9 Productivity Tools To Stay On Top of Proposal Management Tasks

The last few posts reviewed start-up tasks associated with identifying and tracking potential funders. Once you have identified an opportunity to respond to, you'll need to start assembling the people, information, and materials required to write the proposal.

Even for a relatively simple proposal, proposal work requires the work of many hands. This means that before you start working on a proposal you'll want to have systems in place to track the status of tasks, delegate work assignments, and communicate with team members.

There are lots of software programs and phone-based apps that can help you keep track of tasks and organize your project communications. Some are easier than others to master, and not all of the tools are free.

If you have access to project management tools like Microsoft SharePoint, you might have everything you need for your proposal management work, especially in combination with Outlook. If you work for a new nonprofit and do not have access to Outlook and need an easy way to share updates and collaborate, you might want to try a Cloud-based tool designed to facilitate productivity. Even if you have options for project management tools through your employer, you may want to consider additional ones to manage personal task lists, notes, and email.

The list below is a collection of tools to manage tasks, email, notes, and workflow.  All of the products on the list offer a free trial period so you can test them out to see if they work for you. Several also offer free versions.

Task Management Tools

  • Nozbe: Michael Sliwinski, Nozbe's founder, was inspired by the methods of David Allen, the productivity expert who wrote the book Getting Things Done.  Nozbe can be used to track tasks and collaborate through sharing projects and files and delegating tasks. Nozbe allows you to work with people who do not have a Nozbe account, which is a nice feature. Many popular tools--including Dropbox, Box, Evernote, and Google calendar-- integrate with Nozbe, making it possible to pull files from different places to attach to tasks or projects. Nozbe works with Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, iPad, and iPhone and syncs across devices. Nozbe offers a 30-day free trial. After the trial period, it costs $8/mo. if billed yearly or $10/mo. if billed month-to-month for 1-2 people. Each additional person is $4/mo. if billed yearly or $5/mo. if billed month-to-month. Nozbe maintains its main servers in Europe and is Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) compliant.

  • WunderlistWunderlist (acquired by Microsoft) is a task management app that allows you to create multiple lists, get reminders, and assign to-dos. If you forward your email to Wunderlist, Wunderlist has a feature that turns them into action items. You can use Wunderlist to collaborate with others by sharing your lists, an option offered through the Wunderlist Pro version. Wunderlist is free on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire, and the Web, and syncs across devices.  The  free version limits you to 5MB per file, 25 assigns per shared list, and 25 subtasks per to-do. Wunderlist's premium versions, Wunderlist Pro and Wunderlist for Business, offer expanded storage and unlimited files, to-dos, and task lists. The Pro version is $4.99/mo. or $49.99/year and the Business version is $4.99 per user/mo. or $49.99 per user/year. Wunderlist for Business is the Pro version for multiple licenses. The Pro version allows you to delegate to-dos to an unlimited number of members on a shared list, add notes, and store and share files of any size and almost any type. You can also have conversations with your team, with comments stored together with the to-dos. Wunderlist Business has 256-bit encryption. Wunderlist offers a 20% discount to non-profit and educational organizations on Wunderlist for Business.

Email Management Tools

  • Inky: Inky is an email sorter that provides an easy way to separate personal email from emails containing newsletters, social media updates, etc. that do not require any action. For team management purposes, Inky's value comes into play for those with multiple email addresses. To make it easier to catch important emails, emails from each email account linked to Inky are consolidated into a single "view." Inky has some other features in addition to the filtering, including the ability to send yourself notes, which Inky files in a separate email view.  Inky's interface is clean, and the setup is easy. Inky does not require that you set up a new email address--it pulls your email from your existing accounts--and you can go back and forth between your providers' websites and Inky. Inky does not store your email, which remains on your providers' servers.  Inky works with any email account, IMAP or POP, and uses an automatic account discovery system to connect to accounts such as Yahoo and Outlook. As a Cloud-based service, you do not need to install any software onto your device to use Inky. The Inky app is $9.99 through the Apple App Store. Inky can be downloaded for free for desktop use (Mac or Windows).
  • Sanebox: Sanebox uses a "smart filtering" process similar to Inky. Sanebox removes unimportant email messages from your inbox and places them into a folder labeled "SaneLater."  Sanebox also has a "SaneBlackHole" folder that works as  "one-click unsubscribe." If you drag an email to the SaneBlackHole, any future emails from that sender will go directly to trash. Other features include response tracking. SaneBox will notify you if an email you sent was not replied to so you can follow up and also includes a snooze feature for non-urgent emails which will return emails back to your inbox at a specified time. Sanebox also sends a summary (the "Sane Summary") that summarizes your day's activity. You can view and process unimportant emails and reminders directly from the summary.  Sanebox works with any email client or service, including Microsoft Exchange, and on any device.  Sanebox offers a free trial. After the free trial, you'll have the option of three pricing points: Snack, Lunch, or Dinner. "Snack" is $7/mo. and offers priority filtering and one optional feature such as advanced filtering or SaneSnooze; "Lunch" is $12/mo., and offers priority filtering and five optional features; and "Dinner" is $36/mo. and includes priority filtering and all features.  Sanebox also has a business product (contact Sanebox for pricing).

