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Uplevel your self management skills: The 25+ best self management tools for founders (plus tips)

I've managed 100+ software projects in the last decade. Most were for other companies and entrepreneurs. A few were my own.

At this point, I think it's fair to say that I know my way around a project management tool. So here's a deep dive into the best task managers around, based on my research, the thoughts of fellow indie hackers, and my own experience. Since we're all indie hackers, I'll focus on self management for solo founders and small teams.

Self-management tools: Todo list apps

Let me start by saying that it is entirely possible to overdo it with task management, and to waste time in the name of efficiency. Trust me, I know from personal experience 😅

The truth is that a simple todo list will work just fine for many of us. And this is particularly true for solo founders. So before we talk about project management apps, let's talk about todos.

  • Todoist (Freemium, $3/mo): Positions itself as simple and robust (for a todo list app), meaning that it takes the middle-ground where it isn't the simplest or the most robust. And it's working for them. Todoist has become one of the most well-known todo apps out there. It has natural language processing capabilities, a library of project templates, and lots of integrations. The free version is solid. If you need a good calendar view, though, it's not for you. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows. My experience: I've used Todoist for years for both my personal life and non-technical business tasks. The free plan does everything I need, so I'm a fan.
  • Any.do (Freemium, $5.99/mo): Simple todo app similar to Todoist. Has a slick "Plan my day" feature which forces you to schedule your tasks. You can create tasks with your voice, integrate it with calendars, and more. Seems like a solid app but the free version is pretty restrictive. Available on web, iOS, Android.
  • Habitica (Freemium, $5/mo): A gamified experience where your character levels up or takes damage according to your accomplishments. You can even battle bosses as a team. Seems like a pretty cool idea if you need some extra motivation and you don't need a ton of features. Available on web, iOS, Android.
  • Things ($9.99-$49.99 depending on platform): Easy to use and robust. It has natural language processing, advanced search features, and can handle complicated tasks. Plus, it allows you to select a primary focus for each day, which can be helpful. But some say that it can get a little complicated to use. For Apple users only — iOS and macOS.
  • TickTick (Freemium, $27.99/yr): Up-and-comer with lots of features like a pomodoro timer, calendar integrations, habit tracking, and more. Designed with the Getting Things Done Method in mind. Features natural language dates similar to Todoist. But it doesn't have much for integrations and the free version is pretty restrictive. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows.

Let's leave it there for the big dogs and move on to projects that are just as awesome and built by fellow indie hackers.

  • KissTodo by @maximedupre (free): Personal task management inspired by .txt. Allows for infinite nesting. And as the name implies, its goal is to Keep It Simple, Stupid. Available on web, mobile, and desktop.
  • Brutask by @siddhitaupare (freemium): Simplified todo lists for small teams that work on daily scrums and have standups. Recently crossed 2000 users 💪
  • LunaTask by @mikekreeki (freemium, $6/mo): Not only a task manager, but also a pomodoro timer, a habit tracker, a mood tracker and more. Allows you to employ a number of different productivity frameworks. And it's privacy-focused.
  • Focus Wall by @madebyAyan ($11.89): Nifty app that lets you add todos to your wallpaper. Available for Windows (Mac and Linux coming soon).
  • Done Log by @chrisshennan (freemium, $24/yr): A "todo list alternative" that puts the focus on what you've achieved to give you a sense of accomplishment.

Self-management tools: Project management apps

Now, if you need to be able to document complex tasks and/or communicate effectively with other team members, a todo app might not cut it. Let's take a look at the best project management tools out there. While they're a little more expensive, most offer a free plan that can get the job done.

  • Notion (freemium, $4/mo): Notion does, well… pretty much anything and everything. It's a decent option for task management, with multiple views and templates, tons of flexibility, plenty of integrations, and offline access. I thought @luca said it well: "...I 'run' most of my life on Notion, so I tend to stick with Notion for personal projects as well. Is it a perfect PM tool? Hell no… But being able to see all the things I have to do and their progress on the same tool really makes the difference for me. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows. My experience: I've used Notion a ton, but mostly for wikis, content creation, and the like. It's a great tool and I imagine the kanban and todo list templates compete with the best of them, as many indie hackers attest.
  • Trello (freemium, $5/seat/mo): Simple kanban-style tool. Ideal for beginners and small teams who need basic project management functionality. Solid free tier. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows. My experience: It gets the job done nicely on simple projects. But I found myself feeling frustrated a number of times when working and collaborating on larger projects.
  • Monday.com (freemium, $10/seat/month): Powerful and sleek with intuitive layouts. The free plan is solid, but premium is expensive. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows. My experience: I used this one a bit and really liked it. That said, it's expensive and probably overkill unless you've got a big team.
  • Jira (freemium, $7/seat/mo): Jira was, and to some extent still is, the standard. It's an agile project management tool for planning, tracking, and managing projects. I saw a few people saying that it's overcomplicated and that it only makes sense if you're managing a big team. But I know people who swear by it. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS (not Windows). My experience: I wasn't impressed when I used it a while back, but maybe it's one of those tools that takes a while to love.
  • Asana (freemium, $10.99/seat/mo): Advanced project management software with lots of integrations, reviews, reporting, and so forth. Definitely has everything you need — probably more than you need. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows. My experience: I use Asana with a freelance client who insisted on it. It's fine but expensive, and really nothing to phone home about. Probably more suitable for a bigger organization than an indie hacker.
  • Basecamp (freemium, $99/mo): We all know Basecamp — they've literally written the book(s) on how to run projects/businesses. It's an all-in-one platform that prides itself on letting you ditch other subscriptions. Great for collaboration and bigger companies. The price is high but there is a free "personal" tier that can do the trick. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows. My experience: I used Basecamp for client-facing project management back when I worked at an agency. It was excellent. For indie hackers, though, I don't think it's the best option.
  • Zoho Projects (freemium, $5/seat/mo): Probably the best value for a premium tier. Easy to use, with all the features you'd expect from a project management app, including time-tracking and lots of integrations. The free tier only allows 3 users, which is fine for most of us. Available on web, iOS, Android.
  • Wrike (freemium, $9.80/seat/mo): Easy setup with lots of features and a comprehensive reporting suite. Good for small- and medium-sized projects. Offers lots of ways to look at data. It doesn't have offline access, though. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows.
  • ClickUp (freemium, $5/seat/mo): Apparently, it's like a mix of Monday and Asana. With tons of features and lots of ready-made templates, it can basically be as simple or as complex as you need. They claim that you'll save one day per week by using them, which sounds impressive. And the free plan looks really solid. But setup can be time-consuming if you go the customized route. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOs, Window, Linu, Alexa, and Google Assistant.
  • Teamwork (freemium, $10/seat/mo): Intuitive with lots of features. I saw this one mentioned by a few indie hackers. It's easy to use, has lots of features and allows you to automate tasks. Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows.
  • Zenkit.com (freemium, $9/seat/mo): I think @DGerine said it well, "I can vouch for [Zenkit], it's a great project management tool for startups as it's multi-featured (think Kanban board, mind map, task list) on the single platform. It's also free for up to five users which is always ideal for a startup :)" Available on web, iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, Linux.

