Posts

When I was thinking about entrepreneurial productivity, I polled my Twitter followers on their favorite productivity tools. The number-one answer: To-Do lists! I was surprised at the number of techy-types who owned up to using the old-fashioned pen and paper to create their lists. Once they read the following list of high-tech options, I bet they'll convert quickly!

 
What to-do list program works best will depend on a number of things, including:
  • Are your entries simple tasks or complex projects?
  • Do you want to group or code tasks together?
  • Is the list just for you, or will you be managing and assigning tasks to others?
  • How do you want to archive completed tasks?
  • Where will you access your list: On your computer, remotely, or on your iPhone?
  • Do you want to track just the task, or additional elements like time, priority, etc.?
There are dozens of to-do tools available, including the following:
 
Ta-da List
Looking for basic list capability without a lot of jazz to distract you? Then Ta-Da Lists is the answer to your prayers! Create multiple lists, share them with others, and download them to your iPhone. Free service. Find out more at TadaList.com
 
Remember The Milk
This is like a To-Do list on steroids with interfaces for Google Calendar and apps for Twitter, the iPhone, and the Android. Set up reminder messages to be sent via IM or email, share tasks with others, and set priorities. Free service. Find out more at RememberTheMilk.com
 
TeuxDeux
With its pared-down, drag-and-drop interface, you can get started with TeuxDeux's to-do list immediately. An iPhone app is underway, but for now it's entirely browser-based, which means it's accessible from any Internet-enabled computer. Free service. Find out more at TeuxDeux.com
 
Toodledo
Assign priorities, tags, and deadlines, set goals, create folders, and collaborate with others via Toodledo. A robust list function lets you store all your lists and notes together. Free service. Find out more at Toodledo.com
 
Gmail lists
If you're already a Gmail convert, add to-do lists to your mix. Convert Gmail to tasks, integrate with your calendar, and access from your mobile device. Free service. Find out more at Mail.Google.com/mail/help/tasks/
 
While all the bells and whistles may make your eyes glow, remember that the easier the program, the more likely you will be to use it – and that's the end goal!

 

Working with a JV partner on a new class? Editing a document for a client and have some questions? Co-authoring an ebook or course? You could take turns working on a Word document, relying on the “show edits” function to keep track of what's going on. But what if your partner loses the file? Or if you both want to work at the same time? Or if you want to be able to annotate your additions and changes? Then you need a collaboration tool so you can work with your partners quickly and easily. When choosing a collaboration tool, you want to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want a free or a paid solution?
  • How many people will I be working with?
  • Will we be working together for a one-time project, or on an ongoing basis?
  • Are we brainstorming, writing, or creating another sort of project?
  • What programs will we be using?
  • Will we be working simultaneously?
The answers to these questions will drive your choice of program. Here are a few popular collaboration tools that many online entrepreneurs have used with great success:
 
Google Docs
This free web-based file sharing system enables you to share files and work on them simultaneously. Great for spreadsheets, Word documents, presentations, and drawings. Google Docs is available from any Internet-enabled computer, and anyone with a Google account can be invited to contribute to your project. You can also chat if users are online at the same time. Find out more at Docs.Google.com 
 
Acrobat
Most people are familiar with Adobe Acrobat, having used it to read or share .PDF documents. But Acrobat also offers terrifically powerful collaboration abilities. Using Acrobat, you can share a set of documents in one place, collaborate with several people at once, and access your files from anywhere. You also get web conferencing and many other options. Acrobat is priced from $14.99 to $39 a month, and a scaled-down free version is also available. Find out more at Acrobat.com
 
Google Wave
The cutting edge of collaboration technology is Google Wave. Cross Gmail with Twitter and Wikipedia, and you'll have an idea of what Google Wave is. Its greatest strength is its users' ability to see edits in real time. The document formatting is a little rudimentary, but the social media aspects may make up for it, particularly if you're an early technology adopter who sees value in the “cool” factor. Cost is free, but users must have a Google account, and you must be invited to Google Wave because it's still in private beta. Find out more at Wave.Google.com
 
Writeboard
A subset of 37Signals' Basecamp, Writeboard is a free service that enables users to collaborate on sharable, web-based text documents. You can roll back to previous changes and compare edits easily. You can also make comments and track authorship, as well as subscribe to the RSS feed so you can be notified any time someone makes changes. This solution is perfect for one-time, standalone documents. Find out more at Writeboard.com
 
Since most of these options are free, you can test them out on a variety of projects to see what works best for you. Whichever you use, it'll be sure to make your joint projects easier. 

