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Why I’m using 2 Systems for my task management

I said on Tuesday that I use 2 productivity systems. I use Redbooth for client work and Todoist for personal non-collaborative stuff. I do that because in Redbooth people can assign things to me that they think are important for my day and that’s just like email.

The night before I decide what tasks are important and I put them in Todoist along with the links to the Redbooth tasks and then I ignore Redbooth unless I’m updating a task I’ve completed.

This way I do what I think is important and I own my productivity for the day. I don’t let others control my actions.


GTD and My Productivity Apps in 2016

Just about this time in 2014 I wrote about my use of Redbooth and examined Nozbe vs Todoist. Out of those two posts I said I was going to use Todoist for all my personal tasks and all my client work.

While there’s plenty to like about Redbooth, for me, the friction involved in task entry and management, along with the lack of a decent iOS app added to my frustration with having a not processed ‘inbox’.

These are the reasons I’ll be putting Redbooth aside for 2015 and moving all future client projects to Todoist.

My idealized world only lasted three weeks, though — Todoist sadly didn’t stand the test of time. I stuck it out for another three weeks but switched back to Redbooth for managing my client projects and only use Todoist for the most basic project sharing.

How Todoist shook out

The big issue with Todoist was actually on the client end; they always had issues uploading files. In theory I should have been paying for their access as well as my own, but in practice I was never able to make Todoist charge me for my clients and thus the clients were never able to upload files.

That meant I’d have a task in Todoist that referenced an email the client had sent me as well. Then I’d need to upload the file attached to the email so it was all in one spot. This is needless busy work and doesn’t help push any projects forward. It simply takes up time.

That’s the primary reason I dropped Todoist for client work. I still share projects with my wife, and our grocery list is there.

My assistant still sets up the content for my email list based off tasks in Todoist. Don’t ask me how I’m getting charged for my assistant but could never get the payments working for my clients.

I still use it for all my personal GTD workflow though the siren song of OmniFocus is always heard.

I love its great keyboard shortcuts and its use of natural language for due dates. I love that it integrates with my email clients so I can easily send tasks to it.

The big thing I miss, and the only reason I can’t get away from the siren song of OmniFocus, is the robust review process provided by OmniFocus.

With OmniFocus you can set review intervals for projects. So stuff like a ‘things to buy’ list may only need to be reviewed every few months as the seasons change and it may be the right time to purchase things for the upcoming season.

The review feature on the iPad was so nice I could easily review all my projects with a coffee during a Saturday morning breakfast with the kids. Maybe it’s just some mental hurdle, but I still feel like reviewing projects in Todoist is a pain.

Since I can’t schedule when project reviews should happen I just have to remember when to get back to things. Putting this task in my brain violates what GTD is — everything gets put into a project, nothing stays in your brain. My reality is that I don’t remember which project should be reviewed when, which means I need to review everything always.

The daunting task of reviewing everything every time means that most often I just don’t bother with a review since it seems like so much work. Missing a weekly review is a recipe for a disorganized week, which means you’re getting less stuff done.

On to Redbooth

Redbooth is a integral part of my workflow but it’s not without its lumps.

There is still really no keyboard support for navigating the interface. In fact when you search for keyboard shortcuts in Redbooth you get a nice post from them listing six whole shortcuts.

To be honest, it’s got a few more, like j/k for moving up and down in your notifications, or backspace to mark a notification as read, but overall the keyboard support is pitiful and it’s not like it can’t be added.

As I was realizing the issues with Todoist and collaboration, I gave Asana a shot and while the interface overall just didn’t mesh with me the keyboard support is amazing. Even that amazing support wasn’t enough to keep me using it though.

Another of my big complaints was the iOS app for Redbooth. Mainly around tasks getting resolved but still showing on your list of tasks.

The biggest issue comes up between my wife and me on our shared grocery list. See, I’ll go out and get a few things and mark them as resolved.

But when I look at my list I’ll still see them until I go into the task again. Then it suddenly decides to show me that it’s actually resolved.

This doesn’t happen anymore but I really don’t use the iOS app much since I only have client projects in it now. I don’t deal with them from my phone at all, except for a very few scenarios, so I don’t have to be annoyed by issues it may have.

One of my favourite additions to Redbooth has been their sub-tasks. With a main item open you can add sub-items to it. Then if the sub-item really needs its own full task you can simply click a little arrow on the far right of the sub-task and break it out into its own task. This still leaves a link between the two as well so you can easily find items that used to be sub-tasks.

Redbooth sub-tasks

Redbooth sub-tasks

This single addition alone significantly increased the usefulness of Redbooth for me.

Any changes?

