Managing Projects

Much has been written the last few years about project management, GTD (getting things done) and productivity on the web, I personally subscribe to probably a dozen feeds that are specifically geared towards the subject, and have tried probably every conceivable idea, all to little success.

For my paying work, I work with a company that exclusively uses Basecamp, and have come to be quite familiar with the system, but can’t rationalize paying for the service for my own needs. I do have a backpack account, but never quite have gotten a system in place there to do basic project management. Now that I have 2 themes released for Habari, and several other small projects I’m working on, mulling over, I went looking last night for something that resembles Basecamp, but was under my own control, and if I ever wanted to collaborate with someone, could easily add them in. I then remembered, Active Collab, an open-source clone of Basecamp. (Active Collab is now closed source, and a commercial product. Their old, .7.1 release is still available for download. If you want an interesting read about how open source goes bad, read the blog post and comments regarding the new structure.)

Realizing it was now commercial, and priced completely towards businesses, I read through some comments and saw reference to Project Pier, a fork of Active Collab. A new .8 release fixing some bugs and adding a few features to the .7.1 release of AC was out, so I snagged a copy and installed locally. Very easy to install (assuming you meet the server requirements), and after a quick read of how to change the god awful default theme, I was up and running, in a familiar PM environment. I set up projects for my two themes, added some milestones, todo lists, poked around and decided that though I’m the only one using it, I could easily use the messages for personal notes. And if I ever decide to put it on my own domain for others to collaborate with, I can easily migrate the database, and keep my current work intact. It also seems powerful enough that a small design house or programming team could use it for real projects, as it supports file uploads and RSS feed for recent activity. I haven’t explored email notification, however I believe it handles that ala Basecamp as well. (Like Basecamp, I don’t think you can reply to a message via email however)

All in all, a very useful tool, and I’d like to applaud the team behind Project Pier for picking up and forking in light of the changes in the development of Active Collab. I’ll be keeping an eye on it’s progress, and am looking for good things to come.

Custom Style Sheets and Basecamp

I’ve mentioned that I primarily use BaseCamp these days with the company that I work with to manage the many sites they handle. That’s all good, but whenever I log in, I am overwhelmed with many, many, late milestones and upcoming milestones. Sure, some of it’s relevant to me, however most is not. Even what is relevant, I’m well aware of my tardiness. I don’t need a constant reminder 🙂

Enter a handy little Firefox extentsion, Stylish, that I became aware of after adopting Hicks Designs handy Mac OS styled Google Reader style sheet. (Note, there are instructions for using the style sheet with other browsers).

Another quick use of the Web Developer extension (I couldn’t live without this extension), I was able to determine the class of the milestones on the dashboard (.milestones – go figure), and add a quick display:none to a custom style for the company’s Basecamp dashboard.

The Stylish extension easily offers you the option of using the style for a URL, a domain, or a global style, so I can be sure that it’s only being used where and when I want. The extension author recommends using the !important declaration, however I found no need for that with Basecamp. Certainly worth checking out if you are looking to hide some annoying element of a site you often visit.

Edit: I went ahead and changed my style to only drop the upcoming milestones, and left the overdue ones there, as that seemed more relevant to my job. The class for that is .Dashcal. That way, I can still see what’s overdue, and potentially avoid issues. Upcoming milestones I’ll leave to the project manager to advise on.

Tracking Time Spent on Email

So I work with a company that uses BaseCamp, which is great. Each project is easily separated, has it’s own todos, writeboards, etc. But as someone who works with all of the projects, I get cc’ed on every message posted. Some require my attention immediately, some will require me to be familiar with the project at some point. I’ve never been able to manage my time recording for this internal activity, and I know I’ve lost a few dollars because of this. SO today, I’m testing out a new system. I’ve set my mail app (Apple Mail), to only check mail once an hour. I then set up a mailbox just for these emails, got a timer on the dashboard, that can be started and stopped, and will start the timer, read the emails, follow up on BaseCamp on any immediate issues, pause the timer, and wash, rinse, repeat the rest of the business day. At some point I’m going to have to decide that this company has business hours, (I work from home), and not read anymore messages until the next morning, where I can track the time. I figure after a week or so, I’ll have a pretty good idea of how much time I’m spending on this, and might actually be more productive, as I’m not constantly logging into BaseCamp to see what new has been posted, and reading messages that have already been sent to my inbox. I also hope that after a week or two, it will be a habit, and I’ll have a pretty good average of the time spent, so I can simply log those hours either weekly based on the experiment.

I read a ton of productivity blogs, (which can be counter-productive, go figure), and it seems little issues like this always trip people up. I know that the GTD ethos is if you can do it in under 2 minutes, then do it, but that’s assuming you’re not getting 10 messages an hour, each with their own 2 minutes.

Hopefully in a week or two I can report back on how the little experiment went.

edit:Funny one of those blogs I mentioned has a little post about email and procrastination, certainly appropriate.

Speaking of BaseCamp and GTD…

My previous post mentions BaseCamp and GTD, what I’d really, really, (no, really) like is a way to export my todo’s from BaseCamp. Most specifically, to the new Omni Focus, or even better, iCal, which then could be exported to some other format, be it Google Calendar, which supports Remember the Milk, or, as I mentioned, Omni Focus. (Which reminds me, I haven’t been using it as much as I’d like, due to the the subject of this post). Perhaps if my new system works out, I can use the quick add from to OF as part of the system…hmm, might just work.