Team Management Tools

  • Asana: Asana is designed to take team communication out of the email inbox and into a system specifically designed to manage conversations and tasks. With Asana, conversations and tasks show up in one place, eliminating the need to go back and forth between email and a task management system. Some of its features include the ability to create tasks for yourself or others, organize tasks into shared projects, link conversations with tasks, and receive automatic updates about tasks you're watching.  Like a more traditional task management tool, Asana can be used to create tasks and schedule due dates for your personal work and track your team's progress through a high-level view. Asana works with several popular storage services including Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive, and it integrates with a diverse list of tools from Mailchimp to Wordpress.  Asana can be accessed through the Web, iOS, and Android and has both free and premium options. The premium version begins at $21/mo. (paid annually) for up to 5 team members and goes up from there.
  • BasecampBasecamp is a project management tool to manage tasks and projects. Individuals can use it to manage personal tasks and projects, but it is designed for team management. Basecamp's features include a dashboard that provides a snapshot of your conversations, tasks, files, events, etc.  Basecamp works with more than 80 third party tools. Basecamp offers a free 60-day trial period. After that, you'll need to choose a monthly plan. Basecamp charges by the project, not by the number of users. Prices start at $20/mo. for 10 active projects and 3 GB storage space and go up to $3,000/year for unlimited projects and 500 GB storage space. All pricing plans include unlimited users. Basecamp is free for teachers.
  • Flow:  Flow is about making "chats actionable."  Using Flow, you can create a task list from a chat thread and then add next steps to develop your project. You can also direct-message people on your team for private conversations, receive alerts when your name comes up in a chat, and share files.  Flow's Dashboard allows you to manage your personal tasks and calendar, view team conversations and to-do lists, and assign tasks to team members. The Dashboard offers different view options. You can see your tasks as a traditional list or in a calendar layout. Flow can be accessed on  Android, iOS, and Mac. For Android and iOS, there are two apps: Flow Chat and  Flow Tasks. Task and chat functions are integrated for the Mac version. Flow has a free trial period that apparently doesn't have a fixed end date. The company says to use Flow until you know it is right, and then choose a payment plan based on the size of your team. Flow starts at $19/mo. for up to 3 people, jumps to $59 for 4-10 people, $129/mo. for up to 20 people, $229/mo. for up to 30 people, and $399/mo. for up to 50 people. For more than 50 people, you'll need to contact Flow for pricing. Flow offers discounts to educators and nonprofits (contact Flow for more information).
  • SmartsheetSmartsheet is another project management tool that facilitates team collaboration. Smartsheet is based on the familiar spreadsheet format.  It includes features such as file attachment, automated workflows, Gantt chart views, and Web-based forms.  Smartsheet works with more than 40 third-party tools. For Google users, Smartsheet has some attractive benefits including the ability to update projects from within Gmail. Smartsheet offers a free trial period and has three pricing levels: Basic ($14/mo., paid annually) for individuals; Team ($39/mo. when paid annually for teams of three or more users); and Enterprise for organizations (call for pricing). Nonprofit pricing is also offered at Basic ($139/year) and Team ($399/year) levels.
  • TrelloTrello is a visual task and project management tool that works on multiple devices including Android phones and tablets, iPhone, iPad, and Kindle Fire. Trello integrates with about a dozen third-party tools including Box, Dropbox, and Evernote.  Because it is visual and creates a virtual bulletin board, conceptually Trello has some similarities to Pinterest. To use Trello, you start a project by opening a card and adding comments, attachments, checklists, etc. You can share your board with others. You can also create teams and have shared boards with your teammates.  To assign tasks, you drag and drop people to a project's card. Trello has a notification system that will send you updates via email, mobile notifications, browser, or from within the app. Other features including being able to create cards by sending an email to Trello. You can also add comments to a card via email (each card has an email address). Trello has free and paid versions. The basic version, which is meant for individuals, is free. Trello Gold offers individual users add-ons including bigger file uploads and premium board backgrounds. Trello Gold is $5/mo. or $45/year.  Trello Business Class is a shared space for teams to collaborate and share information. It includes added privacy and other admin controls and costs $8.33 per user/mo. when paid annually.

The free trial periods offered by each company should be enough time to see if a tool will work for you. If you experiment and decide to stick with Microsoft's Word, Excel, and OneNote, set aside some time to learn what each can do and master the features you'll need during the proposal process.

Microsoft's products are more than adequate to manage a proposal's development. The downside is that they are not always intuitive to use. This is the main advantage offered by the tools above--many of them have a simple interface, focus on one thing like email sorting or task lists, and do that one thing well.

If you are interested in exploring other productivity tools and approaches for managing your work, Lifehacker is one resource. Once you choose a tool, head over to lynda.com to see if there is a course on how to get started.