We check our smartphones over 70 times a day and spend over three hours on them.
For many of us, most of that time is pleasurably wasted browsing our Twitter feed or catching on Facebook or Pokemon Go. Yet the fact is, that time can also be well spent – especially if you’re a small business owner.
As much as smartphones have become enablers of procrastination, they’ve also become a source of increased productivity.
That’s especially true for project management.
Thanks to a wide range of apps, it’s become easier than ever to streamline your projects from the palm of your hand. Let’s face it. When you’re a small business owner—whether a sole entrepreneur, or an overseer of a small team—keeping track of all the irons in your entrepreneurial fire can be challenging.
That’s why turning to your smartphone can be so valuable. Chances are that you’re often away from the office for meetings and business trips. Even when you’re at home, your mind probably wanders and is tempted to try to get at least one more thing done from your to-do list.
What’s always there with you? Your phone.
Why not use the convenience of your smartphone and the fact that you’re probably on it all the time anyway, to get a better handle on your projects and to help your business grow? Here are five project management apps that can help you with that.
Imagine if you could take a corkboard (pinned notecards and all) with you wherever you go.
That’s what Trello is like.
Based on Kanban cards, a workflow tracking system pioneered by Toyota in the 1940s, it helps you lay out all the necessary steps required to complete a project. You start by creating boards that represent your projects – whether it’s getting a new website, planning a marketing campaign, or finishing a job for a customer. From there, you break the project down into individual tasks, each one represented by a card.
What’s especially appealing about Trello to entrepreneurs is it doesn’t matter what size your business is. It can be easily used by everyone from a sole proprietor getting their taxes together to a leader of ten people looking to complete a new sales initiative.
Being able to accommodate businesses of different sizes isn’t why the cards are better than notecards. The cards are better than notecards because they have added features and support business of all sizes.
You can attach needed documents to a card, assign due dates, create checklists, and leave comments. Color labels are also available for the more visually inclined. Few productivity apps so easily enable you to manage your projects.
Even better, the app is free, though those looking for more from the app can upgrade to a package like Business Class ($9.99 per user/month), which allows for app integration (Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox) and more customized features for boards.
Used by companies like The New Yorker, Uber, Airbnb, and NASA, Asana is geared less towards sole proprietors and more towards managing projects with teams – whether you’re working with staff members in the next office or remote workers.
Asana lets you collaborate with fifteen people for free (upgrades are available starting at $8.33 per month), and offers a wide list of useful features. Once you create a project, you can set tabs to see your tasks through, create a calendar with deadlines, and even generate a graph that tracks your progress between completed and remaining tasks.
What makes the app most appealing is how easy it makes it to collaborate.
It has an especially robust comment system—which can be used for individual tasks or projects as a whole—that makes working with your team members a breeze. Now, if you’re immediately having nightmares of your inbox flooded with notifications, fret not: Asana provides follow/unfollow options that let you control what you are notified about.
All of that adds up to Asana being a deeply comprehensive option for small business owners juggling a lot of projects, being worked on by a lot of people.
Strictly speaking, Evernote is a note-taking app. However, businesses run on ideas, which means it’s very important to have a place to put them down.
The app may not be like others on this list, but Evernote is essential to making your life easier. A small business owner’s mind is rarely at rest, which means inspiration for a sales pitch or project solution can strike at anytime. You need a place to quickly and easily store your ideas.
Come across an article that can inform a current project? Save it to the Evernote notebook dedicated to that project.
See a tweet that represents exactly what you’re aiming for in your new social media campaign? Save that too.
If you have a team, you can even share your notebooks with your collaborators so you in turn, can inspire them! Now, to truly benefit from the app, no matter where you are, consider subscribing to Evernote Plus ($46.99 a year), which offers syncing across all mobile devices, and offline.
Some project management apps, like Asana, provide integrated tracking, task management and collaboration options so you can coordinate with your staff, freelancers, or remote workers. But what if you looking for simply an effective means of communicating with the people on your project team?
Enter Slack, a free team communication app (with upgrades starting at $6.67) that makes it easy to work with others. Slack offers a collective space to talk, thanks to channels—public or private—that you can create to represent anything from a team to a project. Click on a channel, and you’ll see all chatter associated with it: brainstorms, files shared, and more.
If Slack sounds just like a business version of Facebook Messenger, it’s not.
The app isn’t just something to use casually. It yields productive results. The company has found that Slack users become 32 percent more productive, reduce a quarter of their meetings, and lessen their emails by nearly half. In that way, project collaboration isn’t just streamlined, it can help small businesses see projects through more quickly, allowing them to move on to the other things that will help their business succeed.
If you’re a visual person, thenCasual could be the project management app for you. That’s because it makes it incredibly easy to actually see your projects and tasks. How? Flowcharts.
With Casual, you create a project, and then lay out all the steps in a clean top-down flowchart that makes the workflow of the project, from beginning to end, clear and simple. You can even break down each step on the path to completion into additional tasks. For tracking purposes, it is helpful that each of those tasks is given a color to show its status: red is overdue, green is completed. What it does well, above anything else, is leave no doubt as to what needs to be accomplished, and in what order.
Now, a sole proprietor could easily use Casual, but it’s especially great for those who have teams. Steps and tasks can be assigned, and team members will get notified – not just about what they have to do, but also, the exact order they have to do them in. But what if someone falls behind, or you need to re-prioritize the workflow?
Casual makes it easy to move tasks around (up and down) in the order of the workflow, so you—and your team—can immediately see its new place.
Now, Casual is one of the rare apps on this list that doesn’t have a base package that’s free. It starts at $9 a month for two users, and goes up to $49 a month for 10 users. However, like any of the project management apps on this list, it’s well worth a try if only to see how much it helps you run your small business from your smartphone – any time, anywhere.