As I start out 2016 the only thing I’m still thinking of changing is Todoist and going back to OmniFocus, at least for my own personal GTD. I will likely leave our family and my assistant on Todoist for the shared things we work on — mainly just to save the hassle of getting them to change.

If I head back to OmniFocus for the rest of my tasks I’ll only be dealing with Todoist a few times a month which would be fine with me.

Redbooth will stay as is. I have no complaints that make me feel like moving to some other solution and my clients have never complained about using it.

photo credit: rg-b cc

What do you do when you hear NO to a proposal

First remember that this is not a judgement of your personal worth.
The first job now is to find out why if you can. Maybe the why will help you land work with them in the future since you won’t make the same mistake. Maybe you’ll find out that you were really just a price check and need to revamp your client vetting process.
Maybe like a few of mine you’ll find out that despite your discussions the value wasn’t there in the project and it’s time to learn to have better discussions around value and be comfortable using hard numbers in dollar conversations.
Doctor Who, dark blue TARDIS

Reasons your proposals get rejected and how to combat them

While it would be great to tell you that I win 100% of the proposals I send that would be a lie. Just today I sent a proposal and the prospect said ‘no’ for very legitimate reasons that I was unaware of (but should have been, and that’s my fault).

Let’s look at the main reasons you hear ‘no’ to the proposals you submit.

1. No Money

There is always ‘no money’ in an organization. Any business has to continually prioritize their spending and only spend on things which will yield a solid return on investment.

So what they’re saying when they tell you that they have ‘no money’ is that they don’t see the value in the proposal you just submitted. What you provide is simply not worth what they would need to spend.

Hey, my book on estimates goes on sale tomorrow. Make sure you get on the email list so you don’t miss it.

Like I said above, I just had a proposal rejected and it was entirely around the cost of the project. The cost of the project would have eaten 80% of the entire revenue of the site for the year and this project is not likely to double their revenue. I would never advise anyone to spend like that, it would be stupid.

So this really means that I missed some vital questions when I was vetting the project up front. I needed to get better numbers on the revenue of the site so that I could put together a proposal that actually was worth it for the prospect.

2. No Time

Yup, time is finite. You don’t ‘find time’ in the couch cushions. You don’t ‘make time’ at the time factory. So when a prospect tells you that this isn’t the right time for the project or there is currently no time, what they’re really saying is that in the 24 hours they have in a day they don’t feel that the project is worth spending any time on.

They don’t think that putting time into it will provide a good ROI for the time investment.

Now it is possible that there is a valid reason to delay the project. I once had a client’s wife lose her battle with cancer and we put off his project for a full year. If there is a valid reason like that then commit to a follow-up time and follow up on the project when you said you would.

If there isn’t a valid life reason and they’re ‘just waiting to finish project X’ then it’s likely your project will never happen. You never showed that it was important enough to devote resources to now and that’s unlikely to change in the future.

3. No Need

What if they say “Hey, thanks but we don’t really need this right now”? Uh…then what have you been talking about this whole time?

It’s entirely possible that the prospect was just tossing out some work to ‘see how much it cost’ and they didn’t really have a current need. They were fishing and if just the right thing hooked the line they’d take it home; otherwise it’s all catch-and-release.

If this is the case you need to beef up your vetting process so you don’t bother putting time into prospects on fishing expeditions.

It’s more possible that you simply stopped asking questions too early. You heard “I need a new website” and sent an estimate over for a new site. You didn’t dig deeper and find out that the new online store from a competitor has eaten into 20% of their revenue this year and what they really need is a site with a marketing plan that will get attention back to them so people purchase.

If you don’t know how to get down to the second and third level needs of a prospect then it’s time to learn more about questioning techniques like:

If you can get a handle on even one of these questioning methods you can quite quickly learn to get down to the real value in a project and the prospect’s real needs.

4. No Trust

You know what? The other three issues, in the end, really come down to this issue of trust. The prospect doesn’t trust you with their money. They don’t trust you with their time. They don’t trust you enough to tell you their real needs.

You haven’t convinced them of your credibility, integrity and quality. You’d never spend money with someone you didn’t trust so why do you think that a prospect will?

Before you send anyone a proposal you need to spend time cultivating a relationship of trust. That doesn’t happen in a single phone call or a flurry of email exchanges, at least not usually.

If you really want to win proposals and charge well then you need to spend time getting to a proposal, not just rush to get them out and let sheer volume make up for bad proposals to prospects that don’t match up with you.

photo credit: pellaeon cc

These things NEVER go in a proposal

A proposal is not a negotiation document. It’s not a place where you indicate gifts or incentives may come to the buyer.
Don’t stick a bunch of charts in the proposal they’re just going to make the proposal hard to understand.
A proposal is not a place for a detailed list of deliverables. A simple high level summary with bullet points will do it.
Take out the staff bios and company history. If they don’t know you and that you can do the project then you’re already on the back foot and having them here is just going to make them think harder before maybe saying yes.
The sole job of a proposal is to get the buyer to make a purchase with you. Basically leave everything else out.

