basecamp-cartoon-apr-15There are lots of great online collaboration tools out there, although I’m partially to one of the longer-running: Basecamp, which I use for my projects and use to make the most of my worktime. I’ve also had the chance to work with several others, including Asana, Minigroup and Zoho, but I’m still partial to Basecamp. I’ve found a few things to be true though, about how people use it that don’t make the most of it.

Basecamp allows you to track your project on a calendar, assign specific tasks to specific individuals, have discussions, share files and create simple text documents. I’ve found it invaluable for tracking what needs to happen in my many different projects. Over years of using it, here are some things I’ve learned through a combo of trial and error and checking their excellent support materials.

Construct your to-dos well: ensure each to-do is only one task

This also reflects what David Allen says about setting up to-dos in his foundational book, “Getting Things Done.” He points out that you need to break down tasks into the steps that are actually required, then plan on completing those things, one at a time. A to-do should be a concrete task with a beginning and an end that you can tell when you’ve completed it.

For example, “collect website feedback via an online survey” is not an effective to-do: it’s a to-do list. If you think that there are five or six steps, then you’re probably underestimating. There are more like 15-20 steps to putting together a website survey, and you want to break this down into all the steps. Steps include drafting the survey, reviewing then approving the draft, drafting invitations for different media, deciding who should get the survey, setting up correct email lists — tasks that are done by different people at different times.

This is one of the benefits of using collaboration software: it allows you to break down a project into all its parts and assign the parts to individuals. Good task lists allow for a better assessment of how fast a project can happen and who is responsible for what.

Start your day with Basecamp’s “Me” tab

Your “Me” tab in Basecamp’s top menu allows you to see your open to-dos, the discussions your involved in, and files that you’ve shared. I’ve found it’s a great place to start my day so that I begin by orienting myself towards my progress and goals (as in, being proactive) instead of starting days by answering emails (being reactive).

Take advantage of Basecamp’s email settings

I personally like the “Daily Recap” emails that Basecamp sends for each project, and of course Basecamp will remind you of upcoming deadlines for projects. I also make use of Basecamp’s ability to send email to any project via a unique email address. This way, I can forward messages from email conversations outside Basecamp to a project so that I can pull them up later.

Recently Basecamp added the ability to customize your email settings so you can decide just how much email you get from projects. That’s a great addition — I know some clients wanted a way to reduce the amount of email you get from Basecamp.

Don’t let your “pecking order” slow down your collaboration

In work hierarchies, you have a manager or supervisor, and in many cases, it can be strange to assign tasks to someone who manages or supervises you. I’ve definitely noticed that some clients seem to have a hard time with “lower ranked” employees assigning things to “higher ranked” ones, or that client’s are reluctant to assign me tasks. But that’s a mistake from a collaboration perspective. Anyone should be able to assign relevant tasks to anyone else to move the project along. 

Online collaboration can take some getting used to

Whichever collaboration tool your organization uses matters less than that you:

  1. Organize your work into manageable bites
  2. Use it consistently
  3. Keep all your communications about each project together
  4. Not get so caught up in who gets to make requests of who

If you keep those tips in mind, any online collaboration system can help you get things done.