How to Improve Productivity with Basecamp

by Feb 19, 2016Productivity

I design and code WordPress websites. I also do a lot of project management and that means communicating with lots of different people. It can be hard to keep track of it all, especially when a lot of it comes in via email. And it’s critical that I do because the success of my work—and business—depends on it.

Sound familiar? If so, you might want to consider looking at a project management app.

My personal favorite is Basecamp. I’ve been using it for a few years and it has become an indispensable part of my productivity. It keeps project-related correspondence at my fingertips; and my clients—marketing VPs and non-profit directors alike—have expressed appreciation for the tool because they know there’s one central place to find whatever they need for their project.


Setting up a Basecamp Project
for the First Time

Name Your Project Like a Marketer

The first thing I do when setting up a project in Basecamp is I give it a meaningful project name. Usually, this includes my client’s name, followed by the project name and/or service I’m providing, and the date. Don’t underestimate the power of using your branded product names in this field. It will help reinforce your value every time your clients log in to your Basecamp project.

example project title: Holistic Nutrition Center: Growing Your Business Website Package–2016

Write a SMART Goals-Based Project Description

To keep the team focused on the project goal, a clearly written project description that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound can be a guidepost when in the thick of a project.

example project description: To create a 10-page responsive website with MailChimp integration to help build the client’s mailing list. It should also be easy to navigate, and engage visitors with a beautiful, clean layout and professional photography–by June 1, 2016.

In the example above, the main goal is to build the client’s mailing list. That means the website should be designed and calls to action written to make it easy for visitors to sign up for the mailing list. Period.

It sounds really obvious but I can’t tell you how many times this issue comes up when during a project a new shiny feature catches a client’s eye and they want to change course to pursue it. Now, if that new shiny object makes sense for the project goal and would improve outcomes, absolutely take a moment to check it out and assess if it’s worth changing the project scope to pursue. If not, stay the course!

Adding People to Your Project: Your Client vs Your Team

One of the things I love about Basecamp is being able to ‘bucket’ my team in one area and my client in another. You can flag clients to limit what’s shared with them so they aren’t bothered with all the nitty gritty details of your work process and your team will appreciate having a secure environment to work in.

Add people via the Everyone link from Basecamp’s main menu. Or from within a project using the Invite More People link.

How to Get Busy People to Add a Headshot to Their Profile

I don’t know about you, but I work with a lot of different people. And having a face to associate with a name lets me instantly recognize who the person is and the project we’re working on together. Names can otherwise get jumbled—I have 3 people in my life right now named Nicole. Headshots encourage team building and, honestly, makes working in the app more fun.

Each person has to upload their own headshot as part of their personal profile. So if you have a client or team member who hasn’t uploaded theirs, you can suggest they pull their Facebook or LinkedIn profile photo.

You know the drill:

  • Right mouse click, choose ‘save photo as’ (to desktop).
  • And then, from Basecamp, click on ‘Me’ in the main navigation.
  • Then select ‘Update your personal info’ and upload the photo from desktop. Easy peasy.


How to Prevent Falling Back Into the Email Trap

Forward everything, I mean, everything, to Basecamp

Using email now and then to communicate with your client or team runs the risk of leading everyone right back into the old school world of using email. And once that happens, it can be difficult to go back. Be consistent!

If you do receive an email—because, let’s face it, email is ingrained in many of us and people can simply forget—forward the email from your inbox to Basecamp using your personal email link for that project.

Find your private email by clicking on the ‘Email content to this project…’ link on the bottom right corner of every Project. Everyone working on the project will have their own personal link.

Use Email to Initiate and Reply to Discussions in Basecamp

But wait, didn’t you just say not to use email or you’d risk confusing everyone back into email hell? Well, yes, I did. But check this out.

You can write an email, and then send it directly into your Basecamp project using the private email link mentioned earlier. Then flag who to notify of the discussion using the notification link Basecamp sends back to you.

