If you’re anything like me, you have a finger in every pie. As you’ve gotten involved with more projects, or the work you’re doing has become more complex, you’ve probably hunted for ways to organize and optimize your workflow. My most recent trip down the digital tool research/QA rabbit hole probably doesn’t fall into the traditional “LinkedIn” business story, but it did lead me to some incredible applications that overhauled how I organize and manage my life.
As it’s becoming more mainstream, you may be familiar with what a Dungeon Master is. In tabletop role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, a so-called “DM” develops scenarios, characters, settings and more to build an overall story for players to participate in. My hunt for new tools started here: I wanted to know how Dungeon Masters around the world were keeping everything organized. How could they record and track branching storylines, non-player characters and their character sheets, dialogue, settings and more?
What I learned was most of them use a tool I wouldn’t have expected: Microsoft OneNote. The “notebook” hierarchy structure is a great way to organize most types of content you may need for a project that requires a lot of notes.
OneNote allows for multiple notebooks. Each notebook can have multiple sections (think “tabs”), and each section has pages. Cross-notebook search functionality, the ability to hyperlink to a particular page, and a simplified tagging system make organizing large amounts of text, files, images, audio and even video easy and straightforward. It’s perfect for keeping notes at work or school, or for a organizing a very detailed project on digital paper.
Around the time I was learning how to run a tabletop RPG, I was also trying to get my video game collection cataloged. I had been using Google Sheets, which was doing a great job, but didn’t quite have every function I was looking for. The functions I needed were record tagging and customizable views of my data (I know Sheets has this functionality, but it felt clunky and wasn’t easy to use).
If you use Excel or Google Sheets, you know that multiple values in a cell won’t filter correctly as you’d expect a tag to. Let’s say you’re cataloging a record collection, and some of your albums fall into more than one specific genre. In Excel, “Pop” filters differently than “Indie,Pop.”
Airtable, the freemium spreadsheet database hybrid, solves for this easily using one if its many field types: multiple select. You can store your records, then tag them using multiple select, give them a status with a single select, insert attachments, dates, currency and custom ratings to make whatever you’re storing more rich. Once your data is prepared, you can define custom views to more easily digest the right data using filters, sorts, and groupings.
From there, either set the view to look like a grid (Excel), a calendar, a gallery (my current top games from my video game collection gallery view is here), or Kanban (think Trello). Airtable is great for anything you store in Excel: recipes, movie collections, a product catalog, and it can even be used for project management.
Everyone keeps a to-do list, somehow. Yours could be on your phone’s notes app, Google Keep, or with pen and paper. I used to use Wunderlist, which I still think is one of the best free digital to-do lists out there. But I was recently won over by Todoist. It’s similar to Wunderlist, but it has a few things that make it stand out to me.
For one, it’s easy to quickly capture a task in a Todoist project, no matter where you are in the platform. For instance, if I type “Go to Grocery Store every Saturday at 9am p2 #Tasks @weekly,” Todoist will record the task (“Go to Grocery Store”) as a task that recurs every Saturday at 9, with a priority of 2, in the Tasks project, labeled as “weekly.”
What really won me over, though, was the filtering functionality. You can write a simple query to get a view of tasks based on whatever selection criteria you want. A couple that come to mind are “due tomorrow”, and “p1 & (#Tasks | #Projects)”, which only shows tasks marked as a priority 1 and are either in the Tasks or Projects list.
Todoist is perfect for organizing your personal life and tracking your goals. I use mine for quick task reminders, and keeping up with goals that happen weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. The best news? It’s also freemium.
Honorable mention here, if you like games and are looking to develop or kick certain habits, Habitica is another incredible tool worth checking out.
The latest and greatest tool in my arsenal is none other than ClickUp, one of the best-rated freemium project management platforms available. It’s difficult for me to describe just how useful all the functions ClickUp has can be, but I can try. It — like Airtable — has multiple views: calendar, list and Kanban included. You can define custom statuses, custom fields for a task, tag items, create sub-tasks and checklists, assign teammates, and filter and sort your tasks based on project or space.
If it weren’t for the custom filters that Todoist has, I think I would have already switched all of my project and task management over to ClickUp. We’re currently getting project management for Doctors of Gaming and Red Husky Media fully moved over to this tool, and it’s already helped us tremendously. Lucky for me, and anyone else who desperately needs to consolidate, it looks like the ClickUp dev team is currently working on implementing advanced filters.
These tools have made my life, both profession and personal, better. I can more easily manage every iron in the fire, from the multiple month project to my personal collections to reminding myself to take out the trash on Tuesdays. If you have any tools not listed here that have changed your life for the better, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@alexrmcgowen) and let me know!