7+ Best Free Tools to Manage any Project with Ease
The Internet has made it a lot easier to carry out many tasks, such as watching dogs on skateboards, looking up cat memes, and shooting Gonzo out of a cannon. But if you wanted to include more serious pursuits that the Internet has made easier, then managing projects would be at the top of the list.
Teams spread out over vast geographical locations, or just various areas of a large building, can now work with ease on a project online, and have it completed efficiently, without any overlap, confusion, or colleagues slacking off for a sneak cigarette and leaving their work to someone else.
But what tools help teams complete their projects efficiently? Check out the ones below.
Manage Your Research Notes With Evernote (Freemium)
It’s no secret that I love Evernote . It’s the one service I happily pay money for, without crying first (we Scottish have a close relationship with our pennies). Evernote is useful for many things, but the thing it is most useful for is compiling research notes.
When putting your notes together, you need to collect your source material – files, images, audio and video clips, scans of handwritten notes, and print material. This can all now be stored in the desktop software installation of Evernote, all indexed with every word searchable, courtesy of OCR technology .
Tag each file, categorize it into its own Notebook, and create Contents, Indexes, and more. Even better, use the free Web Clipper to snip the parts of the Internet you need. Finally, use their Work Chat to communicate with your co-workers.
Alternative: OneNote (Free)
Microsoft OneNote has always struggled to break free of Evernote’s shadow. But it has its own set of hardcore fans, who use OneNote for everything .
You can access OneNote via Microsoft Office’s free online version, or install the free full version of the OneNote desktop client . Both require sign-in to a Microsoft account to keep all your notes synced across devices, just like Evernote. Also, like Evernote, you can clip from the Web!
I have tried OneNote, but I always keep going back to Evernote. However if Evernote went under a bus tomorrow, I could easily see myself switching to OneNote. It is a very competent alternative.
Manage Your Team Communications with Slack (Freemium)
Slack is the communication tool of choice for MakeUseOf staff, as we discuss publishing strategy, story ideas, and the meaning of life. Slack is a web and desktop app, where you can create different rooms (channels) and have topic-based chat sessions. Look upon it as old-style Yahoo chat rooms on steroids.
Do you have a remote team? Or colleagues scattered on different floors of a high-rise block? Then throw them all into a Slack chat room, and communication will improve enormously as a result.
Audio alerts can be set up for keywords mentioned in chats, which is extremely useful if you want to keep tabs on a particular subject. You also have access to a selection of very useful automated bots, which make your Slack chat rooms even more productive.
Alternative: Basecamp (Paid)
When it comes to online team collaboration , Basecamp is the big daddy of them all, having been around since 1999. Lots of people love it to manage their products, but it is kind of eclipsed by the likes of Slack, due to its pricing structure.
You can enjoy a 60 days free trial and then book packages starting at $20 a month. Compare that to Slack’s cheaper prices and its modern interface, and you can see why Slack is gaining the upper hand (as well as the fact that Slack is totally killing it with their software and mobile apps).
Basecamp themselves offer an inside look at a real project to let you see what it looks like. You also have plugins, the vast majority of which are mobile device-based. Others include a Chrome extension and an Outlook plugin.
Manage Your Copying of Pages & Documents With Scanbot (Freemium)
I can remember all too well the 1990s, when I was at college. When I needed to copy any coursework, I had to stand in line at the Xerox photocopier, which was always breaking down, or paper got jammed.
Now, over 20 years later, the days of the Xerox photocopier seem to be over. Today, anyone with a smartphone can download a document scanner , and turn their device into their own personal copying machine. Copies are surprisingly high quality and they can be exported from your phone as an image or a PDF file.
Lots of document scanners promise the world, but the best by far is Scanbot. When you start it up, it tries to auto-detect the document and if it does, it automatically starts scanning. If it fails to find the document, then you need to manually scan.
Scanbot promises to deliver each scan at over 200 dpi, which is the same as desktop scanners. Throw in cloud service uploading and a QR code scanner, and you have one hell of a scanner.
Alternative: Genius Scan (Freemium)
Before I found Scanbot, my scanner of choice was Genius Scan. It is a great alternative if you don’t want to use Scanbot. It too tries to auto-detect your document. Scan quality is great, and you can get the resulting scan as an image or a PDF.
What differentiates Genius Scan from Scanbot is that Genius Scan integrates with both Box and Expensify. This is extremely useful if you want your documents sent over to one of those services. Although cloud exporting is part of the paid Pro package ($7). A small price to pay, if your business depends on those two services.
Bonus Alternative : if you have an iPhone and an Evernote account, then give Scannable a try.
