Why Project Management Tools Must Change

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Personal productivity tools make managing your own workload easier. And project management tools help with wrangling group work. But there’s a big gap between the two, and that’s a problem.

Project management tools need better integration with individuals' personal productivity systems, productivity expert Maura Nevel Thomas says.

Project management tools need better integration with individuals’ personal productivity systems.

Think about all the tasks on your plate for the next week or so. Some of those tasks belong only to you. They’re your responsibility, and you’re the one tracking their deadlines. Some probably belong to a personal project of yours, and some are just one-off tasks that need to get done. Also, some of your tasks are probably part of group projects. On these tasks, a company leader or project manager also monitors your progress, and your work impacts others.

Hopefully, you’re already using a good personal information manager to enhance your productivity. Because of the scope and complexity of knowledge work today, online PIMs like Outlook or the Apple suite (Calendar, Address Book, Reminders, Apple Mail) are good choices.

Beyond your personal productivity system, chances are you also have to use your company’s project management tools when you’re involved in group projects. Some popular examples of these tools are Microsoft Project, Asana, Basecamp and Trello.

Here’s where the problem comes in. If you have to check both your personal task manager and your company’s project management tool for everything you have to do, that’s inefficient. You might feel like you’re spending more time tracking your work than actually doing it. But, at the same time, leaders do need to manage group project deadlines, and it’s valuable for everyone to be able to see the current status of a project.

Imagining Better Project Management Tools

We need better solutions — and I’m surprised they don’t exist yet. Why, for example, didn’t Microsoft create better integration between Project and Outlook tasks?

Ideally, I’d like to see project management tools that seamlessly sync completed tasks between personal information management tools and project management tools. The project management tool sync tasks  to an individual employee’s personal task manager, while still allowing the rest of the group to see the task and its status. In the personal task manager, the employee could assign whatever alarms, categories, contexts and personal due dates to the task that suit her. When the task changes status, this status change is synced back to the project management tool. This would require syncing at the specific task level.

Another solution would be project management tools that do a good job handling both individual tasks and tasks related to group projects. The tools on the market I’ve seen that do both of these things are complicated and are not intuitive for people to pick up on their own. They are more enterprise-level and require both technical training and training on the workflow behind the tool. They also typically rely on the project to drive the work, which requires users to contort their tasks to fit a project: for example, some people create a “project” called “personal,” which isn’t really a project at all, but it’s the only way to manage personal tasks in a project management tool. Instead in my tool-utopia, when a task is entered, the user could assign whether or not that task is part of a project, and whether that project is a group project (with a status to be shared by the tool with others) or a personal project that no one else needs to see.

Until something changes, though, we’re stuck with the extra work of tracking our tasks both in our personal systems and in project management tools for the benefit of our teams. It’s a roadblock to greater efficiency that I hope will be overcome soon.

If you know of a tool that checks all the boxes above, I’d love to hear about it. It would need to be:

  • Intuitive enough for a general user, without a lot of project management skills necessary; not overly complicated.
  • Versatile enough to easily handle personal tasks unrelated to projects, personal tasks related to personal projects, and personal tasks related to group projects. This could be in one tool or two tools that sync.

Please share your comments here or email me directly at maura(at)regainyourtime(dot)com. Thanks for reading!

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  1. Jim Howard says:

    I use Glip.com for tasks just for this reason.

    In Glip, Projects are known as “Teams” but you can also have one-to-one messaging to others in your company. Tasks can be belong to “Me (private)”, a conversation with another person or a Team (aka Project). This lets you quickly look at your own tasks, tasks for a specific project, tasks assigned to a user across all projects, etc. Tasks can also have sections (Next Actions, Future, etc) for additional categorization.


  2. We’re using Zapier to integrate personal todo apps (focuster.com) and team’s project management (trello.com). We’re also using lots of other apps, and after trials and fails finally were able to create a smooth workflow, where all these apps are integrated and we do not need to manually re-enter data or update information in different tools – it’s all automated.

    • Maura Thomas says:

      Ah yes, Focuster is a new auto-scheduling app! I’m not a huge fan yet. I still think tasks should be kept off your calendar, but it’s true that auto-schedulers are changing the game, and they are a great alternative for some people. As I mentioned in that article, my colleague Francis Wade is a big fan of SkedPal, which is another option. Your solution might be a bit complicated for some, but I’m glad you found something that works for you, Casey. Thanks for sharing and for reading!

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