It’s a mantra you’ve heard countless times before: Work smarter, not harder. That’s especially important when you are already working at maximum capacity and can’t imagine devoting more hours or energy to your job.
But how do you do it? One way is to make sure you are leveraging technology to stay organized and on track. No matter what assignment you’re trying to wrangle or project you’re trying to manage, there’s a good chance someone else has faced the same challenge — and created an app for it.
My two favorite tools for organizing projects, either at home or work, are Trello and Teamwork. Trello is excellent for simple endeavors, and Teamwork is ideal for complex projects with lots of moving parts. Both are free, or at least have free versions. Most importantly, they’re both web-based and have app versions, which gives you access to your trusted system wherever you are.
According to its tagline, Trello helps you “organize anything.” Indeed, it’s a wonderfully simple yet elegant tool for capturing items (such as tasks), attaching information to the items and visually tracking them through the stages of the project. It can be shared, making it possible for others to participate, too.
The beauty of Trello is its versatility. You can make Trello work for just about any task list — and that means that once you learn the tool, you can use it over and over again in many different contexts.
To get started, first create a board for your project. By default, each new board has sections for “To do”, “Doing” and “Done.” (If you need a visual, think of this like a whiteboard that’s divided into three vertical columns). You can change the default labels, and also make more or fewer sections depending on what makes sense for your project. Each section (or column) is populated with cards, which represent the individual items. Drag and drop a card from one section to another as the item progresses (e.g. from “To Do” to “Doing”), or rearrange the cards within a section to change the priority.
Each card can have a due date, a checklist (for tasks with multiple sub-tasks) and be assigned to other users. You can also capture comments and attachments with each item, and that’s where Trello really shines. This extra information could include notes, photos, URLs, telephone numbers and more. Let’s say you create a card reminding you to schedule a call with a new potential vendor. With Trello, your contact’s phone number, reminders of the questions you want to ask, the URL to the company’s Web site and a screen grab from an industry blog post referencing the product can all be attached to the card for easy reference. Being able to capture and organize all these related pieces of information is priceless.
For more information, go to Trello.com or look for it in the App Store.
While Trello works great for many things, sophisticated projects require a true project management tool. For that, I turn to Teamwork.
Teamwork provides a feature-rich framework for planning and executing projects with complex timelines, task dependencies or multiple resources. You can estimate the time needed for tasks, track time spent, enter start and end dates, send reminders to task owners, generate task reports and more.
My favorite feature — the feature that still makes me a little giddy every time I use it — is the Gantt chart. Simply define start and end dates for your various tasks and milestones, and Teamwork can automatically generate a Gantt chart, or visual project timeline. You can also edit the components of the chart and your changes will dynamically update within the project. It’s a thing of beauty.
Some of Teamwork’s functionality will be familiar to those who have used Basecamp, a widely used project management tool. However, I find Teamwork to have a far superior interface, plus many valuable features that are woefully lacking in Basecamp.
A free version of Teamwork is available if you can get by with two or few active projects at a time. More information is at Teamwork.com, and the app can be downloaded from the App Store.
Tools like Trello and Teamwork may take a little investment of time to learn, but the payoff is that you will be able to apply them to just about any project where you need to keep information organized and accessible. Having and using a trusted system for storing all the pieces of the puzzle means you’re not trying to keep everything straight in your head or on paper. The peace of mind that brings is invaluable. Plus, it frees up your mental energy to focus on more important issues. And that’s working smarter, not harder.