Other self-management tools

  • Note-taking apps: For a long time, I used note-taking apps like Evernote to bullet out my todos. It wasn't ideal, but it got the job done. Side note: Evernote actually has a todo feature these days.
  • Notepad and pen: Yeah, it's old-fashioned but it works well and I have to admit it feels good to physically cross out a todo. Also, @point made the point that, "[A] notepad does not limit how and what you write."
  • Bullet Journaling: It's a protocol for bulleting out tasks, events, notes, etc. in an efficient way. Looks pretty cool and I know of some indie hackers who swear by it.
  • Sticky notes: Lots of indie hackers put sticky notes on their walls. I think it's a nice option as long as you always work in the same place. And it only really works for solo founders — I tried it for a while back in my agency days and it wasn't practical.
  • Website and app blockers: If procrastination is a problem for you, give these a shot. Focus is supposed to be a good option.
  • Time trackers: Very handy for managing your time effectively. I've heard Toggl is good.
  • Focusmate: A pretty cool way to find accountability buddies.

Some self management tips

I'll wrap up with a few pointers that I came across:

  • Get SMART about your goals — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
  • Prioritize your features and tasks. Here's a post on how to do that effectively.
  • Break tasks into small pieces.
  • Knock out one task at a time — don't multitask.
  • Set realistic deadlines.
  • Schedule your tasks.
  • Set a timer. And keep going until the time's up.
  • Track your time.
  • Get an accountability buddy.
  • At the end of the day, plan your next day.
  • And of course, find the best task management tool for you.

Check out my post on efficiency for more info on that.

My take

Like I said, I personally use Todoist for my personal tasks — it's simple and the free version suits my needs. That said, I think I might try out one of the todo apps that I listed by fellow indie hackers. They look really great.

As far as more robust project management tools, I would personally opt for Monday.com's free plan. But if you're going to need a premium plan, Zoho Projects seems to be the best bang for the buck.

And of course there are tons of other options. What's your favorite?

  1. 3

    Hey James, thanks for the shoutout to Focus Wall, it's really appreciated!

    Though I would like to point out that Focus Wall isn't a Netlify based app, rather it's based on electron to provide a clean experience on desktop, so anyone can stay productive with a distraction-free interface.

    I should probably talk about the tech stack of Focus Wall in a future post, it was quite a unique choice of combining electron with python to provide the experience you get with the app.

    Thanks again!

    1. 2

      Wow, sounds awesome 💪

  2. 2

    Woah I'm late to the party 😆 Thank you so much for including KissTodo in your list 💜

    1. 1

      My pleasure! Looks like a great app 💪

  3. 2

    Hey James!
    Such a huge and helpful apps list💪🏻 Thanks for sharing!
    I would also like to add here for a to-do lists apps Tweek Calendar for a stress-free life and tasks management and collaboration with the team by sharing calendars and to-do lists.

    Keep writing , I like your style!👏🏻

  4. 2

    Hi James, Thanks for the shout out for Done Log. We're just getting started so it's really cool and motivating to see it being picked up already.

    1. 1

      My pleasure, good luck! 🚀

  5. 2

    Wow that's an extensive list of options :D

    I'm happy with Notion right now, but am not doing anything complicated. For journaling and project plans I just use Google Docs.

    linear.app also seems to be pretty good, for anyone that's looking for classical ticket management.

    1. 1

      Nice, thanks for weighing in! Yeah, I think a lot of indie hackers are using Notion.

  6. 2

    I can vouch for Focusmate, I've been an user a little over 2.5 years. It has been a life saver esp., during the pandemic.

    1. 2

      Nice, glad it's working for you! Thanks for weighing in 👍

  7. 2

    Thanks for mentioning Lunatask and the best of luck 🙌

    1. 2

      Of course — looks like a really solid app!

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