My Chaotic Project Management System and Free Tools I Use for Managing My Niche Site Business?

Messy desk in office

This article is part 2 of a 3 article series:

Part 1: How Much Content Do I Publish Each Day? Here’s a Typical Workday

Part 3: My Content Workflow (from Keyword to Publish)

My home office is a disaster.  Notes, cords, coffee cups and junk all over the place.

My leased office is the same.

And then there’s my laptop desktop screen which has dozens of folders, images and files scattered all over the place.  My digital filing system is a joke.

I am a very unorganized person.

I wasn’t always like this though.  I used to be the person who reconciled my personal checking account every month.  I did it for years until I asked myself “why am I wasting time on this?”  Over the course of several years I had never found a discrepancy.  No bank error.  Nothing.  Yet, I had spent many hours doing it.

During college I was uber organized.  My desk was tidy.  My books were always put away.

Somewhere along the way I went from organizing and being meticulous to totally disorganized.

My business organization reflects my physical organization.  I have no real project management system in place other than a variety of free tools.

Examples of my total disorganization

No formal publishing schedule:

I have no formal post schedule on any website.  Early on when I got into this business, I read it’s good to have an editorial calendar and have content lined up scheduled for being published on such and such a day.

I don’t plan any piece of content for any day.  When it’s done, I publish it.  If I miss a day, so be it.  The only exception is I may line a few up during a vacation.

I have no plan for any day until I get to work:

I do not know what content I will publish tomorrow.  I don’t think about it until I get to work.  I have loads of content at various stages in the pipeline, but as for which exact pieces I end up publishing, that’s a mystery until I start work.  Sometimes I plan it in the shower or driving to work, but even those plans are often changed.

I’m a minimalist when it comes to saving, storing and organizing digital files:  I keep only stuff that’s really important.  Otherwise, I trash it all.

Growing fleet of spreadsheets with hundreds of article topics:

I don’t have one neat and tidy spreadsheet that organizes all articles in the pipeline and/or keyword research.  I have a fleet of spreadsheets with reams of lists.  Yet, somehow I remember each one and have never had a problem with a systemless mess of topic ideas, keyword research and content in the pipeline.

1 email address:

I have dozens of email addresses, all of which forward to my main email.  My inbox is a disaster.  I don’t have folders or any system, yet it gets managed.  I set up folders and systems in email once but never used it.

Incomplete digital file folders:  

The only organization I have is I have a folder for each niche site.  However, over time they become a dumping ground.  Worst yet, they’re incomplete because I trash more than I keep.  I used to keep everything, but stopped doing that because it got to the point where I couldn’t find anything.  Now I keep important stuff only.

Free Tools I use for project management

Despite being totally unorganized, I get what I need to get done and keep all the balls in the air.  While I don’t use any specific system, I do use a few free tools that keep it all going. They are:

Gmail: Gmail is my email system of choice.  It does the job.

Google Calendar:  I don’t book too much stuff, but when I do I use Google Calendar.

Google Sheets:  I love cloud software.  Plus I have a Mac without Excel.  Accordingly, Google Sheets is my spreadsheet software of choice.

Mac Notes:  Macs have a Notes feature that’s amazing.  It opens fast and I can navigate from note to note really fast.  It also automatically saves.  It’s on the iCloud so I can access it from all my devices.  This nifty free software pretty much runs everything.  It’s very rudimentary, but does the job.

Any simple note-taking platform will work.  I like the tabs in Mac Notes so I can quickly jump into other notes almost instantly instead of looking for and opening another document.

I strongly suggest any type of notes system that permits unlimited tabs in the document.

Pen and Paper:  I have stacks of legal pads and piles of handwritten sheets all over the place.  I love pen and paper.  I find I come up with good ideas using this almost obsolete form of communication.

Quickbooks:  This year I’m setting up all financial stuff on Quickbooks on the strong recommendation of my accountant.  My financial documentation in recent years has been horrendous.  I leave it until the end and then have a huge job compiling dozens of reports and spreadsheets.  It was so bad this year that I’m following my accountant and will organize this part of my business.  I’ll probably outsource as much as possible because I know I won’t manage it diligently each month.

That’s it.  I do nothing else for managing everything and attempting to stay organized.

What about some fancy central project management system or software?

I don’t use anything.  I run everything with my team and outsourcers and ad networks through email, Google sheets and Google docs.

Why don’t I put more time into project management?

I’ve tried.  I’ve used various software programs, to-do software, apps, etc.  I spent a ton of time setting them up only never to use them.  I find they’re a big time-suck.  Moreover,  I loathe wasting time on organizing stuff.  For a business my size (me and a few VA’s), it’s unnecessary.

Time spent organizing or managing is better spent on the 2 things I know for a fact will make me money:

  • producing good content and
  • promoting that content.

That’s what I focus on.  If I’m unorganized doing it, so be it.  I’m certain I save a lot of time winging it and focusing on content and promotion.  Sometimes I can’t find something, but it’s rare.  The time I save from being uber organized makes up for that.

