Seven Essential Tools for a Project Manager

Efficiency is one of my main goals as the PM of a small but fast-paced and successful web design agency. For me, efficiency means speed while compromising neither the sanity of my co-workers nor the quality of our projects. Here are 7 essential tricks and tools that I use on a daily basis to help me do my job well.

1. Alfred: the essential speed tool

Named after Batman’s butler, Alfred basically does anything you ask him to do—and fast. It is a free productivity app that allows you to open files, documents, websites, and applications in a fraction of a second with a few quick keystrokes. You can choose your own shortcut (mine is “option + a”) and then type in the name of a file or application. Then press Enter. If I need to open my browser, I type “option + a + ch + Enter” and I’ve opened Chrome without using my mouse. The same goes for documents. Alfred gets accustomed to what you command most frequently, so I often only need to type in the first few letters of my request. If I am on the phone with a client and they begin talking about their wireframe, I can have it up in 5 seconds. I consider Alfred a true necessity. 

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2. Google Docs: the essential organization tool

Although I really only have one Google Doc that I use consistently, I still must attribute much of the timeliness of our tasks and projects to my “Progress” doc. I currently manage about 60 projects, about 28 of which are active (pre-launch,) and this Google spreadsheet helps me keep track of every step along the way. One of my favorite features: conditional formatting.

Conditional formatting allows you to set keywords as indicators for the background of cells to become a certain color. Whenever I type “Done” in any given cell, the background changes to a bright green. As I have more of these bright green cells lined up, I have a visual representation of the progress of my project. See below.

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3. GoToMeeting: the essential training tool

I am fortunate to be able to train my clients in on how to use their brand new Squarespace website. Only a small percentage of our clients are local, so what am I supposed to do about the clients in another state, or even in another country thousands of miles away? I love GoToMeeting because I can share my screen and voice with these clients as if they were with me in our office space. Whether my clients are hands-on, visual, or audio learners, GoToMeeting gets the job done. Clients may see my screen and hear my voice in real time. While that is happening, they may also open up the backend of their website and work alongside me. 

4. Basecamp: the essential task-delegating tool

I don’t know what we would do without Basecamp. Basecamp is mainly a communication tool that allows us to send messages files and tasks between team members. Doesn’t email do that too? Well… yes and no. Sure, we can send messages, files, and tasks to each other, but Basecamp sorts task by project and sub-project (or “metaproject,”) and includes due dates and checkboxes. Tasks go away once they are checked off (but are kind of archived so that you can revisit them if necessary). It is also a hub of completed files and a great way to share raw files for other team members to work with. 

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5. Chrome: the essential shortcutting tool

Chrome remembers your most-visited sites across all computers while you’re using the same account. This is especially helpful as I manage clients’ websites and often work from multiple computers. If any client calls, no matter what computer I’m using, I can always have their website up in a second.

Google Chrome is the fastest, most compatible and shortcut-friendly browser. Compatible? That just means that more websites are going to work more smoothly on Chrome because it has been optimized to accommodate more features than other browsers. Another thing that sets Chrome apart is that the URL bar doubles as Google. So if you type a phrase rather than a URL, it will automatically display Google search results. Also, I love the super-simplified bookmark bar that allows you to drag-and-drop.

6. The Legal Pad: the essential keep-track-of-everything tool

I am a hands-on, tactile person—so I love to write things out and see my hands make letters, lists, and checkmarks. (I also love painting, pottery, cooking, rock climbing, and petting cats... yeah all that hands-on type stuff.) And it just feels so good to check something off of a to-do list! I’m also a huge fan of having a physical copy as well as a digital copy of a checklist. Physical checklists allow you to put everything in one place as well as actually check things off with a pen. Plus, you get to draw cool animals and stuff on them. 

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Well… You can buy your legal pads... 

7. Spotify + Earbuds: the essential zoning tool

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Last but certainly not least… sometimes you just need to tune out and zone in on stuff. I like my little Skullcandy earbuds and have invested in Spotify Premium for $10/month. 

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I can't imagine a workday without one of these essential seven tools. I believe each one of these is key to success!

  • speed
  • organization
  • training
  • task-delegating
  • shortcutting
  • keep-track-of-everything
  • zoning