Documented processes don’t just save you time, money, and give a consistent method for your team to follow. They make everything you do more reliable and efficient, even increasing project success rate by 70%.
Unfortunately, getting started is the hardest part. Whether you don’t feel like you have time to set up your management system or just don’t know what to use for your needs, it’s difficult to get over the initial learning curve.
That’s why I’m going to outline the 9 organizational tools you can use to get started right now.
From their pros and cons and best use guidelines to general tips on what to do with your organizational tools, this post will cover:
- Process Street
- Office 365 (Microsoft Word and Excel)
- Google Suite (Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Drive)
- …and 4 process management techniques to get you started
It’s time to learn what organizational tools you need to manage your processes, and how to use them.
The 9 best organizational tools
When organizing your work, the ultimate goal is to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and to be as efficient and consistent as possible. The best way to do this is to document what you do as processes, and the first organizational tool on this list is perfect for doing just that.
Process Street is the simplest way to document, manage, and track your workflows and business processes. This lets you and your team perform tasks correctly and efficiently every time instead of leaving your success open to human error.
If a task is performed more than once, you’ll save time, effort, and sanity by documenting a process to follow for future runs.
Process Street lets you do this by recording tasks in templates – lists which show what tasks to do and what order to do them in, with room to add rich text, images, videos, files, and other media. That way the person working through the process will see what they need to do and have detailed instructions on how to do it.
Once you’ve documented your process, checklists can be run from it. These are individual instances of your template which can be used to track the progress of a particular time that you’re following that process.
For example, your employee onboarding template provides the structure and information for what tasks need performing and how to carry them out. An onboarding checklist is then run to track your progress with a particular new employee, with a new checklist being run for each separate hire.
This, combined with our advanced features such as overviewing all of your checklists in a handy template overview tab, running new checklists by clicking a custom link, and using Zapier to automate your processes and eliminate the work you hate doing makes Process Street a powerful tool for anyone looking for process management software.
We also have a free plan which is perfect for personal use or small businesses getting to grips with business process management.
To learn more, check out these handy (free) resources:
- The Complete Guide to Business Process Management
- The Ultimate Guide to Business Process Automation with Zapier
- The Consultant’s Guide to Process Street (while aimed at consultants, this ebook gives a full tutorial on all of Process Street’s features and how to use them)
Office 365 (Microsoft Word / Excel)
Chances are, even if you’ve never tried to organize and document tasks before, you’ve probably used Microsoft Word and Excel. That prior experience is one of the massive draws to using the Office 365 suite to document and manage your processes and make your work more efficient. You don’t want to learn how to use a new tool, so it’s easier to just repurpose your old ones, right?
Sure, you can use the programs for basic process documentation by manually typing them out in Microsoft Word, and things can be tracked using spreadsheets in Excel, but these solutions quickly become unwieldy and harmful for your practices. Rather than bringing order to chaos, they help to spread it until your practices are nothing but a jumbled mess.
Word is too clumsy and limiting to write processes in any depth, making sure that everyone uses the most recent file version is almost impossible, and using processes on-the-go requires either sheaves of paper or massive amounts of saved documents. Either way, the computer or room you use to store these files will quickly become bloated, messy, and a nightmare to manage.
Think about it – Word has no way to record your progress through a document without saving a new version of it, so you either document your processes without tracking them (which defeats the whole purpose) or have hundreds of versions of the same file which need to be stored somewhere.
Excel is no better, being powerful for spreadsheets, but awkward to use in a live setting and just as bad as Word for your team using outdated file versions and having messy organization when tracking processes.
In short, if you’re starting out with process management and don’t want to try out new software, Office 365 isn’t the worst choice but there are far better dedicated alternatives. If you want to start organizing your efforts and cracking the secrets of consistent success, you’ll need a dedicated program or service such as Process Street.
Money also isn’t a barrier to trying out other software, since so many have free plans which you can use to test the waters (if not run an entire small-scale operation on permanently). The sooner you take the plunge, the sooner you’ll never look back.
Trello is a vital part of any list of organizational tools, being a powerhouse of project management and a massive number of integrations with other apps to help automate the work you hate.
Trello lets you lay out your projects in a Kanban-style board. This means that your tasks or projects are stored in cards which are then arranged into columns.
For example, the content marketing team here at Process Street uses Trello to organize our blog articles. Ideas are stored as cards which can contain links to research, WIP posts, images, and so on. These idea cards can then be sorted by their status (using columns like “Raw Ideas” and “Needs Peer Review”) and given due dates, in turn letting us see our articles arranged into a calendar view for easy navigation.
However, Trello’s true power comes in using it with apps like Zapier.
Events in Trello can be used as Triggers or Actions in Zapier. This means that you can automate some of your more menial work (such as data entry and management) on an “if this happens, do that” model.
