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21:17

How To Increase Your Productivity with Project Bubble


Project Bubble

There are a lot of tools out there for helping freelancers with productivity. I wanted to share a free, web-based tool that I have been building in my spare time called Project Bubble.
Project Bubble is a free, easy-to-use and fun project management tool. Easily manage your projects, invoices, time sheets, clients and files. I also wanted to share a few others that I have looked at over the past few months in my efforts to find decent web apps to help my productivity.

It’s a problem of motivation

Has anyone seen that film Office Space? It’s one of my favourite movies ever. Peter Gibbons get’s asked why he isn’t being very productive at work:

petergibbonsThe thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care. It’s a problem of motivation, all right?

I love that film. Do you ever find yourself feeling unmotivated but you know that you have a load of work to do and if you don’t have a productive day everything is going to just slip behind and deadlines won’t get met?

You need the motivation to do the work that’s all, and if you can get organised and in to ‘the zone’ you will be able to get lots done. How do you start though? Do you have all these projects whizzing around your head or have a hundred Stickies on your desktop with all the tasks you need to do?

You might not be able to afford a project manager to organise it for you, so what you need is a bit of software to do it for you. You log in, and it says this:

“Hi Stu, you have 3 active projects on today. 1 of them needs to be finished today, and you have 3 to-dos (like ring the client, and organise the meeting) before you finish that task. Don’t worry about the other 5 projects, they can be done later in the week.”

Perfect, right?! Well that is why I decided to build my own software to meet this need. Before I go in to how I did that, let me just share some other apps out there that are amazing.

Project Management With Ease

Thanks to modern browsers and frameworks like jQuery there are a lot of cool web based apps now that handle project management. Obviously BaseCamp springs to mind, but there are countless articles on BaseCamp out there. Yes it’s amazing, and loads of organisations use it, but it’s costly. As a freelancer I wasn’t prepared to pay the fees that BaseCamp charged, and I still thought it could be a lot simpler.

ActiveCollab

Active Collab

ActiveCollab is a great tool. I really like it because you can manage projects, tasks, milestones and invoices altogether. It’s got a very nice, easy-to-use interface and makes doing the management a complete breeze. Not only that but you can share your projects and tasks (though I’m the only one in my company at the moment, as are most freelancers). ActiveCollab offer a free trial, but then they charge to use the service.

NoKahuna

NoKahuna is also very easy to use and they offer a free version which is great. You can create public or private projects and set up tasks or messages for a project. You can even upload files to a project or message. It has a dashboard so you can see an overview of your projects. It’s a simple system (when free), but you can pay for more features if you want.

Nirvana

Nirvana

I found Nirvana recently and it looks amazing. It has an Apple-esque design so obviously the user interface is bound to be easy to use and familiar. You can manage tasks, milestones and projects but also you can export them as well which is helpful. It’s invite only at the moment, but you can sign up for an invite on their site.

Bubbling With CodeIgniter

So after looking at what else was there I thought I’d have a go at making my own. Thanks to CodeIgniter, I was able to build this app, called Project Bubble, in just 2 weeks. I came up with a friendly name, got a friend to do a logo and then just uploaded it to the web. The following video contains an introduction to Project Bubble:

Project Bubble | Project Management Made Simple from Halogy on Vimeo.

I was the only user for months, and it was perfect for me. I would login in the mornings and it would tell me what projects were active, who my top clients were and what tasks needed to be done today. Obviously I had to update it at the end of the day ready for tomorrow, but it took a lot of stress out of the day. One of the most important things for me in the architecture of this app was just to keep things simple and not too clumsy. So I used a lot of jQuery, AJAX (tools to make things load smoothly and quickly), and tried to design it in such a way that you could see all your projects, to-dos and be able to re-order them on the go.

Then came the need to have a system for invoices. What would be so cool is if I could just generate an invoice off a project that I had been working on. The tasks could act as items on the invoice, so I could set the time spent on each task, set how much my fees were and then click Generate and it would make a PDF which I could send to the client. First though I wanted to see what else was out there.

Getting the Boredom out of Invoicing

I used to make documents for every invoice using inDesign. It was a fiddly and lengthy process, but the up-side was my invoices looked really nice. However, when a client gets your invoice the first thing they think about when they receive it is not “ooh what a lovely looking, nicely designed and well branded invoice”, they are thinking about the cost of course! So auto-generated invoices are ok, if you can find the right tool out there to make them for you.

There are LOADS of systems you can use that do this. Some have been around for a long time, for example I remember using a tool years ago that I installed to my web server and it generated invoices for me automatically with my logo. However what people want these days is not to have the hassle of having to manage and host software, they want cool ‘Web 2.0′ apps that are really easy to use.

So here are a few:

Invoice Machine

Invoice Machine

The Invoice Machine is amazing. I really like it because it’s just so simple and there are lots of buttons and icons to do stuff. With TIM you can create your itemised invoices, set tax rate, discounts, and even choose a theme. Then with a permalink, send them to your client and they can pay with PayPal, which in turn marks them as Paid. It’s got a really nice interface too. They charge to use the service, it’s free though for 3 invoices per month (but I can’t imagine many businesses surviving on 3 invoices per month). TIM haven’t been active for a long time, apparently it’s because they are working on a massive update? You can follow them on Twitter (@invoicemachine).

MoneyBird

Found MoneyBird recently, and they are very friendly. The service is very similar to Invoice Machine only they offer an SSL which can be very useful and bring comfort to your clients because of the added security. They offer a very generous (all-in) package for just $14.00 per month, as well as a free version for 3 invoices again. Again, on Twitter they are @moneybird.

Back to Bubble

So inspired by these amazing web apps I decided to add invoicing features to Project Bubble. As I mentioned earlier it would be cool if you could just run an invoice off against a project, so keeping in the same flow of ’simplicity is best’ I added a system that did just this. I tested this feature with a client recently and simply created an invoice on a closed project (with tasks), clicked on Send, and they paid with Paypal. Bingo!

This kind of system is great because it takes a lot of time, hassle and stress out of our days. When our days are full of coding or being creative with designs and branding we don’t really want to be doing all that management stuff!

Have a go…

A few weeks ago I decided to share Project Bubble with the world, and now you too can use it for free. I’ve had lots of feedback and tried to build the features in as people have requested them. Also people have been requesting language translation and lots more, which is brilliant and I hope to do this soon. Of course PB doesn’t have tools like BaseCamp integration, or Gant charts – but I think if you want things like this then you should definately look at the premium tools out there, like ActiveCollab.

So why am I doing it? And will it always be free? I think mostly PB will always be free yes, though to cover hosting costs I might charge to use the Files part of it later on, but I just enjoy developing and sharing web-based creations like this and getting feedback – so keep your thoughts coming! Incidentally, if you have found any other apps (free or otherwise) that help productivity feel free to share.

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