Before we jump in to this review I want to remind you that if you choose use the same tools I do, there is no guarantee you will get the same results as me. My reviews are intended to show you how I used the tool and what I loved/hated about it.
If you pick up some workflow tips from my reviews, that’s great — just make them your own.
For a long while now I have used two tools, in combination, for my day-to-day workflow. I’ve used Trello for my client project management and any time I needed to collaborate with a team. OmniFocus was really where I spent my day to day though simply because it always ‘felt’ better to me for a task management tool. I’ve even written about how I used both Trello and OmniFocus.
There was lots of duplication in that process as I copied note links from Trello to OmniFocus so I could then go back and update the cards.
So back in late 2013 I went in search of a new solution so that I could be on a single application for everything. My needs were expanding as I got involved with hiring a few contractors and had a part-time assistant. Collaboration became a much higher priority for my company.
Problems with the system
I had a workable system but neither application alone (Trello or OmniFocus) proved to be perfect for my use.
Trello had great team functionality and clients grasped it really easily. The iPhone and iPad apps were quite good so I could be productive on the go. It fell down, though, when I had many boards. I simply couldn’t see all the tasks scheduled for a particular day across all boards. Nor could I see all the cards that were mine and due on a particular day, or have any real look at future tasks on my calendar.
Sure it can be used to manage a sales process but it really isn’t a CRM unless you invest a lot of manual work at every stage in the process.
Reviewing projects was a pain as well.
Trello has no built-in review system at all. Being a GTD person, I like a good review and while you don’t need a built-in review system like OmniFocus provides, it does make the whole process easier.
Finally, despite the strong use of keyboard commands (seriously, people, when you build your web apps, put some good thought into keyboard commands and navigation), Trello has nowhere near the quick-capture capabilities of OmniFocus.
OmniFocus is awesome for quick capture and did offer a stellar review system (especially on the iPad). While I hear that OmniFocus 2 has a great review process on the Mac as well, I’ve been off OmniFocus for 12 months so I haven’t looked at OmniFocus 2 for Mac outside of seeing screenshots and reading some reviews.
OmniFocus also had a great ‘forecast’ view on the iPad so you could easily see what tasks were coming up in the next 7 days, letting you see if you’d be overloadad.
OmniFocus simply has no real facility to share a project/tasks with a team. Sure there are some work arounds but they only work on Mac and are really hacks to make a single-person, task-focused system work for a group.
So your best bet was to ‘delegate’ a task to a person then apply a ‘waiting for’ context to it and you could check up on it during your weekly reviews. Not efficient at all.
Using two applications did prove to be inconvenient, though, since alternating between two systems regularly meant double entry for me. I’d look at the tasks in Trello and then put them on OmniFocus so that they were on my list. Then I’d complete a few and need to open up Trello again to deal with a client update. Not all of my clients own a Mac computer and asking them to purchase one just so they can pay me to work for them is simply not realistic.
Updating the client meant moving the card to a new list called ‘Done’ (remember I had already checked it off in OmniFocus) and commenting on it for the client. If any follow-up work was required, I’d end up moving the card, then creating a new OmniFocus task for the item with a link to the Trello card as a note.
I really dislike duplicating work, so my annoyance with my system grew every time that I had to do it.
Enter Redbooth (formerly Teambox)
With all that in mind I needed to at least find a single system that worked for my GTD mentality and allowed me to collaborate easily with clients and my expanding team. For the last 12 months that system has been Redbooth. I’ll admit up front (and talk about it more later) that Redbooth doesn’t solve ALL of my issues noted above, but it does solve enough that it was a better option than my previous two-application system of productivity.
Testing Redbooth was an easy process because it cost me absolutely nothing for 12 months. A free version is available for up to 5 projects within an organization. I don’t ever work on more than 2 or 3 projects at a time, and only that many if I include the ones set up for onboarding and any that are technically ‘done’ but still active. So, the 5-project limit didn’t limit my business making use of Redbooth in any appreciable way.
Once I signed up for Redbooth, here’s what I did:
- I set up an organization for my personal home stuff and added my wife
- I set up an organization for my business admin stuff and added in my awesome admin assistant
- Then I set up an organization for my client projects which clients went in
Since Redbooth aggregates all the tasks from the organizations into a single dashboard view, it all worked seamlessly as far as I was concerned.
Redbooth was a workable system for my 2014 project and task management needs. On the plus side, it served as a good bridge as I moved toward working effectively with a team, and it allowed clients to have a better look at a project in progress.
However, task entry was always a bit of a pain and the iOS apps were lacking some key features that made them entirely useless for parts of the workflow.
It might be the right solution for you but it didn’t solve enough problems for me, and in fact, created a bunch of new ones. That’s why I’m heading to Todoist for 2015 after evaluating it against Nozbe in late 2014. Watch for that post coming in a few days.
Overall Redbooth organization
I’ve already talked about the organizations I set up in Redbooth. Inside each organization are your projects.
A project consists of:
Lets take a look at each area.
Tasks are fairly standard across project management systems. You can further separate tasks into as many different lists as you’d like.
