5 absolutely free and incredibly useful project management tools - plus helpful hints for nonprofits, writers, and solopreneurs
Luckily, as a freelance strategist and storyteller, I can justify the time I spent testing (and procrastinating) by sharing what I learned with nonprofit leaders, writers, solopreneurs, and like-minded productivity explorers.
In other words, you can benefit from the spoils of my procrastination. Here are my five favorite absolutely free and incredibly useful project management and productivity tools which are worth every second I spent testing them.*
1 — Evernote — A loyal user since 2011, I could not live without this app.
The Basics: Create notes, which you file into folders, which you put into stacks. You can also organize notes with tags and set reminders. The notes sync across devices so you can write a note on the phone and review it later on the computer. I use Evernote to keep lists for books I want to read, places I want to travel, “how-to” guides for reoccurring computer issues, and so much more.
For Nonprofit Leaders: You can keep ideas on projects or potential donors and when you are ready to share, you can email them to the team.
For Writers: The mobile app is ideal jotting down great quotes, potential character names, story ideas, books you want to read, or any other nugget of information you do not want to forget when you are out-and-about and without your notebook.
For Solopreneurs: The Webclipper add-on (Firefox, Safari, and Chrome) is excellent for saving and organizing freelance gigs that you want to bid on.
Upgrades: Paid subscribers can install the app on more than two devices and have access to offline notes, a higher data limit, and more collaboration options. Since using Evernote on the web does not count toward the app limit, and the phone app uses a minimal amount of data, the free version has always worked great for me.
2 — Trello — I think of it as my virtual wipe board.
The Basics: Make cards for tasks, organize cards into lists, and lists into boards. The free version comes with 10 boards that you can share with a team of people. Free users can choose one Power-Ups per boards. Although there are 100+ to choose from, I find the Calendar View Power-Up most useful, with the Butler a close second because I can set automations like “typing a date anywhere in the card sets its due date.”
For Nonprofit Leaders: Trello is an excellent way to keep a social media content calendar to share with your team. Using colored labels to categorize your content visually — either by its status (drafted, scheduled, published) or by content type (video, call to action, impact report) or both.
For Writers: Plan your content, organize your ideas into lists, or even plot your book. The flexibility of Trello makes it ideal for customizing to your own writing process.
For Solopreneurs: Create a separate board for each client. For clients who need regular updates, you can share the board so they can see where the work stands.
Upgrades: Paying members get priority access to customer support (I have never needed it), more Power-Ups and integrations, and higher security features. If you invite enough people to use Trello with you, you can test these features for free.
3 — Clockify — In addition to tracking time on projects, it helps me evaluate my productivity.
The Basics: Make projects, identify clients, assign rates to each project, and run associated reports. You can use Clockify on your browser, download apps for phone or computer, and the program integrates with several other project management tools.
For Nonprofit Leaders: If you need your team to track staff time for different grants, this is an easy option — running reports for program auditors as necessary.
For Writers: Freelancers can track how long it takes to write different types of articles and use this information to evaluate if you are charging enough. You can also track different stages of your process (research, writing, editing) if you desire.
For Solopreneurs: In addition to tracking time for individual clients, it’s important to be sure you are not spending too much (or too little) time on marketing and administrative tasks. Tracking all this information will help you figure out your overhead rates so you can incorporate these into your pricing structure.
Upgrades: Three paid levels allow access to increased privacy and branding options (and much more) that would be useful for larger organizations.
4 — ClickUp — Task dependencies and calendar integrations + “Free forever” plan.
The Basics: Create tasks, organize them into lists, folders, and workspaces. You can view tasks in lists, on boards, or on a calendar (which can integrate with your other calendars). Most importantly, you can easily create dependencies between tasks (which is doable, but difficult in Trello). More than any other tool discussed here, this is a true project management app.
For Nonprofit Leaders: In addition to typical project management functions, you can create templates for proposal writing, event planning, or any other projects that use a similar process. You only need to tweak the template and change the dates for each new project.
For Writers: If you are a writer with multiple income streams — freelancing, blogging, e-books, email lists, webinars, etc. — you will need one place to see how they all come together.
For Solopreneurs: Keep all your clients in the same space, and then you can see all your projects on one calendar. Did you accidentally overschedule for one day? If so, you can see this in advance and notify one of your clients of any necessary changes.
Upgrades: Because of my love of Gantt charts, I upgraded to the Unlimited plan — and at $3/month (paid a year in advance), I have not regretted it once. The ClickUp team is continuously adding new features and the customer service is excellent.
5 — Zapier — How I get my tools to talk to each other.
The Basics: Build “Zaps” to automate integrations between more than 1,500 apps. Choose a trigger in one app that prompts an action in another. The free version limits you only having five single-step Zaps, which can run a total of 100 tasks per month.
For Everyone: Zapier makes whatever you are doing a little easier. Create a tag in Evernote that copies that note into a Trello list. Use a Gmail label to create a task in ClickUp. Options are not limitless, but they are adding integrations all the time, so if what you want to do isn’t currently possible, check back later.
Upgrades: Paid plans include more Zaps, multi-step Zaps, and more tasks. I have only gone over the 100 zap limit once since 2015.
Bonus: Sample Project Workflow — How it all comes together.
When I find a project online that I am going to bid on, I use the Evernote WebClipper to create a copy in a note in my “Proposals” folder. In Evernote, I set the due date, which triggers a Zap and sends it to a “Proposals Due” list in ClickUp. In ClickUp, I set the estimated time it will take to complete, as well as a start date — and the built-in integration sets aside this time in my google calendar. If this conflicts with anything already on my schedule — I can move the task in my calendar, and it automatically updates in ClickUp. When I start the project, I create the tasks and dependencies in ClickUp and track my time in Clockify. If there is a social media component, I use Trello to collaborate with the client on the proposed content calendar. Finally, except for Zapier, all these tools have a mobile app. I mostly the mobile Clockify app to track time at client meetings, but if you love your phone, you could take everything mobile!
And there you have it — I wish I had used Clockify to track the time I spent testing (and procrastinating) all the tools in order to figure out the ROI. But even without this information, I know these five tools work great for me and my business — plus they are free! I hope the spoils of my procrastination will help you be more productive in your endeavors.
*I did not receive any incentives from these companies to write this article.
Originally published on Medium.com.
Includes professional topics, as well as thoughts about politics. I also keep a blog on Medium that includes these, as well as more personal posts.