Cannot decide on project management/research app

Hi All,

Perhaps this resonates with some people, but I would like some advice on a project management/research app.

I am in the process of launching a bookkeeping business. I also like to journal, make random notes, study productivity and perform little side projects.

In addition to the above, when my business takes off, I will most likely need an app to blog and to store/share client information (with the client and employees, of course).

I will also be studying anti-money laundering or chartered accountancy in the near future.

I am currently using Bear as my project management app. However, its clunky for this purpose. To keep a project organised, I currently have to make table of contents within a master note with each section linking via URL to a specific note. Also, Bear has no dashboard, tables, web version, no collaboration features and psychologically, is not a serious business product. But my main issue, is that I cannot see from a glance what’s done and what is left to do. Ideally, I would love something with charts/graphs.

My ‘project management’ in Bear, therefore, is basically a poor man’s outline.

I’ve narrowed a few project management candidates;

  • Trello appears to be superior to Trello in that it can do what Trello can do and much more; kanban boards, tables, calendar, wiki features, folder structure, sidebar (all projects in sight giving you a holistic view of your life). It also connects with lots of products (Workflowy, Trello etc) and allows many file type imports.

I am mostly concerned that since it is a new product, it could go under. Despite being an incredible product, it doesn’t seem to be very popular. It is hard to find any videos/reviews on it anywhere (most of them are by the YouTuber ‘Keep Productive’). Its not even that new and cheap to the point of almost being free so its baffling as to why its not more successful, so I’m unsure if others know something I don’t.

Trello on the other hand is

  1. very popular,
  2. unlikely to go under anytime soon
  3. simple to use for clients and employees
  4. easy to see what’s going on instantly
  5. has plenty of chrome extensions, links to other apps and power ups. The Kanban functionality is also more robust that Notion.
  6. has communities/guides around the product

I do enjoy Bear but its frustrating because its obviously not appropriate for my use case and I have 100’s of notes in it. I wouldn’t need Bear if I used, but would if I used Trello (I use Drafts for random thoughts, not Bear/Notion).

Based on my use case, what do you think would be best?

You might want to take a look at Agenda. Agenda at its core is about notes, and adds more structure than Bear. It has Categories, which contain Projects, which are made up of Notes. Interestingly, Notes can be attached to calendar events (such as a client meeting), or can be attached to a date, or neither.
Agenda also uses the concepts of tags (#payroll), and people (Meet with @Beresford_Salmon).
It also has the concept of an agenda. Notes can be on the agenda, or not. The agenda is for ongoing projects. There is also a Today folder, showing only today’s notes.
Searches can be defined and saved as shortcuts, etc.
It’s a great app, and am Apple Design Award winner.

I’m not sure you’ll find one tool that will do all you want, short of a high-end CRM system. But there is no reason you can select the tools you like and develop workflows to move tasks, information, and projects between them.

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I currently just switched over to Notion for both personal projects and for one of my student organizations and I would say it’s been a significant improvement over our previous setup.

As you mentioned, the greatest advantage of Notion over Trello or other apps is it’s implementation of multiple functionalities into once space; having the power to manage databases (Airtable/Google Sheets), Kanban Boards (Trello), and more in one place can lead to some very interesting workflow setups. One of the craziest things is that each “board” or “item” in a database is a full-fledged page, which opens up many possibilities.

Collaboration with other people has also been great. Syncing and real-time editing appears to be as fast as Google Docs and they’ve been adding more features and sharing permissions. Similar to above, having even less places for anyone you collaborate with to have to log into/create accounts can make a pretty meaningful difference with long-term use and on boarding.

One of the biggest hurdles is figuring out how to properly structure and link everything together. They have a lot of good tutorials and templates on the Notion website, so it may be good to check those out to see if it some of their solutions work for you!

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Omnifocus? Or Omniplan?

Thanks for your reply.

I switched over to Notion a couple of days ago and the more I expand it, the better it gets. It blows Evernote out of the water! It’s incredible.

It will replace Bear, the process of migrating my notes manually be tedious but will be a good housecleaning exercise.

I’ll still be keeping Drafts for quick random thoughts on the go.

It is definitely an awesome app the more I play around with it. Like you, I still need something like Drafts for taking quick notes since Notion doesn’t deal with those too well yet. I hope they implement an API or x-callback url scheme so that it can interface with Drafts or the share sheet directly.

Do you mind explaining what “project management” means in the context of your work? I assume you’re not building microchips or writing iOS software – so that kind of project and the complex tools it requires is not likely.

If you are running a bookkeeping business then your project would probably involve

  • Creating deliverables / work products for your clients
  • Recording requirements for those work products
  • Collecting, analyzing, and storing client documents
  • Creating a schedule of work to do and tracking progress
  • Recording client interaction (meetings, messages, emails, phone calls, etc.) and relating those via notes to the work they requested.
  • Tracking time
  • Billing and collection
  • Closeout – making sure the work and workpapers are well documented and properly stored

So that means you are spending maybe 20% of your time working with someone else’s documents or communicating with them, 60% creating your work products, 10% on notes, and 10% on general administration.

Which means more than anything you need a well organized filing system – which could be as simple as a well-thought out hierarchy in the file system, or more complex like DEVONthink or Eagle Filer. You need to take notes and associate them to documents received and work products created by you. You need to track time – which could just be Calendar or it could be more complicated (and expensive).

To be successful you want to be productive, which means being increasingly efficient with your time (more done in less time) so you can accept more clients – and perhaps more lucrative clients as your skills develop. So, you might benefit for something like Curio, which can be used to diagram out the steps in your work process and then go back and do a post-engagement evaluation of what worked, what didn’t, and what to change later. Curio can also be a note taker hub if you want.