Manage Your Citations & Footnotes with EasyBib
If you are writing a project online, then you need some way to format and manage your citations and footnotes. You will have a lot of reference material to refer to, and it all needs to be formatted exactly right.
To give you an idea of what they are supposed to look like, let’s take a look at a random Wikipedia page. Click on that and scroll all the way to the bottom – to the footnotes.
That’s citations and footnotes. And you need a fast and effective way to make them. The best one I have seen so far is EasyBib.
Just choose your source – for the purposes of this article, I will naturally choose MakeUseOf. Enter in the details of what you want in the citation.
Once all of the information has been entered, click the button to create your citation, and you will be presented with a preview of what it will look like, along with export options.
Alternative: Citation Machine
Citation Machine is an excellent alternative, but it falls down due to its number of categories, which are very broad in scope. Easybib has over 50 categories, whereas Citation Machine has only 13. However, for many people that may be enough. 50 may just be overkill.
Choose your formatting style, source, and paste in the details. Again, Mihir’s article is used as an example.
Then add in the necessary details.
Citation Machine will then put together your citation/footnote.
Manage Your Document & Image Annotations With Skitch (Free)
If your project involves sending images to one another, then it may become necessary to annotate the image to get your point across. Annotating is simply to draw or mark up an image or document. So if a colleague sends you an image of say a widget, and you think part of it should be altered, you can use annotation tools to draw a big arrow at the part needing changed.
The big boy in this arena is most definitely Evernote-owned Skitch , which leaves rivals far behind in the dust. The tool easily enables you to make screenshots, add text, arrows, and rectangles, as well as pixelate and crop the image. Annotations can be done in a variety of colors if you are trying to distinguish each one.
Alternative: PicPick (Free & Paid – Windows Only)
There are many annotation alternatives to Skitch, all with varying degrees of appeal and features. But the one that more or less does a good enough job is PicPick. PicPick is an image editor, which provides a range of features including annotation tools, such as arrows, text, and shapes. Images can then be uploaded to social media, cloud storage, email, and many more.
PicPick comes as a free and a paid version. The paid version includes technical support, lifetime upgrades, and no ads.
Manage Your Document Collaborations With Google Docs (Free)
When managing a project, different versions of related documents will be flying back and forth. When you have ten different drafts, emailing them to everyone in the team will soon wreak confusion and chaos. Which one is the final draft? Do we have to press that red button or not? Are these the latest nuclear launch codes?
That’s why it is MUCH more productive to use an online collaboration tool. The best in this category is, without a doubt, Google Docs. I have talked before about why Google Docs rules the roost , and for project work, Google Docs makes things a hundred times easier. Team workers can leave comments, earlier drafts can be accessed, you can chat inside Google Docs, and when giving out the share link, you can make your document read-only, if there are some people who are not allowed to tinker with the masterpiece.
Alternative: Office Online & Office 2016 (Free & Paid with Free Trial)
If you have an Office 365 subscription or otherwise upgrade to Office 2016 , you will also be able to enjoy real-time document collaboration , directly in the gold standard for text processing. If this made you curious, Office is available as a free trial .
Meanwhile, the collaboration feature is also available to users of the free Office Online suite . Both Office 365 (free trial) and Office Online require a Microsoft account.
Alternative: Dropbox Paper (Free)
Paper is Dropbox’s attempt to move in on Google Docs’ territory. It has only just come out and is invite-only, but when I applied for an invite, I got it within 24 hours. So it looks like Dropbox is working on getting people in as fast as possible.
What I like about Paper is its minimalist features. You add a title, then your text, and you can add comments, Google Docs-style. Obviously your work is constantly synced to your Dropbox account, and you can invite people to view the document. I can really see this going places, as everyone is on Dropbox these days.
Manage Your Tasks With Trello (Free & Paid)
Tasks lists are a dime a dozen online. Remember The Milk was one of the earliest task list services, and this set the trend for those that followed. Trello tries to take the concept of the task list and make it even greater.
Everything about your project can be laid out so you can see each element with a single glance. Tasks can be color-coded, users can comment on each task, and images can be attached. You can make different lists, then drag-and-drop cards between lists. Plus everything is automatically updated in real-time. And you can use Trello for more than task or project management.
Alternative: Wunderlist (Free & Paid)
Wunderlist is an aesthetically pleasing list, with an easy way of seeing what needs to get done. List your tasks , star the ones that are most important, and set due dates and reminders. Even better, add notes and hashtags to give your tasks context and meaning.
You can share your lists and collaborate with project colleagues, but this falls under the Pro plan, which costs $5 a month. If you upgrade, you can assign tasks to colleagues, add files of any size, and choose from more backgrounds to personalize your Wunderlist account.
What Do YOU Use For Your Project Management?
Let us know in the comments which tools you use for managing your projects.