Crafting a Successful Proposal

Today we’re going to talk about how to craft a successful proposal. Before we start, though, let’s step back and consider the goal of a proposal before we dig into the details of what actually goes into it.

The sole job of a proposal is to lead the buyer into a purchase with you.

It sounds simple and it is. If all your proposal does is show that you’re the right person to purchase from then the proposal has done its entire job.

But what does a proposal that wins work look like? Here are the sections I use in my proposals, which have a win rate of 80%+ by the way.


This is where the whole relationship you’ve been building prior to the estimate shows, because you write down the exact business problems the prospect is trying to solve for. By the time they’re done reading this section they should know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you understand the current state of their business.

Specifically, you need to write out what is currently going on with their business. What are the problems they’re facing? What are the consequences of those problems?

After acknowledging their problems, talk about the desired improvement and why your solution is a good thing for the company. Now they should be envisioning the future where the project is finished and they’re reaping the rewards.

Deliverables, Outcomes, Metrics and Value

Now it’s time to really show them that you understand the project by telling them about the deliverables, outcomes, metrics and the value they’ll get out of the project.

If you’re not familiar with what those are I wrote a long post about it already you need to read.

I always finish off this section with a statement or two that goes something like this.

The project will be deemed a success if ….

Your prospect should look at that success metric and nod their head in agreement because if they saw what comes after that ‘if’ they’d be happy with the spend on the project.


Now it’s time to offer them options in your services. You never just quote a single price. Giving them only a single price only gives them two choices when responding: Yes or No. Providing options gives them many more ways to respond, and different opportunities to work with you.

If you provide three options then the customer can say Yes/Yes/Yes/No. That’s four choices instead of simply two. More than that, though, providing options can dramatically increase the value of the project.

I recently sent an estimate with three options: one priced at $8,000, the second at $9,000, and the third at $12,000. Each level would have accomplished the main client goals but the third and highest-priced option added to the overall goals and automated a bunch of the site — features the prospect hadn’t even put much thought into. I just knew that the goal was to automate a bunch of content entry so added an option to have further automation.

The client went with Option 3, which was actually $3,000 above the initial budget they said they had to invest. They were impressed with me thinking forward and saving them more time. For a single idea and a bit of work I increased the value of the project by $3,000.

Yes, options are totally worth it.

One detail to note here: I don’t include the price of each option as I present them. Instead, I first list out what a prospect gets at each level of work proposed. The end of my proposal includes a link to the actual costs and contract workflow in 17hats. By the time they’re going to the pricing they’ve already said yes in their minds to my proposal and we’re just waiting for the confirmation in the deposit and contract.

Clear deliverable times

Once you’ve shown them the options they can choose from to use your services it’s time to give them clear deliverable times. No, I’m not talking specific dates like the fourth of September; I’m saying that you tell them how many weeks a project will take.

For me this ends up in two or three time frames which match up with the options they were already given. Option 1 may say that it will take 3 weeks, Option 2 is 4-5 weeks, and Option 3 is 6-8 weeks.

Here you’re just setting up their expectations for the arrival of the deliverable items.


Now it’s time to establish what both you and the prospect will be responsible for. For my software projects I inform the prospects of any items they need to purchase and provide to me, such as X number of seats to a piece of licensed software.

I also always state that we both agree to put the user first, and if in doubt, we’ll add on user testing to the project to really see which will be better for the site user. It’s actually not important what I want or what the client wants. Your client’s customers are the ones who really matter in the end, so serving them is the goal you should both have.

Easy Acceptance

Before you laugh here, let me tell you about a contractor I wanted to hire. They had sent over a good proposal and understood my business. The rates were reasonable and the timelines fit my needs. Then I went to accept the proposal and we hit a brick wall.

Want to see examples of my proposals and learn how to build the relationship of trust you need with prospects to win most of the work you quote? Join my email list to get the first chance and best price on my upcoming book on writing proposals.

The contract said they required a faxed copy of the original. No, I couldn’t use an online fax service. Mailing it to them wouldn’t work because they moved around a bunch and were currently overseas where they didn’t know the postal system well enough to give me any address to get it to via an overnight courier.

I trundled off to my local business store and ran the fax through the number provided. Paid my fee and left thinking it was all good. Sure I was a bit annoyed but hey, it was a good project that was going to help my business. I fired off an email saying the fax was sent and that I was looking forward to the project.

Guess what the contractor said? He never got my fax though they did get my deposit. No, they wouldn’t just take my deposit as a confirmation — I needed to go back and send the fax again. Well, the story goes on and the fax never did work. The contractor refunded my payment but the project never happened.