Anyway, if I were starting that business these are the factors I would consider. It’s a great idea to think about what you need to do a lot more than thinking about what software does. It’s easy to fall in love with software and get disappointed because the real world work you do is not simplified by the thing you just bought.


API and Zapier is in development. Oh and web clipper!

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Thanks for your post!

My need for using was that I need a commonplace area that had everything in my life in one place (personal and business).

On the left hand side of the below screenshot I have put together some of my main life areas. The pane on the right is the bookkeeping launch course I am working through. If I click where is states kanban, Notion has the option to show in either a Table or Calendar view.

Each of the tasks are their own page with text. images, graphs, tables, kanban, files, checklists etc.


This would work wonderfully for CRM, creating deliverables / work products and a schedule of work to do and tracking progress.

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) will be stored in google docs/sheets and hyperlinked from Notion.

All client documentation could be stored in Notion, but instead I’m going to store them in google drive and hyperlink them to a client specific page in Notion as a file link or embedded (former would be cleaner). Each client page would also have an outline/kanban board of weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual to dos and sections for meeting notes, contracts, client specific SOPs. Client specific pages can be shared with employees (if I employ someone in the future).

In terms of tracking time, I will be charging a flat fee per month so knowing how much time I spend per client per month is not a concern in terms of billing. However, if I found I was taking an inordinate amount of times on some clients than others, then time tracking might be something I consider.

In terms of “recording client interaction (meetings, messages, emails, phone calls, etc.) and relating those via notes to the work they requested”. The meeting notes (store in Notion) and emails (send task to Things ) will be easy but I haven’t given much thought to how I would record messages and phone calls. Ideally I would record all calls on my business number but there is a lot to consider here (legalities, implementation, ethics) so can’t say too much at this point what I’m going to do. I am 5-6 weeks ago from launching and will have this sorted by then.

My billing and collection will be done using Xero accountancy software, as part of the agreement with my upcoming clients I would be requesting that they pay before I do the work. So to work January’s I’d need payment at the beginning of January via standing order. This should hopefully avoid late payments unless of course they cancel it, but if they do then the work is not done! I suspect some clients won’t go for this but I’m not prepared to spend 30+ hours a month for the first few months of a new client working through their account(s) on the hope they pay me.

So to summarise, client documents, SOPs, letterheads, letter templates etc are stored in Google Drive (G Suite), they are hyperlinked to Notion for better organisation and for its project management functionality and Xero is used for my own books, billing and collection.

I really appreciate your insight and advice, I am still working through all the processes that is required to start and run a business so over the next few weeks I should have the majority of it sorted.


Fixed price contracts is a good way to lose money with clients who didn’t disclose the complexity of their situation. I don’t know the industry you are in, but if you can do fixed price with a ceiling on hours, and then time and materials above that ceiling, you might have some protection. In any event, tracking time is part of figuring out how you can improve your productivity and handle more clients.

Have to agree here, quoting a fixed rate is a sure fire way to loose money unless you’ve properly scoped the work. That said, clients have for too long been expected to pay for professional services on a time and line basis, which – put bluntly – transfers the risk from the professional to the client. It is a massive (and completely justifiable) cause of resentment if professionals can’t say how long a piece of work will take and how much it will cost. Clients expect professionals to know, so “can’t say” – even if justifiable – sounds suspiciously like “won’t say”. If you can indeed offer a fixed rate for your services, then I think you have a competitive advantage.

My answer to @anon41602260 's quandary about the client who doesn’t disclose the complexity upfront is two fold: First, you’re the professional, you know what’s needed, so dig a little (or even a lot) to find out what the circumstances of the instruction really are. You’ll probably have to write that time off as cost of sales, but if your USP is fixed price working with no surprises for the client, it’s worth the cost to avoid accepting a loss making instruction. My experience is that taking the time rarely looses a client and actually increases client engagement as it shows that you’re genuinely interested in their business.

Second, every time you quote a fixed price, set out the assumptions under which the quote was given. A good thing about doing this is that it focuses the client on what he (or she) has to do for you. If you need a spreadsheet of expenses claims to work from, make it a clear assumption of your quote. If all your client has is a shoe box of random receipts, he’ll then know that someone has to tidy things up before you can begin. Who does it can then be discussed, and if it’s not done you can justifiably flip to time based billing for the additional work.

Finally, you absolutely need to track your time. Again there are two reasons: You need to track estimated versus actual time for a given task. You’ve given a price based on your estimate of how long particular tasks will take, so you really need to know if something you estimated will take an hour, actually takes two. Also, you need to track everything you end up doing that you didn’t plan to do (i.e. planned versus unplanned work). Your cost estimating will improve greatly if you can dig into your time recording: was this unplanned work because I overlooked it completely when planning? Or because I made an assumption was wrong? How good am I at estimating? Most people dramatically underestimate anything that takes more than an hour or so.

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Good point. The problem with consulting of the sort the OP is doing is that accurate time estimation is nearly impossible because the client changes conditions, or the material the client provided was a mess, or phone calls get cancelled and causes delays. Firm fixed price estimation assumes good information about initial conditions and the the work to be performed. In my field (IT consulting) every firm that does firm fixed price consulting heavily pads their price to protect their margins and protect against error on the client side. I don’t mean to grind on clients – but sole practitioners need to be very careful about their commitments otherwise the work isn’t performed on time, the client withdraws, and good referrals dry up.

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