Solutions to manage a scattered workflow
October 28, 2016 6:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble keeping up with work requests coming at me from all directions. Seeking an online tool that will help me stay organized and on track.

I'm having trouble keeping up with work requests coming at me from all directions. This includes one-off tasks and long-term projects. I am the social media/communications person for a nonprofit and I wear a couple of other hats. I'm getting requests from multiple departments through email, instant messenger, and in person, and things are starting to slip through the cracks.

I've tried Workfront/At Task but my coworkers are resistant to it. Besides, there are things I'm just supposed to remember to do for people every month on an ongoing basis.

Currently my system is scattered to-do lists and vague sensations when I pass someone in the hall "oh, I was supposed to do something for you." :(

I'm looking for a (hopefully free) online tool that will let me input tasks and deadlines, send me reminders when things are due, and generally keep me organized and on track.

Any recommendations?
posted by jschu to Work & Money (23 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a big fan of evernote. Sounds like it would do everything you're looking for.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:30 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Todoist is an awesome free online to-do list that syncs with a phone app so you'll always have it around. You can color code the list by your job hats, and you can assign your tasks deadlines and priority levels. And you'll have notifications pop up when you have outstanding to-do list items. I used to use Todoist pretty regularly until I went analog and started using a bullet journal instead, haha. It's free to use, but there is a premium version that has more features if you wanted to upgrade.

If you want something a little more whole-project oriented, Trello can be a good tool, but that is generally better used in groups to kind of keep tabs on what people are working on and how a project is progressing. I think it may have some of the tools you're looking for, but maybe not quite in the same way.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:31 AM on October 28, 2016

I really like Trello for this sort of thing - you can create a card for each task, tag it, and file it in a column (to do, doing, done in a classic kanban sense, but whatever you want in practice). It can do due dates but is not so hot on recurring tasks.

I also tried Asana for a household recurring task to-do list thing and it was sort of overkill on the reminders for me but that might be what you need.
posted by corvine at 6:35 AM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

There are a ton of these sorts of things, but I find todoist pretty good because it works with IFTTT. you can set up a "recipe "so that when certain emails come in, or when you star them or something, they get added to your to do list.

I have to use outlook at work so I have a set up where I forward any emails that are tasks I have to do to my gmail. IFTTT watches gmail and any incoming mail from my outlook account into gmail gets added to todoist. Also it gets starred and labeled "to do".

Todoist has a widget for my phone, and integrates with my smartwatch, so it's constantly bugging me.
posted by lollusc at 6:35 AM on October 28, 2016

(Also I get to pretend when I click "forward" on an email that I am forwarding it to my personal assistant to deal with. I conveniently forget for s few minutes that my personal assistant is actually just future me.)
posted by lollusc at 6:38 AM on October 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Sorry but I'm not sure this answers your question correctly but I thought I'd throw into the mix... like yourself I struggle to keep on top of a myriad of small tasks that just continue to build up.

So far I've tried Evernote, Apple Reminders + Apple Notes, devonthink and a bunch of other so called GTD apps. None worked. For the past month I've had great success with Pagico. It's not an online app though. Not sure what it is about this one that is better, maybe just my mental state, but the dashboard view really helps keep me focussed and the satisfaction of looking at your completed task list on a Friday provides a nice positive boost.

Like I said, not sure why it's working but it does for me!
posted by twistedonion at 6:40 AM on October 28, 2016

I have tried it all, and the only real answer is "finding a way to customize Trello in a way that makes sense to your brain."

But the basic process with Trello is that "things are important over here on this side" and "things are being solved and/or accomplished over on this side" and in the middle, magic.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:44 AM on October 28, 2016

Sounds like you need a process as well as a tool. Have a look at Getting Things Done (GTD) which can be implemented in a lot of different tools.
posted by Harald74 at 6:46 AM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I came here to suggest GTD, but am happy to see someone beat me to it.

I make this suggestion a lot, and people almost always dismiss it, because they have some preconceived idea of what GTD is; I can't help but feel those folks are making a serious mistake. GTD directly addresses exactly your question/problem/situation, too, moreso than most threads where I bring it up.
posted by teatime at 6:50 AM on October 28, 2016

I needed something that would coordinate with a team, and also allow for recurring tasks - I tried trello, and it just didn't work for me.

So I set up Asana - you can set up tasks to recur, or you can copy projects (so I just have month end close out as a project for each month).

I think you can adjust the reminders on it, although I haven't gotten that far into it yet.

You would definitely have to get into the habit of writing everything done, or having some sort of process where you input everything - this is where GTD would come in handy for you.
posted by needlegrrl at 6:52 AM on October 28, 2016

Others have mentioned Trello, but I especially want to point out resources for using it as an editorial calendar and for social media.

In terms of workflow, you can forward individual emails into Trello as they come up. Maybe it would also help to overlay your Trello tasks on your Google calendar.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:56 AM on October 28, 2016

My on-the-other-coast co-worker and I use Trello for this. We have one column for incoming stuff, one for it's-here-in-progress stuff, one for longterm/ongoing things, and one for done. You can set alarms/reminders/due dates. It's really improved our work lives a ton.
posted by rtha at 6:56 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

2Do is excellent (OSX/iOS)— I used to be a constantly failing Omnifocus user, learning about GTD then spending far too long puzzlingly what on earth contexts work for a always-connected world.

