action items to be in Asana.
The things we love so far are:
- Email tracking – While emailing a contact, we often BCC an Insightly email address which sends the email to our account and connects it with the relevant contacts there. <3
- The Gmail addon – With this addon you can hover over a name in your Gmail inbox and see if that person is in Insightly yet. If they aren’t, you can add them from the addon. There are some drawbacks but mostly it’s amazing.
- Tags – We use it to track different types of contacts. We’re just sorry that tags aren’t cross-sectional between, for example, Contacts and Organizations.
- Links – This is really beautiful. You can link between anything and anything and write something about the connection in a small field.
The main drawback we’ve found so far is that the tags aren’t cross-sectional and the search doesn’t read tags or the entry descriptions. I think it only reads the entry names.
The other thing I use is paper. I use a paper daily planner – a yoman – and a notebook. The yoman I use for the overall plan of my days and stuff I need to remember to take care of that isn’t necessarily work-related. And my notebook I use for taking notes during meetings and for brainstorming.
Why don’t I just use Google Calendar for meetings? I find it too difficult to have a feel for my day – including outside work – with a digital calendar. And as for the notebook, the notes from there get transferred into one of the online apps the first chance I get.
Drawbacks? None. Physical notebooks are wonderful!
One more thing…
Nothing works unless you work on making it work. All these tools are only working for us because we have spent (and in some cases continue to spend) hours and a lot of thought on how we need to use them in order for them to work best for us.
Also, all of these tools only work if you go into them and reorganize them periodically.
Both of these tasks might sound like a waste of time – and yes, they’re timed under “Admin” (see Toggl) which is not billable – but having a working system is golden. It means you can arrive at your workday, have a real handle on what’s going on and focus on the tasks that are the top priority. Of course, as mentioned above, the plan doesn’t always work out as well as you’d hope – there are many dynamic factors including emotions involved – but I believe that our days are more productive and way more organized because of how we manage ourselves.