 

Want to know how many hours you spent last week on the website for your new client? Need to track your team's hours by function? Want to figure out your hourly wage by project? Or maybe you would like to monitor the time you spend playing solitaire or cruising blogs? Then what you need is a time-tracking software program. You have a bevy of paid and free options to track your time. Let's take a look:


Klok
This desktop application allows you to create a visual representation of your time, track by client or project, and export your time totals to your time sheets for clients. Available as individual licenses for $15.99. (www.getklok.com).
 
Paymo
This system provides free time tracking and three invoices for individuals. You may also use overview and reporting systems for businesses, for $3.99 per user per month. You can sort and track by user, client, project, and task, and track by iPhone or desktop. (www.paymo.com).
 
Toggl
One-click tracking on your computer or iPhone with Toggl. Free for up to five users; plans scale up from there. You can also embed Toggl into your favorite Internet application, like iGoogle or Gmail. (www.toggl.com).
 
RescueTime
RescueTime doesn't just let you track your time; it helps you focus by blocking distracting sites (Facebook, anyone?). It also creates time tracking reports and graphs. RescueTime's Solo Lite is available for free but is limited on features; Solo Pro is available for $6-$9 per month, and the Team Edition is available for $15/month or less. (www.rescuetime.com).
 
Clock My Time
Clock My Time is a desktop widget for Yahoo or Vista. You simply download the widget to your desktop and use it to track your time. You can monitor your or your team's time from any Internet-enabled computer. $10 per user per year. (www.clockmytime.com).
 
iPhone apps
If you are on an iPhone, you have a number of low-cost apps for your own tracking time, including ClockedIn, Timely, and Easy TimeSheet. Be careful when shopping for an iPhone app, though, as some require a membership subscription to a more powerful desktop application.
 
When evaluating your time tracking options, consider:
  • How many users you'll need
  • What reports and charts you'll want to create
  • How many tasks you'll be tracking
  • If you need access from other computers
  • What kind of storage you'll need
  • If you want to generate invoices from your time sheets, and if so, how many per month you'll be creating
Once you select a time tracking program, be sure to USE it. Just like a budget, it won't do any good just sitting on your desktop. Put it to use to increase your productivity and start saving time… and money!
 
 

 

As an online entrepreneur, you have tons of projects and ideas to keep track of, and hopefully, more than a few team members helping you get everything done. Making sure everyone is on the same page, that nothing is falling through the cracks, and that best practices are being documented for future use, are all part of business excellence.
 
You can invest as much – or as little – money as you would like in a solution that will work for you and your team. The key is to find a program that fits your budget, your requirements, and your future growth. There are dozens of project management programs available at every price point, but I don't want you to over-invest. So I've put together a list of three possible solutions, one free, and two at a monthly paid level. Let's take a look:
 
Free Option
  • Google Docs
This is part of Google's suite of business management tools. While it doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles as far as communication, it provides a basic level of collaboration services, including document sharing, like spreadsheets, text-based documents, drawings, etc., as well as shared folders. It also has the ability to chat when team members are online and logged in at the same time.
 
As manager, you can create documents for each project and share with the applicable team members. Google Docs is a great, entry-level solution for small teams that mostly need file sharing and joint access to documents, and don't need a high level of interactivity or flow-chart planning. Cost: Free, but all members must have a Google account. Find out more at Docs.Google.com
 
Paid Options
  • Basecamp
This is the gold standard for online project management. With a variety of membership levels, there are several options for everyone from the independent freelancer to a ramped-up team of many. With tons of options, Basecamp provides you whiteboards for sharing brainstorming, messaging, milestones, and to-do lists for multiple users. The drawback? A commonly cited complaint is that there is a bit of a ramp-up before users feel comfortable with all the features and elements. Cost: $24 to $149 per month, unlimited users. Find out more at BaseCampHQ.com
  • Teambox
This is one of Basecamp's main competitors. It offers many of the same options, including file sharing, messaging, and assigning and managing tasks. One of the benefits is that it uses a familiar, Twitter-style interface for users, and you can be updated via RSS feed. The interface is a bit more intuitive than Basecamp. Cost: $12 to $299 per month, unlimited users. Find out more at Teambox.com)
 
When selecting your solution from these or other options, keep in mind that what works for you today may not work tomorrow and beyond. If you're hesitant to invest in a paid option right off the bat, you might want to start with a free or low-cost option so you can see what features and options you need, and then upgrade from there. Do remember that you're investing in a solution that will save you time, and therefore money in the long run, so any investment you make now will pay off over time.