Going back to our own Trello Blog board, we automatically trigger our pre-publish checklist in Process Street when Trello cards are moved to the “Run Pre-Publish” column. Zapier then pastes a link to the checklist back into the Trello card, making it quick and easy to review our work.
As with several others in this post, they also have a free plan, so consider trying it even if the concept sounds a little alien.
Airtable might not be as well-known as Trello, but it’s an essential part of managing our projects and processes. Instead of using a purely Kanban layout, Airtable allows you to log entries in spreadsheets which can be turned into diverse, expandable, versatile sets of data.
For example, you could record a list of URLs as you would in any spreadsheet, but then expand each entry to also contain the name of the page it links to, the website it’s on, the author of the page, and so on. These are set out in columns which can be edited to contain anything from regular text to checkboxes and multiple choice fields.
Pieces of data and be linked to each other to contain a web of information for everything relating to your company, making it perfect for tracking large-scale, detailed data sets. For example, you could track your SEO by monitoring individual pages, the keywords they’re ranking for, what rank they are for each keyword, and the details of each keyword such as their traffic and difficulty.
Combine this with the ability to generate different views from traditional spreadsheets to calendars and Trello-style Kanban boards and you have an extremely powerful data, process, and project organizational tool. With a free plan that limits you on storage space rather than features, you have a killer option for managing your business with a more fluidity than with what Trello allows.
Unfortunately, much like Trello, Airtable’s use in terms of dedicated process management is pretty limited. While it’s great for managing your projects and starting off your processes, there’s very little room for giving instructions for tasks and even less so for automatically providing said instructions.
If you want to give someone pointers on how to complete a difficult task you’ve assigned in Airtable, you have to spend the time manually writing out a comment. Doing so once might be okay, but the time it takes quickly adds up over multiple runs.
As such, consider using Airtable as one part of your wider suite, or at most an optional (more complex) Trello replacement. Store interlinked data and projects in there by all means, but when it comes time to work through your tasks you’ll need to follow a documented process inside a dedicated piece of software, such as Process Street.
Google Suite (Google Docs / Sheets / Drive)
Google Suite is to Office 365 what Airtable is to Trello – it does many of the same jobs as Microsoft Word, Excel, and so on, but with a more modern design, online functionality, and limitations for certain tasks.
Much like with Word and Excel, Google Docs and Sheets can be used to document simple processes at a small scale without too many issues. There’s even the bonus of having a native cloud storage service in Google Drive, which is fantastic for making sure that everyone is up-to-date and can access their work.
There are, however, many of the same drawbacks. Any kind of dedicated, serious effort to document, track, and improve your processes will be severely hindered due to the layout of Docs and Sheets, for all the same reasons that Word and Excel aren’t ideal.
That’s not to say that they’re completely interchangeable.
Google Drive is practically a necessity for any team working online. By installing local versions of Google Drive on all machines and making sure that all work is completed either inside cloud platforms or saved to Google Drive, you can make sure that any and all work can be accessed at any time as long as there’s an internet connection.
Not only does this mean you’ll never lose work if your computer crashes, but if you’re working with a remote team then there’s less to worry about with clashing time zones. Instead of having to be online at the same time in order to open and review work, you can just save the files to Google Drive and share them with whoever needs access.
Plus, since Google accounts are free to sign up for, there’s no reason you can’t make a throwaway account to test things out. At the very least using Drive is much more reliable and accessible than having a locally stored knowledge base.
The only downside is that most people are familiar with Microsoft Word and Excel, while relatively few have used Google Suite before. Thankfully, the products are similar enough that it’s easy to get started with one if you’ve used the other.
Zapier is a service which lets you link together over 1,000 other apps like Gmail and Process Street, then automate tasks relating to those apps. It does this using an “if this, then that” model, so you could tell Zapier that “if I receive an email with an attachment, automatically save the attachment to Google Drive”.
While not every task can be automated in this way (human judgment is still needed for some decisions), a huge chunk of your most boring and hated work can be handled automatically by doing this. From data entry to accounting and process management, there are thousands of use cases for any business looking to increase their efficiency.
Not to mention that it’s much easier to organize and monitor your duties if half of them can be automatically handled by another service.
To learn more about Zapier, check out the following resources:
- What Is Zapier? The Essential (Unknown) Time Saver
- Integrating Zapier and Process Street
- The Ultimate Guide to Business Process Automation with Zapier [a free ebook]
Now that we’ve covered the basic tools you can use for various needs, let’s take a look at how to use them to increase productivity, consistency, quality, and all-around improve your operations.
How to boost productivity with organizational tools
Document processes to limit human error and know what’s happening
Human error is infuriating to deal with. Any aspect of your business with a human element is susceptible to it at all times, making it difficult to nullify. Not to mention that it can strike anywhere from your frontline employees all the way up to your own office.
