OneNote & BaseCamp for Project Management

As noted in my last entry on upcoming site developments and projects, I have more than a few things going on at the moment. Some of these are big, some of these are potentially even bigger.

I’m not the worlds’ most organised person. In fact, I’m quite cack-handed at keeping everything in its place. My fiancee Nicola will atest to that one – as will the storage cupboard under the stairs. Keeping projects organised is an even bigger struggle for me. I have so many ideas flying around, on top of everything else I need to do, that it’s a devil to keep track of it all. It got to melting point at the start of last week when I couldn’t find any of the notes I’d made for one particular project (I eventually found them in the back of a notebook at work).

Feeling that enough was enough, I had to find a solution.

There were two areas that identified a shortcoming: notes organisation and what I call “goal management” – setting milestones, timeframes, etc.

Note Organisation

The first problem took the longest to figure out. I initially thought about writing a web-based app for collecting notes. Maybe use XML-RPC to let me post from a blog client or something. Then I realised that would require another software project and probably cause even more notes chaos. So I ended up paging through a load of downloads sites and google. Nothing really came up that took my fancy.

By chance, I happened to need to reinstall MS Office. I almost missed it, but there on the screen was my answer: OneNote.

OneNote to the rescue.

OneNote is a MS Office app designed for organising all your disparate notes. I guess it’s mostly designed for tablet PC users, as it goes on a lot about handwriting recognition. By the way, if anyone out there is feeling generous, I’d really like to try out this tablet PC stuff…
Anyway. OneNote is organised into different coloured tabs, so you can group related pages of notes by colour. Red for one project, blue for another, etc. Once written, you can drag and drop your notes all over the page. Very handy for grouping related items together after randomly jotting them down.

So OneNote isa winner for me. A MS application that’s great at what it does and doesn’t try to be anything else. Scoble should be proud.

Project Management.

I didn’t have to look too far for a solution to my project management needs. Part of my day job is building project management systems. I took a quick look at programs like MS Project, but decided they weren’t for me… Most were a bit overblown for my needs.

I had been looking at various web-based systems over the last few weeks. My employer wanted me to get ideas for improving our own client-access system. Though there were a few contenders, one system stood head and shoulders above the others.

Heading to Basecamp.

Basecamp is a web-based project management system from those lovely chaps at 37Signals. It’s fast, simple to use and had all the features I was looking for. I went for the free option (manage only one project and no file sharing) as I wanted to try and limit myself to only working on one thing at a time.

As 37Signals wrote the book Defensive Design for the Web, I expected Basecamp to be supremely user-friendly. It didn’t let me down. Everything was so easy to understand that I had all my project information inputted in minutes. Milestones were set, to-do lists were added… everything done in under 15 minutes. Bliss. If you’re building a complex web application, this is how you should do it.

It was so good an experience that the next day I set up a Basecamp site for my employer. Judging by the reactions from my bosses, they were as impressed as I was!

Have Your Say.

Of course, this is just how I’ve solved my organisational problems… I’d love to hear how others manage it! Maybe you have your own “killer” set of apps that you use to manage your projects? Or you’re just as “sloppy” as I am (was?)…

Update (16th Nov 04) Well, I was that impressed with Basecamp that I put my money where my mouth (or my keyboard?) is and went and subscribed to the “Personal Plan” so I can manage 3 projects at once. One for work, one for home and one spare for either if needed.

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