Whether you’re managing just one project in Basecamp or many, you’ll want to add all of your unique project email addresses to your address book so you can easily initiate discussions in any of your projects.

How to:

  • Click on the ‘Email content to this project…’ link on the bottom right corner of your Project.
  • Then scroll to the bottom of the page and click on ‘Add email addresses for all your projects to your address book’.

What’s really cool is that you can also create to-do lists and upload files using this same method. Check out the link above for easy instructions.

Automatically Add Project Deadlines and Events to iCal and Google Calendar

Every to-do item that has a due date assigned to it will post to your project calendar in Basecamp. I also like to put all project-related meetings and events on the calendar plus vacation days, holidays and any other events that could impact the project schedule. You can set up reminders too.

Another feature I really love is how easily my Basecamp calendar integrates with my Google Calendar. Actually, it’s compatible with any iCal-based calendar system. And also plays nice with Google Docs.

Here’s how to add your Basecamp calendar(s) to Google Calendar:

  • In Basecamp go to Calendar view.
  • Click on the Subscribe to iCal link.
  • Then click on the Subscription Link that corresponds to your project.
  • Now go into Google Calendar and click on the Add by URL link in the Other Calendars drop down menu.

This worked at the time of this writing. But given the frequency that Google makes changes, you might have to check their website for any updates to this process.

Keep Discussions on Topic

Have you ever been on an email thread where the discussion jumps from the original topic to another. And then another? Well the same thing can happen in Basecamp. But it’s easier to manage in Basecamp. Here’s how:

  • Start with writing a descriptive subject lines when you initiate a discussion.
  • Begin a new discussion for every new topic—don’t let a thread about the content for your new media kit evolve into the golf outing you’re organizing for the sales meeting and then jump into trying to schedule a group lunch.
  • Start a new discussion with an appropriate, descriptive subject line.

Believe me, when you have to go back to find some little detail, you’re going to be glad you had a system in place to create specific discussion titles so your Basecamp projects become an efficient filing system.

If a discussion does go rogue into a new topic, you can pretty easily fix that.

  • Click on a discussion to view it.
  • Then click on Copy and choose ‘This project’ and then ‘Copy this forward’.
  • Now click on the new discussion and then Edit the subject line to reflect the new topic.
  • In this new discussion, delete posts that are irrelevant to the new topic.
  • Go back to the original discussion and post a closing comment let everyone know you’ve moved the new topic to its own discussion.

Use Due Dates and Assign Responsibility on To-Dos

Basecamp is great for delegating assignments. It’s easy: just use the Assigned To and Due On fields for each To-do item. The person you’ve tagged will receive an alert about the assignment. But to make Basecamp even more efficient and effective, encourage your team to initiate their own assignments and fill in their own due dates. This helps you to stay on top of your team’s progress and keep an eye out for any potential issues and bottlenecks.


Final Tips on Keeping Yourself Organized

Private To Do Lists and Discussions

I am a fanatic for keeping all project-related items in one place. So I just love being able to set up To Do Lists and Discussions that are for my eyes and my team’s eyes only. Start a Discussion or To-Do List and simply check the box that says ‘Don’t show this to-do list to the client’. It’s as easy as that.

Basecamp Everywhere You Go

The Basecamp iOS app works really well when I’m on-the-go. The excellent UX gives me easy access to all of my projects. I haven’t found anything I can do on my desktop that I can’t also also do using the smart phone app. Seriously powerful stuff!

Personal Projects

Basecamp is also my go to tool for managing all of my complex self-initiated projects to help keep me moving forward and making progress on the work that is most important to me. I also use Basecamp to manage volunteer work, especially when collaborating with a team.

The Plan I Use

As a small design business, I typically juggle 5–6 business and personal projects at a time. So the 10-Project subscription is just right for me. I archive completed projects to make room for new ones so there’s always space to grow. It’s super easy! You can learn all about the different plans on Basecamp’s website.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to receive my quarterly-ish newsletter, sign up here and never miss future tips.

Mary Maru