Productivity Tools

As promised here’s a summary of my survey. Hope it will help somebody…

Solutions

After the long survey I found few distinct categories from a feature-list perspective.

The categories are:

  1. Reminders
  2. To-do lists
  3. Classic project management tools
  4. Calendar-based task management tools
  5. Collaborative project management
  6. Total Solutions

Reminders

This is, probably, the simplest solution on the web. Actually it is so simple I was surprised when encountered it. Yet, they have some productive value. All you have to do is drop a line (a task) and an email to someone (even yours). That’s all. Until the recipient replies that the task is done, the service continues to remind about it daily by sending him an email.

I found two services here: the ultra simple Please notify me (by Paste interactive, really cool firm) and Monkey on your back. Both are easy to use, free and appealing.

Please 

Monkey on your back

To-do Lists

This is also a group of solution I was amazed anyone actually developed it. All you have is a simple list of categorized tasks. Usually all you can do is update the tasks status. In some solutions you can add a bit of info (target date, for instance).

In this category of solutions there are few free web-based solutions (Just todo list, the online CEO), but there are also not-so-free desktop solutions (todopaper, tudumo), which cost 30$. I can’t understand why to pay so much for such a simple (and local) solution. They don’t do much more than a notepad… and notepads are extremely mobile while these solutions are not…

Just to do list

The online CEO

TodoPaper

Tudomo

These two last desktop solutions are GTD (Getting Things Done) oriented. At first, I thought that GTD solutions should have a category of their own, but after surveying so many solutions I understand that GTD can be incorporated in a big range of solutions. GTD is expressed by it’s own language, pre-defined statuses and task views, but doesn’t define the set of features.

Classic Project Management

This set of solutions support the classic project management capabilities: task and milestone planning against timelines, and resources allocation for each task. Usually these solutions support some progress reporting. To name a few: Milestone Planner (web-based, free), TeamEffect (web-based, paid), Gantter (web-based, free), and GanttProject (desktop, open source).

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Gantter

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You can say these are simple and inexpensive replacements for Microsoft Project. Their main advantage is their visual presentation of the project on a timeline. You can build Gantt charts with less specific tools (like PowerPoint, Word, or Visio), but it would be much harder. Especially, if there’s a need to update the project plan data from time to time. So I can understand why it is worth paying for, though most of these solutions are free…

As these are good tool for defined projects, I would not recommend using them for daily task management. So these tools are nice, but they are not very comprehensive, at least according to my needs.

Task and Time Management

This category incorporates the to-do list with some kind of calendar option integral or external (via standard protocols like ical). The calendar allows managing tasks by date. It is good for fine-grained daily to-do list. I wouldn’t use it for a long-term project planning (no Gantt view, no resource management). Most of these solutions allow some kind of task and calendar sharing, but they don’t usually support interactive collaboration or even basic communication. Few of these solutions have some kind of document management capabilities and progress reports.

The amount of solutions that fall into this category is huge. Could it be because most people need these kind of solutions or maybe they are still simple enough to build?

Anyway, here are some applications in this category: reQall, HiTask, Remember the milk, Todolist (Desktop), Tracks, Toodledo, Vitalist, Skoach (unique approach, paid), Chandler Project (Desktop)… and many more.

Most of these solutions are free (or have good free account option) and are web-based (I mentioned if otherwise). Some solutions support the GTD methodology. Many web services in this category enhance their solution through desktop and mobile clients.

Most of these solutions are nicely done. Though it seems Remember the Milk is the most popular, I found the Toodledo solution much more effective for me (though I would redesign its GUI).

Collaborative Project Management

This is also a category many services try to solve. It’s pretty close to the Task and Time Management category with a big distinction of collaboration. These solutions have usually discussions, blogs, commenting etc. They also incorporate file management and sharing. Some of them have progress reporting generation and some kind of integration with a calendar (standard protocols) and event management.

To name a few in this category: Central Desktop, Teamwork, Manymoon, No Kahuna, Staction (nice concept, by Paste interactive), Verb, Who Does 2.0, Huddle, SantexQ, OnStage, ActionThis, ActionMethod… and many more (Nozbe, Scrybe…).

All of these solutions are web-based and have some kind of free account option (usually with limited number of active projects). I found this category very affordable – good features, good UX design… and (in many cases) free.

Total Solution

These are the heavy guns. They are comprehensive and they try to tackle the whole problem of project management: tasks, events, time, resources, and file management. They also support collaboration and include some kind of reporting mechanisms. The total solution is sometime based on 3rd party integration (which is paid separately).

Some of the solutions in this category are: Basecamp, 5pm, @task, iPlanware, Clarizen, Zoho Projects, Veo Project (Free), daptiv.

All the solutions I mentioned are web-based and are not free or have impossible limitations in their free account (except Veo Project). I admit that this was a big turn off for me (I don’t run a business I run 2 hobby projects…). Usually I didn’t have even the motivation to check their trial version. So if anyone had some experience with these tools, please add your 2 cents.

Anyway if you start a small business and you need a total solution these seem to be good candidates. By my opinion Veo project was the most affordable – great features, great user experience, and (free up to 5 projects).

Other productivity tools

Unlike the solutions mentioned above it is common enough to find services that try to address only small portion of the productivity problem.

For instance, there are many solutions for time tracking. Each solution has it’s unique approach. See: Toggl, SlimTimer, ForceDo, Tick, Klok, gCalTasks gadget. These solutions are free (at least to some extent) and usually incorporate web services and desktop versions.

Also some good solutions in the area of file management, sharing and backup can be found. These are really basic services if you want to easily collaborate with others. It seems they are usually designed for different purposes.

I’d recommend checking this list: Dropbox, iDrive, SugarSync, and Mozy. All have free accounts up to 2GB. All based on desktop clients and a remote server. All have some webapp to reach the on the web. A different solution is box.net which is totally web-based.

These are great tools to share files. I prefer the Dropbox myself.

MS Outlook Add-ins

For those who use MS Outlook (most of you don’t have a choice, right?!) there are lot’s of interesting add-ins that can help outlook become a bit more productive and even a bit more fun.

If you want to boost up the categories (tags) in Outlook to make some sense and order in your emails, you should try Categorize Plus (has free version), or Taglocity (has free version).

ClearContext is a great solution to manage all your data in Outlook. It takes a more project oriented view of the data, which is by my opinion a good idea (in the personal, free version, you’ve got fewer features).

If you want to transform Outlook into a social network you should try Xobni. It’s is a well designed application which is integrated into Outlook and nicely communicates with LinkedIn, Facebook and Skype.

Conclusion

Although I’ve mentioned here more than 50(!) products and services, it’s far from sketching the whole picture of productivity tools. There are probably much more than 100 of them… and I suspect the number is growing, because people continue to search for the best solution to become  more productive, meaning investing less effort to achieve more… meaning being lazy, right?

Anyway, if you’re interested in other productivity solutions I recommend looking at one of these sites:

And one word about the future… if Google Wave will live the promise, I presume it will spawn dozens of new collaborative productivity tools. Even now it looks very exciting. We’ll just have to wait…

Next time I will share how I mixed and matched some of these solutions to create my (free) personal management system.

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