I’ve used many productivity tools over the years as a Project Manager, my own business or simply a to-do list for my personal projects. I have become dependant on them and some I cannot do without. In this post, I go through my favourites.
This Contact Relationship Management system is my most invaluable tool. It’s open source, meaning free, and based on SugarCRM but the company has developed it to be less ugly and put in more features. I use it for managing leads, accounts, contacts, tasks, projects, cases and more. It is a powerful tool which can be modified to your own needs whether you are a large organisation or a one-person operation.
How to install it:
You can host it on your own web server. Many of the better hosts have a Quick Install feature so its live within a couple of minutes or alternatively follow SuiteCRM or your hosts’ instructions about installing it via the cPanel or Plesk. If you have the funds you can host it at SuiteCRM but you will be charged a minimum of 5 users per month rate which can be expensive, so it might be worth self-hosting. Check the system requirements of SuiteCRM before installing it on your web host to ensure your plan meets your needs, there is nothing worse than your site constantly crashing through lack of resources.
I have used many alternatives to SuiteCRM, specifically the free or low-cost options. SugarCRM is one of them but if you are going to the bother of installing that on your server you might as well go for SuiteCRM. Sugar is basically ugly and cumbersome to deal with, I’ve never had an upgrade go well.
ZohoCRM is another alternative on the market. The user experience and interface are very nice however to get the same functionality as SuiteCRM you would have to pay for it. The cost per user per month might be better spent having a web host and installing SuiteCRM on there.
If you need a cheap and easy to learn project management tool then this is for you. It gives the ability to place your projects into Boards and within that, you can create streams for your tasks, for example, 1) Planning, 2) Working On, 3) Completed. It really is up to the user how it’s organized. Personally I like Trello within small teams but the streams within the boards get manic when there are too many people involved so as a Project Manager it can get out of hand for me. As a matter of interest, there is a SuiteCRM Trello Suggestion Box online which does appear to be public so this provides an example of how the tool can be used. Trello has api’s with other software such as Salesforce. Trello has apps for Mac OS, iPhone and so on, so that makes it easier to use.
When you have a large project there will no doubt be a huge number of issues and bugs that need to be managed. One of the tools that have worked for me well in the past is Manuscript, and I was introduced to this by a Vancouver based web agency. Manuscript was previously called FogBugz which came up with the idea for Trello, it was later sold to another company. Manuscript, in short, is an easy way of managing your bugs, keeps the workflow in one place, assigns them to different users, a place for code, scrum style methodology integrated, and so on. The main bonus for me is to cut down on many emails and trying to use something like Excel or Google Sheets which isn’t ideal.
This tool, as it is very expensive, I would say is for large companies or smaller ones with a large budget. A non-profit would be hard pushed to justify the expense.
As being a chair of many meetings or sitting in the sidelines it’s so important to have software to put notes and action points on. My preference for this is Microsoft OneNote mainly because I already have the Office365 suite and want to stick with it for consistency. In this tool I can separate my different projects by creating a new Notebook, or area of work, this helps me to organize things. The big negative about OneNote is how long the data takes to load within my iPad, but its ok via their website version. The other notetaking tool is, of course, is Evernote, for some reason I do not like this product but I will use it for something that is “quick and dirty”.
I manage tasks in SuiteCRM as I do like them to be associated with Accounts or Contacts that I have, I can’t think of any tools that will link them to my contacts.
I started off using task management with Remember The Milk which at the time the free version met my needs, however now I am a little more advanced and didn’t want a subscription model I left them. I have been managing tasks in 2Do, I bought this quite a few years ago and have never paid anything else. It’s quite a sophisticated program and data sharing across all my devices is easy. Microsoft has recently released their task management application called To-Do, but has a long way to go, it does link in with their online and application version of Outlook but there is something lacking in the features.
As I have an Office365 account I use Microsoft Outlook for all my appointments, the application and online version. I am pretty happy with it especially as their web version has improved considerably over the past couple of years.
There used to be online software where I visitors could see my free/busy times and book meetings with me through that interface. These programs still exist but at a cost which I cannot justify the costs.
Skype appears to be the most popular tool for my clients so I have been using this, and I use it for general phone calls for which the call quality is quite excellent. I have used Google Hangouts now and again but it just doesn’t have the friendly interface that Skype does.
One thing for sure, there is a wide variety of choice for productivity tools out there, spoilt for choice. It’s best to do a needs assessment before deciding which ones to go with because switching from one to another can be a nightmare. I have to admit of switching now and again but I am more or less settled with what I have.