How to keep your business organized without drowning in software

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Have you ever found yourself, in the midst of a “work-hurricane,” struggling to track down client notes and files buried in emails, scattered across multiple web apps, or within local folders on your computer?

In other words: do you struggle to keep your business organized?

As creative professionals, we all rely on technology for a variety of design, development, and project management-related tasks.

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And there are no shortage of tools and apps out there just itching to become a part of your workflow and “keep your business organized.” But technology can a bit of a double-edged sword — this is especially true with productivity/project management apps and tools.

There’s an app for that

Over the last few years, we’ve seen nothing short of a “productivity app boom.”

Small, independent developers are flooding the market with beautifully designed productivity apps to give established players a run for their money. (Here’s our roundup of the ultimate mobile business apps for freelancers.)

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Recently, I decided to give a popular productivity app a try. I’d heard rave reviews and what the heck — it was free.

At first, I was enamored by its beauty; the colors, the UI, the beautiful typography. But after a couple days I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was just doing busy-work.

Sure, tons of people use this app every day and are perfectly happy with it, but I found that I was spending too much time familiarizing myself with the application to be productive. There was too much to it, and it just ended up getting in the way.

And that supports an important point a friend and colleague of mine, Todd Kelsey, drove home in his book, Basecamp for Beginners:

I advocate — strongly — having a detail-tracking method that’s as lean as possible. So when the hurricane comes, it’s more likely to survive. You won’t feel like the process is bloated, but that it’s absolutely necessary.

It’s important to keep your internal systems lean so you can stay afloat when a hurricane comes and launches a 50-foot wave in your direction.

The all-Google diet

Recently, I’ve worked toward centralizing and simplifying all of my internal project management/organization within the Google ecosystem, and it’s worked really well for me. It’s free, cloud-based so it’s accessible on all of my devices, and most importantly — it’s super easy to use.

Certainly, if you’re using a tool that works really well for you and doesn’t get in your way, don’t let me change your mind!

The key is finding something simple that works really well for you.

But for those of you who haven’t quite nailed down scalable internal systems and processes, or aren’t ready to pay a monthly fee, I strongly recommend giving Google a shot.

Here are a few reasons why:

Storage

By default, Google offers 15GB of storage for free. If you require more, you can always up your storage plan, but I think you’ll find 15 GB a great start.

Organization

I like to organize my Drive into “Internal” and “Client Folders.” From there, you can sub-categorize your client folders by project.

I also “star” active clients so I can very quickly have an overhead view of all my active clients and projects.

One-time project done? Simply “unstar” it.

Project Management

Within each Client > Project folder, I like to keep an “Internal Project Management” spreadsheet. This helps me keep track of project details large and small, as well as track my time so I can stay profitable. (Or you could always give one of these 36 Easy-to-use time-tracking tools for freelancers a try)

Collaboration

This is where Drive and similar apps shine: you can manage access to folders and documents at a really granular level.

So you can invite your team members to collaborate on your Internal Project Management spreadsheet, while keeping your clients in the loop by inviting them to view a folder of samples or mockups.

What about you?

What programs/applications are you using to keep your business organized? Have any of your systems been crippled by a “work-hurricane?”

Share your best tips in the comments!

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About Brian Glassman

Brian Glassman is a freelance designer, front-end web developer, and marketing professional in the Greater Chicago area. When he’s not going the extra mile for clients, you can find him listening to (loud) rock music, enjoying a craft beer, or nerding out on his gaming PC. Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

 

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Comments

  1. Great article. I would be very interested knowing more about the Internal Project Management Document, as keeping track of time and details sounds promising.

  2. I feel the same – I’ve given a lot of productivity apps a try, but they tend to complicate things for me rather than simplify! I like to keep it simple with docs & spreadsheets in Google Drive. I haven’t really made use of the star feature yet, though. Maybe I’ll give that a try.

    Although I do use Asana with one client & like it – but just don’t need all that for my own business.

  3. Dandelion says:

    Nice article! You have to find a system that works for you and the simpler the better. Personally I am very grateful for the programs from Omni. I use Omni Focus for task management, Omni Graffle for creating flow charts, and Omni Plan for some project management. The programs are only for Macintosh, but for many designers, that’s no issue. They also have apps for my phone and iPad and it keeps all my task lists synched on the cloud. I highly recommend.

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, cloud syncing is definitely important—us workaholics have to be able to manage projects on the go! Glad to hear Omni’s working well for you, I’ll have to scope that one out.

  4. Google is love, Google is life.

  5. Radu Mazilu says:

    Great article Brian! What do you use to handle your tasks? Do you rely only on a calendar app, or do you prefer having something like Any.do?

  6. JoSantos says:

    Great post Brian. As a some people already mentioned… Google does the job for me. It helps a lot when organizing, when sharing information, when I have to remind clients about meetings, an hour before!, and so on. It is just amazing.
    Google is the best for business so far… and there is no plan for a switch in a near future 😉

  7. Sharon Pettis McElwee says:

    Google is awesome. I just spent an hour managing files on My Drive yesterday almost exactly like you described.

  8. Thx Brian! I have tried other tools and felt frustrated and less productive. Does Google drive “sync” with your files on your computer? Or do you keep all current client work only on Google? It makes me nervous to move everything to the cloud, but I don’t want folders that don’t match. And on your phone (I have an iPhone 6plus) you still can’t open any of the CC files correct? Or does it convert them to a viewable format?

  9. I have begun using Roll software – it’s amazing

Trackbacks

  1. […] How to keep your business organized without drowning in software […]

  2. […] Start by writing out all of your tasks either with pen and paper, or using your favorite productivity tool. […]

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