I liked the extra ‘list’ feature in the tasks. That let me create a list for building the theme, adding eCommerce support, project admin tasks (like for my client to book calls with me).
When I organize a project I want a lot of tasks, one for each little bug. For instance, if my project has a menu item that and the colour needs correction, but we also want a font change, then I want to see two tasks — one for the colour change and one for the font. That lets us leverage the comments and file attachments available in each task to really dig into each item and sort it out together.
There are few things as detrimental to a project than having 3 or 4 items in a task that need to be resolved before the task is considered complete.
Redbooth tasks also now have sub-tasks so you can break a task down into 3 or 4 smaller actions. I’ve used it when I need to set up user accounts on a site for clients and I put in the emails for the user accounts that need to be added. Then I can just check off each email as I do them and resolve the whole task when they’re done.
Like many systems, Redbooth currently allows you to use a Twitter-style @reply notation to make sure that someone is pinged on a specific comment. I use this when I need to ask a client a specific question on a task but they aren’t actually involved in executing the task.
They are notified about the task and can participate without seeing any other actions on the task.
Conversations in PM systems have always seemed a bit out of place to me — I mean, they usually involve just talking ‘about’ things without actually resulting in any tasks.
The few times I use them it’s to update the client that I’ll be away for a period of time. I’ve never really found many other uses for them, although I have found that clients sometimes end up using this feature, which means I end up sorting through the conversation to pull out all of the little tasks they brought up and adding them into the tasks on a project.
Now, if you use conversations a bunch in any other project management systems, then the Redbooth incarnation functions pretty much the same. Start a conversation, set up who will be alerted, and then start conversing.
Your clients can reply to the conversation and upload files if they choose to.
Like I said, pretty basic conversation features in a PM system.
Notes are better thought of as documents — a place to simply write stuff. I use this feature most often to document notes from client calls. That lets us both take a look at my notes and agree (or disagree) that the notes match up with what we talked about.
Really that’s all I use it for. Clients generally agree and then we move on from using the notes.
Files are pretty standard if you’ve used any other PM system. You can either upload files directly to the Files area of the project or it serves as a place where any file you’ve uploaded to the project resides.
I generally don’t upload files to the Files area, simply because files uploaded here won’t be tied specifically to anything. I upload all files to tasks, because then when I’m really ready to dig into the specific task I have access to the file I need.
Having all files in a general Files section of a project really just gives me another place outside of Evernote where I can look up all the files from the project. Unfortunately it’s not as easily searchable as Evernote which isn’t as crucial since you’ve only got files from the current project.
Still, I don’t end up using it much because of my Evernote file storage.
This is a fairly new feature to Redbooth and I haven’t used it much. It allows you to set the project start and end date along with a project description and a place to pin any important files.
You can also set an image on the top bar of the About page, though I’m not sure why you’d ever do that.
I’d love to see some other features added to the About page, like what has most recently happened in the project or maybe the latest alerts for you in a specific project.
Right now, it feels like it does little but has some potential.
There’s one super useful part of Redbooth I haven’t yet mentioned, and that’s the Dashboard. This is where you’ll find pretty much everything that has happened in any active project.
For instance, if your client updates a task and you need to know about it, the update will appear in the Dashboard.
You’ll also see any task that’s due (or overdue), as well as your upcoming tasks. This provides a quick, at-a-glance snapshot of what’s on your plate for the next few days.
Other Pro features
Redbooth also has a few Pro features I don’t actually use.
First off is the HD meetings which integrate a video and audio chat. Some people might find this helpful, since they could communicate with clients through their PM system rather than arranging a separate Google Hangout. I have no idea how well it works, though, because I’ve never paid for Redbooth and thus not had access to the HD meetings.
A second feature for Pro is the chat. This is not a feature I would utilize, because any other time I’ve made a chat feature available to clients, it simply turns into a way for them to distract me from accomplishing the actual goals of the project. I also don’t really have a full-time team, so chat doesn’t make sense for me.
One thing I mentioned in my Trello review was that there was no great way to really see the tasks one has due in the context of time.
If I had 42 things due on a Monday, Trello didn’t allow me to see that.
Redbooth as a great calendar sync feature, which lists your tasks all on one calendar. This display makes it fairly easy to take a look at your upcoming week — including meetings and tasks — and get a feel for what may need to be moved around.
Getting tasks in and a big issue
The first real thing that a GTD system needs to have is an easy way to enter tasks. The more friction you put in that process the less likely you are to collect all your tasks.
Like I said above, OmniFocus has this capture system set up perfect from a desktop, and Redbooth simply doesn’t. You don’t have any type of system-wide keyboard command that can send a task to Redbooth, because it’s a web application. When you’re working on something in your favourite code editor or Photoshop, your Mac has no idea that Redbooth exists so a keyboard command can’t be registered.
Entering tasks in Redbooth from the web application is a multi-step process that has little functional key command support.
If you’re on the Dashboard you’ll need to click the ‘Create’ button in the top left corner and then you can create a task (among many other things).
