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I have to be completely honest here, I’ve tested out so many “project management” and “organizer” applications to try and manage my insane 3-4 job schedule, that I can’t even remember them all. The very last one that I’ve tried was ToDoist, which I loved. I’ve tried WeDoist to manage team work. I’ve tried mobile to-do apps, and yes I’ve tried the ever-popular Remember the Milk. Why did I stop using them? I simply forgot to keep using them, that’s all.
Seriously, I just have too many things to do every day. Between checking 4 email accounts, tracking critical daily tasks using Google Calendar, and trying to keep all of the IDs and passwords straight, it seems like every application I’ve used to try and take a better look at the big picture – to step back and look where I’m going, not only surviving where I am now – has failed.
I’ve given this some deep thought. In fact, I’m sure many of you have thought about whether you’re doing the right things every day, whether you’re getting anywhere, and whether you’re headed in the right direction. To-Do lists and organizational apps will help you keep all of those daily tasks and projects well-organized, but they don’t really help as much with future planning.
What does help with planning are project management apps. So, I turned to all of the usual ones, and found that they were mostly all focused around team collaboration than really planning out ones individual goals. I tried to get fancy and turned to systems like Gantter or using a mind-mapping app like FreeMind to get a better look at my big picture, but apparently, my Big Picture seems too complex to stuff into these rigid and limited applications. So I gave up.
I gave up, at least until I stumbled across a fascinating online service called The Big Picture.
Getting the Big Picture Into Focus
After I stopped using ToDoist, I swore that I wouldn’t use any sort of project management or organizational app every again. They just don’t work for me. I figured I’d just stick with Google Calendar and Google Tasks, and I did exactly that over the past several months.
The problem is that I keep having new opportunities come up. I receive more business opportunities, a huge array of projects here at MakeUseOf, my very busy day job as an IT specialist and the many projects to do there – the list goes on and on. Outlook and Google Calendar help me to survive every day, but they don’t help me see the big picture.
It’s really hard to see the big picture when you’ve got a jumbled list of tasks under each project title in apps like Google Tasks.
However, when you sign up for an account at The Big Picture, you’ll start out with nothing but simplicity. Your main screen is nothing more than a blank slate that looks deceivingly bare.
To effectively use this online service, it’s best to think about the major projects in your life that you want to accomplish within the next two to five years. This main screen is for those general things. For you, it might be saving up for a new car, building up a vacation fund for a family trip, or maybe it’s to write your first novel. Just click “New Project” and name it.
What you’ll see is that the online app is like a cross between a mind map, a project management tool, and a task organizer all at once. It lets you completely visualize and organize your goals and tasks in ways that no other app I’ve ever used allows. Double click on that major goal, and you’ll go to another window for that project. Here you can just add all of the tasks that you need to finish in order to accomplish that goal.
Again, the blank canvas allows you to place those tasks anywhere, so you can visually organize things on the screen in a graphical way that makes sense to you. This is the coolest way to plan for a project – placing different tasks in groups over different areas of the canvas. For each task, you can add comments (and anyone you share the project with can also add comments), you can email the task to yourself as a reminder, print it, or drag it over to the built-in calendar.
On the task page, you can also add web links to any websites that might help you accomplish that task.
In my case, I place each task in groups with the website resources I plan to use for that task. As you complete each task, just tap the asterisks and the task gets marked as completed.
If you plan to use the built-in calendar to organize your project tasks, all you have to do is slide them over to the small calendar at the upper left corner of the window. The calendar maximizes, and you can schedule the task anywhere on the calendar you like.
The one drawback of this system is that if you plan to use the calendar, there isn’t an easy way to sync it with Google Calendar. However, you do have an iCal file associated with the calendar, which you can access from the Settings menu. So, any calendar system you’re using that can incorporate this .ics file will be able to sync up with your Big Picture calendar. I strongly suspect anyone running a Mac will be able to sync up easily.
The system does work well as a collaborative tool if you do have a team of people helping you with these tasks. All you have to do is click the “+” sign next to “Shared With” on the project page, and type the email of the person you want to share it out with.
The real beauty of The Big Picture – and the main reason I’ve decided to try adopting this one last project organizer web app – is how nice it is to organize projects in such a visual way. Think about what’s available here – you can give each project “bubble” a different color – where all associated tasks will share the same color. You can size each project to a physical size that matches the project’s importance, and best of all you can organize the projects on the canvas in a way that shows their relationships.
For example, my far-reaching project to grow my bog includes promotions, site optimization and monetizing the site. Each of these sub-projects each have their own collection of important tasks and resources, but on this main screen all of that “clutter” doesn’t clutter up the big picture. You can see all of your goals organized on this page, and then take care of the finer details on each specific project page.
As you get rolling and start adding those tasks to your calendar, you’ll see a color-coded list of upcoming scheduled tasks near the calendar at the top of the screen. These will help you stay on task, without getting buried trying to dig your way through all of your projects to figure out what task to work on next.
The whole point of The Big Picture is to literally help you start out looking at your own big picture. What are your biggest goals? Put them on the main screen and make them literally big. Make the smaller goals smaller, and then start working your way around those goals, visually placing orbiting projects that will help you to achieve your life goals. Finally, dig down into each of those projects and start creating the array of tasks – and visually organize them on the canvas to keep everything sorted. The way you visualize ideas in your head, grouping them together and in an order that works for you, is exactly what this web app is all about.
Give it a try and let us know if it helps you to think more clearly about all of the chaotic goals and tasks you’ve got going on in your life. Take the time to plan them out with The Big Picture, and tell us about the experience in the comments section below.