While my lack of system is a bit chaotic, I’m fine with that.  I like doing what I want, when I want, where I want and how I want.

Why am I telling you this?

Recently, I published an article outlining my typical day and setting out what I get done.  It was popular with lots of feedback.  One commenter asked “what project management system” I used.  It’s something I’ve never thought about and as I replied to the comment, I realized it could make a reasonably interesting blog post.

The main point I want to get across here is to avoid falling into the over-planning and over organizing time-suck trap.

If you’re a smaller publishing outfit like myself it’s a big mistake spending too much time on organizing and managing things.   You will not ever get perfectly organized.  Accept the chaos because this business is a bit chaotic (like any business).  Things change constantly.

Setting up organizational systems and software doesn’t make you money, especially when still a small business (which I am).  It’s really a waste of time.  Put as much time as possible into publishing excellent content and promotion.

Sure, if you have 30 employees, you need to organize (I’d make that the job of an employee because I’m useless at it).  But if you’re running a site or even a few sites, just focus on money-making tasks which is publishing content and promotion.

Should you be more organized than me?

It boils down to whether it helps you make more money.  You certainly can put more effort into it than me.  There is a point though, where these are “comfort” or “procrastinating tasks” that prevent you from getting important work done.  Kinda like looking at affiliate revenue reports, Analytics and ad revenue reports… it’s important to check these out from time-to-time, but doing so every 2 hours is a massive waste of time.

Rest of the series:


Part 1: How Much Content Do I Publish Each Day? Here’s a Typical Workday

Part 3: My Content Workflow (from Keyword to Publish)

5 thoughts on “My Chaotic Project Management System and Free Tools I Use for Managing My Niche Site Business?”

  1. Hey Jon,
    Love your stuff here! We are a lot alike in the organization realm of things. I try so hard to get organized because I feel like if I’m not organized, I can’t have good time management, and if I don’t have good TM, I can’t possibly succeed. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I do. Everything I’ve tried doesn’t stick, I don’t use it and/or it ends up a time suck for me. I was pretty organized in college too! What the hell happened? Yeah…anyway. I did find two tools recently that I have stuck with (so far) and they do help with my blog and just life in general – Trello and Wunderlist. I love that I can share lists with the hubby on Wunderlist and then he knows exactly what to get at the store if he stops and can’t get in touch with me. Trello serves as my blog workflow, among other things. I also have an adventures vision board on Trello that I share with my Sis. I love that I can create a checklist and use it over and over again for keeping track of all my promotions, recipes, etc. 🙂

    1. Hey Tonia,

      I checked out Trello but just looked like a big jumbled mess to me. You’re not the only person who recommends it. It seems to be popular for managing things. Maybe I’ll take another look. Thanks for the suggestions.

  2. Agree with Tonia about Trello. I’ve tried every tool out there because the “experts” tell me I should use it. Now it’s just Trello and Google Sheets and it’s working. I’d probably use pen & paper but I can’t even read me own writing half the time.

    For anyone who cares to know, I have a separate Trello board for each money site (mainly affiliate sites) with the same 4 Lists (Info Articles, Product Roundup Articles, Ideas, and Ready). Using (free), I setup a couple simple rules for each board (automatically add a label to a newly created card – different color label for each site, and another rule I explain below).

    I create a new card for each article idea I get for the 2 Articles lists. Within each article card, I’ll make notes for the writer (products for the roundup, page to use as a resource, etc), no matter if I outsource or write it myself. The Ideas list is just for things I want to do on the site (add a survey, try a plugin, switch out ad blocks, etc.).

    When any of these cards are ready to work on, I drag them into the “Ready” list which automatically moves them (using Butler) to a main “TO DO” Trello board under a list called “Next”. This Next list over time accumulates a bunch of cards from the various websites I manage (each card still has its colored label so I can quickly see which site it’s for).

    When I need something to work on, I drag a card from the “Next” list to my “Working On” list. If outsourcing something, I drag it to my “Outsourced” list. When an article comes back from a write, I drag the card back to the “Working On” list to publish the article.

    When a card is done, I drag it to my “Done” list. It’s honestly super quick to use this system even though it took a lot to explain. This is the only way I can stay on top of running 5+ sites. I’ve always struggled with figuring out what to work on next. This finally fixed that.

    But, the “system” you’re using seems to be working quite well for you. But in case you wanted to give Trello another shot, feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

    1. Thanks for weighing in Ivo. Sounds like Trello is really helpful so perhaps readers will want to give it a shot. Great comment. Thanks.

  3. Thank you again for making me feel like I ‘can’ do this! I am so very unorganized… I know where everything is but no one else would make any sense of it! I’ve tried the popular Evernote, Trello, and even google docs… nothin. A cheap paper planner is the best thing so far. Of course, I have a dozen of those laying around too, ha! I too, use Notes a lot, and just discovered Sheets last week. I love your transparency.

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