In the task creation window you have some tab support but not all the dropdowns actually work when you press Enter on your keyboard. It always seemed a bit random to me so I just ended up going back to my trackpad all the time to select the project and list that a given task was supposed to be on.
I really don’t think there is any excuse for making this such a complex process for power users. You could easily get a single entry and then Redbooth could use symbols like #@^ to allow you to set the project, list, and users that should be notified of the task.
But Redbooth just lets you manually click away, wasting your time on something that machines could automate for you.
From your device
Your first option when adding something to Redbooth from your device is the native iOS or Android apps. Sorry, Windows phone users — looks like you’re not getting app love, again.
Putting tasks in is actually a reasonably painful process from your device in the native apps. From the main screen, click the ‘+’ in the top corner then enter your task title and your task description.
The app remembers your last project, so the project line will likely be auto-filled. If it’s not, you’re going to have to tap into the project view, select the project, then select the list. It doesn’t sound ‘hard’ and I suppose it’s not really that hard but this was one detail I always found it annoying.
In spite of the cumbersome task system, Redbooth does have a decent email system. Simply send it an email and the subject will show up as the task description in your personal inbox (talking about the default email for your account) and the body of the email will be the task description.
Now a caveat here is that you can only send in tasks from the email you registered your account with. That sounds like not a big deal, but for me it was a consistent annoyance. See, most of the time I had my business email totally off on my iPhone, which meant that the default Mail client didn’t have my business email as a possible address to send from.
Which means Redbooth won’t accept a task from my personal email address.
Which means I end up connecting some filter rules in my work email with Zapier to get tasks into Redbooth.
Which just feels lame.
Resolving my task entry annoyance?
A consistent theme so far in my discussion of adding tasks in Redbooth is that it feels like a heavy process that was hard. If a process is hard you’re not going to do it.
I’m not sure there’s a good solution to my annoyance because of how projects (and the lists within) are organized. One thought would be to have some sort of symbol system where I could put #project-name ##list into the task name and Redbooth would sort it out for me.
That is where the real power in computers lies, automating tasks for us. With some work Redbooth could streamline the task entry leaving people to do important things like their actual work.
When I first started using Redbooth with iOS it had a bunch of features missing and simply felt more like a read-only version of your task list.
Since then it’s come a long way but still has major annoyances.
The biggest comes up between my wife and me on our shared grocery list. See, I’ll go out and get a few things and mark them as resolved.
But when I look at my list I’ll still see them until I go into the task again. Then it suddenly decides to show me that it’s actually resolved.
My wife (or me, depending on who did what) has the same issue. She’ll have some epic list of things when she glances at it then as she puts things in the cart and goes into the task to resolve it, it resolves itself. Was that task from last month then?
Who knows? So she ends up at the store, texting with me at home to check things, and we both waste time.
Redbooth really needs to get its iOS tasks resolved so that the app is properly functional.
The rest of the app works as you’d expect. You can participate in conversations, upload files and make notes.
When you first set up a Redbooth account you’re going to get a ‘Personal’ project that’s entirely private to you. This is where I ended up emaliing pretty much all the tasks I sent in via email.
The big problem for me, though, was the lack of that task really showing up anywhere outside of my personal project. I’d often end up sending a bunch of tasks there and then totally forget about them, so the items I added would sit for months without anyone (well me, since I’m the only one that can see the items) touching them.
Now I’ll be the first to say that I had a broken process for my inbox processing in Redbooth in 2014, but as I’ve tried other things again for 2015 the inbox with a badge seems to trigger — somewhere back in my brain — the need to actually sit down and process.
Both Nozbe and Todoist have this. Todoist even has a ‘Team Inbox’ so that you can see the unprocessed items from your team and deal with them.
Having this visual reminder means I actually process the incoming items instead of leaving them out of sight out of mind.
I got in touch with support 2 or 3 times over the course of using Redbooth but they were all in the first few months. After those 3 attempts, I stopped bothering with support.
I stopped bothering because it takes 3 – 5 days to hear back from them about anything. Then if they ask a question and you answer it, get ready to wait again.
They claim to offer support, but in reality, support is not a high priority in their business.
As a CRM
As a CRM, Redbooth is only barely better than Trello. It’s better because you can pretty easily see how many client contacts are coming up on a given day.
Ultimately Redbooth is not a CRM and you really just end up shuffling TO DO items around with client names and writing down what you talked about last time. I include links to my Google Apps emails but that’s not useful for anyone else that may have to deal with client communication, unless I also give them access to my email.
So Redbooth is not a CRM, but it has enough other great features to mean that I’m fine with how it works currently. If you’re looking for a good CRM solution for your business, don’t look here.
There is a lot to like about Redbooth. It’s a robust project management application with some very interesting advanced features and even more interesting features for Pro plans.
While there’s plenty to like about Redbooth, for me, the friction involved in task entry and management, along with the lack of a decent iOS app added to my frustration with having a not processed ‘inbox’.
These are the reasons I’ll be putting Redbooth aside for 2015 and moving all future client projects to Todoist.