#19: Ditching Basecamp for Project Management With Google Docs

In an attempt to spice things up around here, we’ve decided to throw in a few shorter episodes where we spend twenty minutes or so discussing topics that might be too specific for a full episode or interview. In the first of these “Freelance Jam briefs,” we discuss our personal project management workflows as they relate to client projects and our own projects. Brian has decided to move most of his project management process over to Google Docs, while Dave is holding strong on the super simple Basecamp app. Find out how and why we are each using the systems that we are.

QUESTION: How do YOU manage your projects?

Big Announcment

Speaking of project management, there’s a new kid on the block and it’s called Solo: Beautiful Project Management for the Freelancer. We’ve teamed up with Solo to give one of our lucky listeners/viewers a ONE YEAR SUBSCRIPTION to Solo. That’s a $120 value!

To enter, all you have to do is sign up for our email list. That’s it.

You’ll also be signed up for Solo’s mailing list automatically. You can cancel your subscription to either list at any time, just make sure you’re still signed up when we announce our winner in episode #21 towards the end of February.

Good luck, and be sure to take a closer look at Solo especially in light of the topic we discuss in this episode.

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  1. Props on the idea of many episodes. I like it.

    I’ve been using Google Docs for a while now, though it was really hit or miss for a long time. For a couple of my on-going clients, we’ve always used G Docs for keeping track of planning, ideas, etc, but I only recently started using it for tracking my own ideas and meetings with new clients.

    One of the things I’ve found that is extremely important for me with google docs, is the ability to access them from anywhere, including my phone or iPad.

    Beyond G Docs though, I’d say the number one tool that I use is Ronin. Similar to Freshbooks, Ronin handles invoicing, time tracking, client management, etc, but it also has a really great task management system, which includes the ability to have comment streams between staff members and contractors. For me, I really love the ability to have all of the details about a project in one place; so invoices, client details, tasks, notes, etc. They’re all managed by Ronin. It’s nice to not have to use multiple apps, one for tasks and one for invoicing.

    • Haven’t seen Ronin before, Pippin. MAN there are a ton of apps out there! Thanks for sharing some insight into your process.

    • Brian

      Same here – Having GDocs in the cloud is huge. BUT – I’m still not impressed with the iPhone and iPad editing for GDocs. They crash my iPhone 4 and iPad 1 every time. Maybe they work better on the newest devices…

  2. Great video guys!

    I like to use a combination of Google Docs and Basecamp. Sure, BC can handle documents, but a lot of clients have documents set up in Docs and it’s pretty sweet working on a file at the same time with Docs. Much better than BC.

    I’ll still use BC for overall project collaboration with the client though. My clients have liked it. For the most part BC is pretty easy to learn. The only issue I notice is that sometimes clients will create messages and not check the little box to notify me.

    I use billings for invoicing and time tracking. I have a love hate relationship with that app. There are features that are awesome, but sometimes it just makes me want to pull my hair out…

  3. I’m currently in process of switching from Basecamp to Asana (http://asana.com/) which is a different take on project management. Curious if you guys every tried Asana? Currently it’s free to use however I’d expect them to announce a paid version at some point.

    • Brian

      Asana looks pretty nice.

      Frankly, part of the reason I switched to Google Apps was I got tired of trying out PM apps. Seems there are so many of them and new ones popping up each week. Wanted to come back to something more globally adopted, like Google Apps.

      Still in experiment mode though :)

      • Yeah I know what you mean. Lots of new tools everyday.

        Everything is experimentation. I like to break it into two categories: “My business process” and “My research and development”. Every time a new tool comes out that looks interesting it goes into my research and development testing phase. After a week of two if I still see value added by switching from one product to another I’ll implement it as my new way of doing work. This holds true for all areas of my business (project management, CRMs, payment processes, phones and so on). I for whatever reason love R&D. If I’m not careful I can spend all my time in R&D instead of billable work.