Don’t make your clients jump through hoops like that unless you want to frustrate them into not working with you or recommending anyone work with you ever. I use 17Hats and through that it’s a simple matter of the client typing in their name to accept the contract. It even flips them directly over to an invoice they can pay online after they sign the contract, and lets them download a PDF copy of the contract — which includes my signature — for their records.

Whatever service you use make it easy for someone wanting to give you money to accept the proposal and give you money to work. If you aren’t set up with an online tool, just send them a copy of the proposal via FedEx with a pre-paid return envelope they can just drop the acceptance in. Don’t kill the sale right at the end when you should be sipping champagne.

photo credit: pasukaru76 cc

Want to earn more, offer options in your proposals

I hope you don’t just send a prospect a single price in a proposal and then hope they say yes. Not sending options is going to cut your earnings and gives your prospects a binary decision. They can only say yes or no. If you take just a bit more time and dig just a bit deeper with a prospect you can offer options (3 options is best) which turns the binary yes/no decision on to a yes/yes/yes/no decision. They’re then deciding how much value they want to engage with you on.

Even when you offer options in your proposals the lowest cost option should still meet all the base level requirements of the project. Doing anything else is unethical.


Defining Deliverables, Outcomes, Metrics and Values

Real business owners who want to take their business to the next level aren’t interested in airy-fairy notions of how your work will help their company. They want tangible, concrete evidence by which they can measure the success of a project.

They want to know that you both line up in your thoughts on the Deliverables, Objectives, Metrics and Value as they relate to your work for their business.

Do you even know what those are for the current project you’re working on inside your business? If you don’t understand them there how on earth can you understand them for your prospects’ projects?


The deliverable is where many consultants stop when talking to prospects and clients. They figure that simply delivering a new site or a set of marketing materials is what’s of real value to their client, but it’s not.

The deliverable is simply the thing being delivered in the project. It may or may not have any real value to the client. Even if it does, it’s likely not really the most valuable thing to them.

Don’t forget to get on the email list so you get first crack at my course at the end of the month all about writing winning proposals.

We’ll talk a bit later in the post about the value, but for now, know that the deliverable is the tangible product you’re actually handing over to the client during the project.


The outcome is the business benefit that follows from the deliverable. In the case of providing a new online store to a client, the outcome might be increased online sales because the new site is mobile responsive. The outcome of a marketing campaign could be greater brand awareness.

At first glance this is going to sound a lot like the value in a project and you’re sort of right. It is some of the value in a project, but it’s not the total value.

In fact this is quite possibly the least valuable thing in a project. I’ll tell you why at the end when we talk about value.


Metrics are the observable indicators of progress or success in the project. For our eCommerce store above it would be measuring more sales due to the updated store function that supports mobile shoppers.

The big mistake many people make here is that they focus on things they can’t control. Maybe your job is to help the customer make more sales through a marketing campaign. Don’t hang your hat on the metric of more sales though, since there are many variables you don’t control, such as the sales team.

In the case of a marketing plan, you can influence the number of leads you bring in so a realistic metric would be leads since an increased number of quality leads is something you can measure and commit to.

When setting metrics, always go to the conservative end of the metric. If you think that the client can get between five and ten new leads a month due to your marketing efforts then base your proposal around five. Then if you hit seven, or even ten, you look like a rock star.


This is the last thing you need to define before your proposal is complete. You need to know what the real value is to their organization — but don’t stop at the first-level value, since it’s often the least valuable thing.

In our eCommerce example the first level value is more sales, but what will more sales bring to the organization? Will it bring in more income and profits?

Will that increased profit let them expand into a new market they’ve been looking at? Will the extra cash on hand let them make bigger bulk purchases and take advantage of deeper bulk discounts? Will it mean they can hire a new sales person and thus increase sales further? Can they retain top talent by increasing wages? Will those increased wages let them be more competitive in the hiring market?

There is a lot more value than simply ‘more sales’ in most projects, but I believe 99% of consultants stop at that lower level — a limited perspective often reflected in their fees. The only way to really get to these second and third level value items is to talk to the buyer and not rush through the proposal.

In your next proposal make sure you cover all four of these things. Doing so will maximize your win rate since the prospect will know that you fully understand their business and the impact this project will have on their business.

photo credit: brickset cc

Stop wasting time by sending proposals to the wrong people

You may think that sending proposals to anyone that asks is a good thing. That volume will win the day and be reflected in your income. But you’d be wrong. A proposal is for a single person in an organization and only that one person. Watch today’s video to find out who all the wrong people are and the only person you should be sending a proposal to.

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Curtis McHale

Helping you answer the hard questions about your business