While good ole' paper and pen will create effective To-Do lists, there are more technological options available all the time. With all of these fantastic tools available, you might want to check out some of these options for turbo-charging your daily To-Dos:

1.    Remember the Milk (rememberthemilk.com).
With interfaces with Google Calendar and apps for Twitter, the iPhone and the Android, Remember the Milk is like a To-Do list on steroids. You can set up reminder messages to be sent to you via IM or email, you can share your tasks with others, and set priorities. Service is free.
 
2.    Basecamp (basecamphq.com).
Basecamp is on the list of many entrepreneurs' must-have tools. The online service provides task and project tracking, messaging, and file storage for multiple users. Basecamp may be more than you need for a daily to-do list, but check out the free trial. You may fall in love with its capabilities for tracking multiple lists across multiple projects and users. The basic service is $24 per month, with larger, more robust plans going up to $149/month.
 
3.    Ta-Da Lists (tadalist.com).
If you just want basic list capability without a lot of bells and whistles, Ta-Da Lists is for you. You can create multiple lists, share them with others, and download them to your iPhone. Service is free.
 
4.    Rough Underbelly (roughunderbelly.com).
This To-Do list service has a unique way of tracking priorities. You assign a certain number of points to each task, and your daily score is tallied and tracked over time. There's also a timer function. No collaboration or sharing. Service is free.
 
5.    Toodledo (toodledo.com).
Want to assign priorities, tags, and deadlines, set goals, create folders, and collaborate with others? Toodledo may be just the answer for you. A robust list function where you can store all your lists and notes together. Service is free.
 
6.    Mindomo (mindomo.com).
If you prefer to create mindmaps before assigning tasks to lists, check out Mindomo. You can create maps, embed notes, and work online and off. The basic version includes 7 maps and is free; upgrades are available for $6/month for an individual and $9/month for a team.
 
There are literally dozens of tools available to help you track your projects and activities. Don't get blinded by the glitz of the technology, though – the best tool is always the one that is easy to use and available when you need it.

We are trained early on to think that lists must be linear – one item after another, with cute little check boxes next to each. But what if your brain isn't the linear type? Many people, especially creatives, have trouble thinking in a linear fashion. Forcing themselves to create To-Do lists in a traditional manner makes them feel stifled and bored, precisely the wrong mindset in which to do your best thinking. 

Fortunately, you're not graded on your To-Do list. There is no one “right” way. In fact, some of the most productive people don't use traditional To-Do lists at all. They use mindmaps. Mindmapping is a visual way to get information out of your brain and onto a page, which also can create fully functional action “lists.” 
 
The basics for mindmapping are simple. There are computer programs that can assist you (google “mindmap software” for suggestions) and many people prefer those, but really all you need is a large sheet of blank paper and a pen. 
 
Start with a main idea in the center of the page, and brainstorm all the possible related topics around the edges of the page, with lines connecting each thought to the center. Chains of thoughts will link one idea to the next, and indicate patterns and possible links. The idea is that you're not forcing your thoughts into a pre-set format; you're allowing yourself to get all the information out of your brain before trying to group and organize it. 
 
Mindmaps are also useful for figuring out project timelines. Here's how it would work…
 
1.    Start with the goal in the center
(For instance, “Send new customers the latest autoresponder series.”).
2.    Ask yourself, “What would have to happen before I reached that result?”
(“I'd need to load the series into my email system”)
3.    Keep asking that same question, over and over.
(“Before that, I'd need to write the series.”).
4.    Keep going until you get to the first thing you need to do TODAY to get moving towards completion.
(“I'd need to create a new list in my email system and load the new contacts into it.”).
5.    Then add that item to today's list of activities. 
 
Where people fall down when using mindmaps is they never finish. They create the map and think they're done. But you have to actually take that information and add it to a strategy that includes tasks and deadlines. Otherwise, it's like pulling everything out of your closet and spreading it across your bedroom. Your closet is not clean and organized until you create a plan for the space and put everything according to that plan.
 
Mindmapping can be a fun and effective way to create sophisticated strategies and project plans. The key is to allow yourself free rein to get everything down on paper, and then go back and instill logical structure around those ideas.