        • Brian

          That’s exactly what I became aware of last year: I got too distracted trying out every new PM and to-do list app out there. It really is a huge time suck, especially when you factor in migrating all your project info from one system to another (and back!).

  4. It’ll be interesting who’s going to hang on to his PM tool on the long run. Google docs is not really meant for project management, Basecamp, on the other, is built for project managers.

  5. Have you guys heard of WunderKit? It just came out of beta. I started using it recently. It’s pretty good!


  6. Kim

    Hey guys – love the show and always looking forward to a new episode. This is a great topic – especially for newer web designers!

    I use Freedcamp (http://freedcamp.com/) for client projects. Similar to Basecamp albeit free. I really like how they have structured permissions. I can limit what each client has access to within their project. For instance, I have one client who would be completely lost if she saw milestones and tasks – so she only has access to discussions and files. Where another client is completely hands-on in the project and he has access to the milestones & tasks. Freedcamp also has an app marketplace (free & paid) with invoicing, wiki, bug tracker, etc.

    I have also been testing out GQueues for a couple of projects and biz tasks. It’s a Google App integrated with Gmail.

  7. I’ve used a lot of systems for project management in the past. GDocs is the best for document sharing by far. But for true project management I use TeamLab. Has all I need and is expandable if I need the space. Has tasks, milestones, calendars, contact management, etc. And it’s free.

    I’ve also used Freedcamp like Kim mentions, and I love how easy it is to throw new tasks and comments in but there was things missing that I needed for actual team collaboration.

  8. There’s a TO DO list feature in Google Calendar and Mail. It integrates into both and you can schedule and it.

  9. Kay

    I just took a look at Wunderkit, and I logged in using Facebook. But I get a plain text page that does not let me into the app. I’m using a Mac OS 10.4. Is this project management software cloud-based?

    I used Asana, but somehow my clients did not like it!

    I like 360º, but at $40 a month it gets expensive!

  10. I actually use a combination of WordPress multisite with the P2 theme and the WP-Invoice plugin for billing. I have a centralized billing site that keeps my clients organized and I create a new project site for each client. The P2 interface is really straightforward and I made the site private to only myself and clients. I have a calendar plugin that can sync to my G-Cal and try to keep all the project details and communication on the project site.

    • Brett

      Do you mind me asking which calendar plugin you use to have your P2 info feed to Google Calendar via iCal? Thanks for the post. I’ve been experimenting with P2 as well. Please enlighten with your additions… I’ve found these plugins the most handy so far: Widget Logic, P2 Resolved Posts, Members Only

  11. Totally agree that there are sooooo many apps out there; sometimes I think I spend too much time tinkering with a system rather than just *doing* one system!

    For me it’s:
    – Basecamp for collaboration with the team working on a project; rarely invite clients, BC is straight forward but clients get confused (bless them!)
    – Highrise for CRM
    – Google Docs for a load of internal stuff & some project doc sharing with team and clients (if I think th client can handle the Google signup process).

    An issue for me was todo lists, I used to have lists on Highrise (misc client stuff), on BC (for projects) and on a misc iPhone app. Funnily enough this got a bit messy! My approach now is:
    – wunderlist for all tasks (including project ones). But these tasks are mainly reminders for me even though I can share lists I think. Love the fact that the app syncs online well. I create a lists per current project; like to be able to quickly see what is outstanding esp from my iPhone.
    – I rarely use BC tasks as that means I’m replicating my wunderlist stuff. Only time I would break this is if I wanted to lay out tasks for other people to action.

    I’m also not keen on using Gmail for project management – I too get stressed with full inboxes and labels/search just doesn’t do it for me.

    Oh, one thing that bugs me about BC is that I wish you could archive conversations; ie to indicate “hey, we’ve talked about this and it’s all cool now” (especially for when clients are involved)


  12. Interesting new tool for project management plus ‘design your own app’ – http://www.podio.com

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