Heck, just one mistake at NASA caused the $193 million Mars Climate Orbiter to go up in smoke, and they’re literally rocket scientists. No one’s immune from human error.
Unless you document your processes, that is.
Writing out your task flow with instructions to complete each step prevents the person using it from relying on their memory. Instead of letting human error creep into their process, you’re providing strict guidelines for what they need to do, when they need to do it, and how to get it done.
This set structure can also help to put your employees at ease and work more effectively. Instead of having to stop and think about what to do next (or second-guessing their own memory) they can refer to the process and crack on.
If you go one step further and use dedicated business process management software like Process Street, you can also track every instance of your processes to make sure that everyone is following them rather than taking shortcuts (or ignoring them entirely).
Improve processes that need tweaking
Improving your regular processes is a great way to boost your business’ efficiency, as even small time saves will quickly add up to huge benefits. However, you can’t improve what you’re doing if you don’t know what your current methods are.
Documenting your processes accurately (there’s no use recording a process that you don’t actually use) is the only way you’ll be able to keep improving your methods.
Techniques like continuous improvement are only possible when you have a solid, accurate base to start from. Once you have that foundation it’s easy to take a step back and analyze your process as a whole, letting you spot gaps and inefficiencies in the form of bottlenecks or wasted resources.
Dealing with those inefficiencies depends entirely on the process and work they relate to, but at least with this, you’ll be able to identify the biggest pain points in your work. Then you can focus on what matters and make adjustments where you stand to gain the most.
Re-engineer practices that need overhauling
Sometimes things won’t go to plan and, for one reason or another, your processes will need reworking from scratch. Perhaps a fancy new tool changes the way you work, maybe Google updated their algorithm to make your SEO process useless, or perhaps your workflow was so outdated that it’s not worth salvaging.
Whatever the reason, it’s easy to scrap your bad processes and build new ones with business process re-engineering. Basically, instead of trying to force your existing process to fit your needs, you start building from the ground up to make sure that you’re doing things as effectively as possible.
This can be good for tackling a process that’s been frequently revised and needs a fresh take, ones which haven’t been followed and need overhauling to reflect that, or when a significant change has happened which makes your old method useless.
Again, without documenting and managing your processes there’s no way you’d even know that your methods are out of date, let alone be able to create a better one.
Automate the work you hate doing
As I’ve already mentioned, documenting your processes lets you massively boost productivity by automating the work that you hate doing. Without knowing what tasks you consistently perform, there’s almost no way to know what you’d be able to hand off.
It’s hard to see what tasks are predictable and can be automated without laying out your task list in black-and-white.
However, once you have an idea of which tasks are repeatable and predictable, you can optimize your process as a whole. The best way to do this is to identify the tasks which don’t require human thought and hand them off to an automated service.
For example, you could have Zapier automatically save email attachments you receive to Google Drive (using filters to sort them into the correct folders). Alternatively, you could detect when a checklist in Process Street needs to be started (eg, a blog post needs pre-publish checks) and automatically run one.
Information can also be pushed into your new checklists to save you the trouble of any horrible data entry. That way, rather than just running a checklist for you, you can automatically push data you already know (such as a client details) into a checklist where you would have to copy in anyway (such as a client onboarding process).
All you have to do is get started on your tasks – you don’t have to stop and break your focus.
To learn more about automating your processes, check out our resources on the subject below:
- The Ultimate Guide to Business Process Automation with Zapier – a free ebook
- Checklist Run Links in Process Street – these let you run a new checklist by clicking them
- Variables in Process Street – these display variable information, and when in checklist run links can transfer data into new checklists
Ultimately, actions are more important than tools
Having a solid organizational tools suite is important but, ultimately, your actions matter more than what software you’re using. Even the best software will be wasted if you don’t correctly document your methods and stick with them going forward.
To do this, I’d recommend checking out our free business process management guide. It has everything you need to know about identifying, documenting, tracking, managing, and improving your processes (even if you’ve never done it before).
Also, to clear up another process-related myth before I go, you don’t have to do everything at once (I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “I don’t have time to set it up”).
It’s important to record an accurate picture of your processes so that you can go on to improve them, but it’s more important to record your minimum viable processes so that you have a framework to go on. You don’t have to give instructions for every task from the get-go; if you’re short on time it’s better to write out your task list so that you can use it while you flesh out the rest of the process.
Keep this in mind and you’ll not only reliably know what’s going on in your business, but you’ll be able to go back and improve your methods to make things more efficient, easy to carry out, and reliably successful.
That’s what processes are all about, after all.
What do you use to organize your business? Have any questions about how to get started or which programs you should use for your own purposes? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!