I also can really recommend the emergent task planner It's great to have on your desk, and as requests get fired at you, then just get listed down on the 'life just happens' area, and you can just keep your focus on the things that matter on that day.
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:58 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

For incoming requests, I signed up for SmartSheet after it was recommended here. I use literally ONE online form and people send me what they need. As things are done, I darken the row for that task. It's simple and in one place. I like it. I am using like, 1/10th of the software but whatever. The version I am using is IIRC free. You could get incoming requests via SmartSheet and enter them in Trello for example - I like that because it gets rid of the OMGWTFBBQ of the 10 zillion emails.

You might also look at Wunderlist. I can't use GCal for all the stuff I need to do -- it's too much and my brain starts to ignore it. I do not use GCal for every day tasks.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:00 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't really use GTD or OmniFocus anymore -- I moved to emacs and OrgMode, which is absolutely not something I suggest for people who aren't steeped in nerdery -- but when I used that approach, my contexts were *people*. This seems to be a pretty common approach for people in jobs with lots of interacting to do - for me, it was various customers, various co-workers, etc.

That way, if I got on the phone with $person, I could easily open up OF and switch to a context view and see everything I needed to do with/talk about with that person.

The key part of all of this, though, is a carryover from GTD I still take to heart: you must have a trusted system. Just know you'll put $task in whatever tool you use, and trust it to tell you when to do it.
posted by uberchet at 7:15 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

uberchet: fwiw, GTD incorporates the per-person context lists; it calls them Agendas. And yeah, it's super-effective.
posted by teatime at 7:18 AM on October 28, 2016

I'm still kind of hoping somebody will show up in this thread with a magic bullet that will solve all my organizational difficulties (not going to happen) but I muddle through with Trello as best as I can. I use a modified Kanban style - one board with lists such as "To do" "done" "awaiting response" and one each for a few side projects.

Inspired by this thread, I just set up an IFTTT recipe so that I can speak tasks to Siri and have them added to my Trello to-do list. Things ON my trello list don't get forgotten and they usually get done. My problem is remembering to put the damn things on the list. We'll see if this helps.

But I really have gotten much less disorganized and had fewer of those nagging "I owe you something but I don't remember what" feelings since I started with the Trello setup.
posted by telepanda at 7:27 AM on October 28, 2016

I like Trello but also I think Medieval Maven points to one of the key parts of any solution — managing where requests come from and steering them away from ephemeral channels like IM. If someone IMs you about something that is going to take more than a few minutes / that you can't do right away, direct them to a single point of request — send me an email, fill out this form, whatever. Phrase it as "I have so much going on and I don't want to lose this so can you just BLAH" and then do things people request that way first.
posted by dame at 7:39 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

And if you are in a meeting and get assigned things, either put them on your Trello directly or use your own single point. Once you get everything flowing in a good way, you can figure out how to accomplish them in the time you have.
posted by dame at 7:41 AM on October 28, 2016

We use Asana at my job (and my past job, and the one before that), and it's excellent at sending reminders. Co-workers can also assign you tasks, and vice versa, and you can use subtasks to split things down even further. When I use it most successfully, I use it in combination with Getting Things Done. If you can rock it (and it's pretty easy to figure out), it can really take away the burden of holding all the disparate tasks in your mind.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 7:45 AM on October 28, 2016

I'm going to throw out a less software-oriented solution. When I was in a similar role, I tried Trello, and various other tools, but couldn't get myself to use them properly. Here's what worked for me:

If people spoke to me about a project, I always asked them to followup with an email. Same for phone calls, or IMs. Or if they're your boss, and you can't ask them to do that, tell them you'll send a followup email. You can email them just so that all projects have an email trail.

For my projects, I created some paper job tracking sheets, which I put into a job bag/folder. Any paperwork related to the project goes in the bag/folder. (This may not be useful if your workflow is 100% electronic, but sometimes, it's helpful to look through a stack of jobbags and see which ones need to be taken care of.)

Then, I created a simple Word file that I kept on my desktop, where I listed all of my current projects, and their due date, and maybe a short status if I needed it for myself. Have a section for one-off projects, and another section for monthly or otherwise recurring tasks. On the recurring tasks, when you finish the job for October, change the due date to November.

At a glance, you can look at this Word file and see all your tasks. You can sort them by due-date. You can create a section for 'completed' jobs, to help you see your progress.
posted by hydra77 at 1:38 PM on October 28, 2016

Since several people have mentioned this, Trello can do repeating tasks now. (This is a new feature that made me cheer out loud when it was announced.)
posted by misskaz at 8:06 PM on October 28, 2016

I love '' - as I can send things to future me when I will actually be able to deal with them. You just add a time frame, e.g. - somehow it helps to be able to archive that email out of my inbox.
posted by Augenblick at 1:45 AM on October 30, 2016

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