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I am a freelance web developer that is looking for a service/software to keep track of work I need to do for clients.

I have quite a few clients, and most of them usually only need an hour or two of work here and there. This means I get a lot of emails from different clients everyday.

What I currently do

Currently, to keep track of what tasks I still need to, I read the email and instructions, and then if I need to put it off til the end of the day or later in the week, I will mark the email as unread. This keeps the email at the top of my Gmail so I do not forget about it, and it's always in front of me.

The issue

Sometimes however, I forget to mark the email as unread. You can see where this is a problem.

Also, sometimes I read the email, mark it as unread, and sometimes I forget to reply to the email.

What I am looking for

I am wondering if there is a service or software I can hook into my Gmail (or similar) that allows me to mark tasks as complete, and possibly if I have replied or not.

I guess what I am looking for is a good client/project management software for developers, preferably one that can send notifications even to my mobile phone.

Does such a thing exist, or is there any software recommended I should check out?

  • Have you tried using Google Filters? They can sort outgoing emails as well. It will be tricky, but if you use the same unique keyword for the statuses (accepted, in progress, finished, unpaid, paid,...), you can make something out of it. And please, if you find such software, let us about it. I am interested as well. – Peter MV Feb 19 '15 at 16:48
  • Have you tried using email categories? In outlook I color things as Red that need my attention. If you aren't drowning in emails it's easy to scroll through see what you need to look at. – Andrew Walters Feb 19 '15 at 21:04
  • Inbox by Gmail actually solves this as a design goal :p – Amelia Jul 17 '15 at 12:55
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I use a combination of Mailbox for keeping on top of my inbox as well as a task management/ticketing system like others have mentioned.

The general idea is based around getting to inbox zero, or at least close to it. In the past, I managed my workload similar to what you described: I would use the star or unread system to keep track of what I hadn't completed. But as new emails came in, it became really difficult to manage and things would slip through the cracks or I wouldn't reply to an email for weeks.

The big improvement came when I started using Mailbox, which gave me a workflow to process my email. The idea is when you no longer actively need an email, you archive it. You can do that with Mailbox, or manually in Gmail. That saves the email later in case you need to reference it, but gets it out of your inbox. What's left is what you need to take action on - your to-do list.

When I get a request from a client that I'm saving for later, I do three things:

  1. I reply letting them know I got their request, and a rough idea of when I plan to get it done.
  2. I copy that email and all the details into a task management system like Asana or Trello and add a due date to keep track of when I promised the work would be done.
  3. I archive the request from the client, to get it out of my inbox. If I need to reply to it later, I can always dig it out of my archives.

This way, what's left in your inbox is only the things you need to take action on. For example, my inbox has 6 items right now. 2 are emails from clients that I need to reply to, 2 are emails from contractors with work I need to review, and 2 are automated notifications that I need to act on in one way or another. Everything else I've archived and/or copied into a separate software.

In addition, I also color-code each email by client so I can easily focus on a particular client's work without having to scan the subject line or who it's from to determine if I should act on it.

Using this method, an email or task never slips through the cracks, and I know exactly what I have on my plate at all times.

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I use email but specifically POP3 email, not IMAP email.

I will not use Gmail or some other online service. I use POP3 accounts and a local email client. This allows me to download emails and file them locally as well as back up everything. I simply can not bring myself to rely on some other server out there to be as dedicated and complete with backups and retention of information. (all this in addition to the Gmail data mining).

I know IMAP (Gmail, Hotmail, etc) is the form everyone thinks is best. But it's not always. While IMAP is great for accessing the same email from several clients, IMAP is not the best in terms of utilizing email for work procedures for me. POP3 allows me to access mail from any client, I merely have to set up the client properly. In addition POP3 allows me to delete things locally and leave a copy on the server for a given time if needed. I can delete a POP3 email and then go retrieve that deleted message from the server days later if the deletion was a mistake.

In my local email client I have folders for each client then some general folders for other email items:

  • inbox
  • outbox
  • personal items
  • Work
    • client 1
      • Project A
      • Project B
      • Project C
    • client 2
      • Project A
      • Project B
    • client 3
  • Outstanding Invoices
  • Paid Invoices
  • Spam
  • Trash

I keep all "to do" items in the inbox - read or unread. If it's in my inbox it needs attention. When an email is read and the tasks are completed, I file the email in the correct folder. So, I don't have any issue with things being red or unread. If something is unread.. it just means it's unread and I don't know what it entails. If I've replied to an email, there's a little arrow next to it indicating I've replied. All attachements are downloaded so I have those, and they are backed up as well.

I use filters for outgoing mail to automatically file things as needed. A filter for @client1.com will file all outgoing mail into Client 1's folder. A subject line with the word "Invoice:" in it files the outgoing email into "Outstanding Invoices". And so on.

My "mail" folder is backed up nightly and if there should ever be an issue I can simply set the client to "re-download messages from server" which will go grab everything still sitting on the mail server. I leave all messages on the server for 14 days, even if they are deleted locally.

I've tried to use services like Trello but I found I spent way too much time transferring data from emails to the service needlessly. All the information I need is in the emails. It's a waste of time for me to use any other service.

In the end, I've found nothing as workable as a POP3 email client has been.. and I've been using email this way going on 20 years.

  • This doesn't really answer the OP's question, and seems more like a rant about gmail. – Amelia Jul 17 '15 at 12:57
  • @Amelia clearly, I disagree. It's not a direct statement on Gmail or any particular service. If anything it's an explanation as to why POP3 may be superior to IMAP... it's just happenstance that Gmail is an IMAP service. And this completely answers "how to use email to track client projects" I'm not new to stack sites... I don't post "rants" – Scott Jul 18 '15 at 1:46
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A ticketing system that leverages emails for tickets would be your best bet here.

A client or prospect sends an email to a predetermined email account requesting support. A ticket is opened in the ticketing system. They can still use email to communicate and you can use the ticketing system for responses.

You can now mark items as open/closed/follow up/etc.

A system such as Zendesk handles email ticketing, as well as voice, social media, and chat.

You can also go more robust with CRM systems such as self hosted ORO, Tiger and Sugar, or SaaS solutions such as SalesForce.

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Id agree and say you'd need to develop some sort of ticketing system whether that's through email folders / calendars or a massive whiteboard (what i use)

software to do this for you can be useful but ultimately its counter productive when all you need to do is find a system that you can utalise - i tie my google accounts calender up to my phone then i get notification everyday of whats left to do when the work is done i delete the event

automated ticketing systems are some what costly are are mainly used in call centres and support desks if you have that many clients maybe you need an extra person

hope this helps

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I'm using FogBugz, it's a good place to keep all mails, as well as cases, related to the project or client. Highly recommended. It's free for up to 2 persons.

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