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Project Management Software: Now with more time sucking features than ever!

When I was fifteen I was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder that eventually resulted in a thyroidectomy at 31. A fun fact that you may not know… thyroid disorders can lead to memory loss (or brain fog) that mimics low-grade dementia. Ergo, I am a list person and a notes person. I write everything down because if I don’t, I will likely forget it before I walk out of the room.

Perhaps due to this fun quirk of my cognitive abilities, I have had to create and enact various forms of project management throughout my entire life. I have, to varying degrees of success, used calendar apps with reminders, basecamp and teams, but in the end have found that for me, the list’s the thing.

While it’s not my preferred method, our task this week was to research and utilize online project management software. I have had some success in a previous organization working with basecamp, and I have often attempted to find a project management system that was easy to utilize so I was hopeful. And I was disappointed.

Podio

Podio was my first choice of program to try. I liked the list-like quality of the format and that the dashboard was configurable. I signed up for a free version with my Quinnipiac email since I would be using it to track my Master’s program work. Apparently too many people with quinnipiac.edu emails are already using Podio and it kept insisting that I needed to upgrade to the pay option. I then tried signing up for a free version with my Choate email and ran into the same up-sell. Already annoyed before I was even able to start clicking around, Podio was a no-go.

Trello

Finally I tried Trello. I signed up with my gmail account in the hope of not repeating my issues with Podio and while they did try a soft up-sell to the pay version, I found it very easy to navigate away. First hurdle overcome.

Trello had another plus right off the bat – an extensive collection of templates. I opted for the “Remote Learning” template as I was going to use it to track my school work in an online program. I’m sure if I had wanted to set the page up for work or a different type of project, I could have found the correct template with ease.

While I truly enjoyed having a template to work from (I’m fairly certain I would have had trouble organizing my thoughts if I had to start from scratch) the novelty of creating each little card, due date, and task wore off very quickly. Furthermore, my internet is spotty at best, and waiting for cards to load and save was infuriating, especially when I could have written out my list on a piece of paper with a lovely purple pen in the same amount of time.

I spent a lot of time looking at those three dots… waiting… waiting…

Takeaways

With each task assigned, I was reminded of the pitfalls of every other project management system I have ever tried to implement. You must spend a significant amount of time on the front end setting up the system. Then, you must get everyone else to buy into the system. Then, you need to track down and follow-up with the colleagues who refuse to buy into the system which doubles the work. Finally, you must remember to update the system for those who have bought in, or the system becomes obsolete. So, while project management software may be very helpful in an organization with an individual whose job is devoted to running that system – a project manager – for those of us who are just desperately trying to bring order to the chaos, these systems feel like a bandaid on a bullet wound.

To some, project management programs may be the difference between success and failure. I find them to be a distraction – the epitome of shallow work. Does having lots of little cards with checkable marks and tasks you can assign to colleagues actually help get the work done? Not in my experience. In chapter two of Deep Work, Cal Newport posits “we no longer see Internet tools as products released by for-profit companies, funded by investors hoping to make a return, and run by twentysomethings who are often making things up as they go along. We’re instead quick to idolize these digital doodads as a signifier of progress and a harbinger of a (dare I say, brave) new world.” (Newport, 2016). I see these flashy, “user-friendly” project management tools – glorified lists with bells and whistles that are advertised but only available on the pay options – to be intrinsically digital doodads that those who worship “the Internet” will adopt, or worse, expect their subordinates to adopt and manage even though they make more work in the long run.

Adam Greenfield warns in A Sociology of the Smartphone that we have allowed smartphones, and by extension technology, to replace the material trappings of every day life. “Our ability to perform the every day competently is now contingent on the widest range of obscure factors… from the properties of the electromagnetic spectrum and our moment-to-moment ability to connect to the network, to the stability of the software we’re using and the current state of corporate alignments.” (Greenfield, 2017). While I have been quick to give up maps for apps and enjoy the instant and impersonal ting of a text message, I will keep my lists and my planner in paper form, bound and bouncing around my bag, reminding me that I have real, concrete places to go and things to do.

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