Using Scrivener for simple project management

I am a bit of a “productivity application” junkie. I haven’t read David Allen’s book but I have read enough about GTD other places to know that I need to be better organized. My addiction is especially bad because I end up wasting more time searching for and trying new apps than I would ever save by actually picking one and using it.

One specific area that I have spent quite a bit of time trying to streamline is project management. My needs in this area are pretty simple since I work by myself and my projects aren’t generally complex. However, I still want to use a robust, flexible application that retains a simple, streamlined interface. While the perfect solution for me may not exist, I have finally found a great solution for now.

My project management needs

I need to be able to organize information (mostly text and lists) about web design and other miscellaneous projects. I would like each project to be able to have multiple “pages” or “files” if needed. I also want to be able to classify projects as “open” or “closed” (and possibly even “on hold” or “needs attention” as well). I really like being able to visualize my current projects so I can quickly see where I need to focus my attention (I mean simple lists are nice but they don’t quite communicate the way I want).

Super notepads

I have a friend who organizes his projects into separate TextEdit files in folders on his Mac. It works for him. Since my needs are pretty simple I thought something similar might work for me, but I knew that I could find an application that would allow me to keep these “separate” files inside the application itself so I really only had one file with all of my projects inside. I was right.

I started off with Mark/Space Notebook application which comes along with The Missing Sync (which I had purchased to sync my phone with my Mac). This app looks a lot like TextEdit with the addition of a sidebar that organizes your separate “files” into folders. Its interface was definitely clean, but it’s lack of features left me wanting more. (There is a very similar free app called xPad for those wanting multiple “notepad-like” documents in a single app.)

Information organizers

From there I moved on to Together and Yojimbo which are both excellent applications for organizing files, information, serial numbers, and everything else in one’s life. For me, however, these apps were both a little more involved than I wanted. Their rich feature sets left me with too many unused buttons and features that just seemed to clutter my screen. Plus, neither of these amazing apps had the ability to visualize my projects in a way that quickly shows me what projects need attention.

Online project managers

From here I looked at the online options that everyone raves about: Basecamp, Backpack, activeCollab and GoPlan. These online applications are all amazing. I love them and I hope to use one of them sometime in the future… when I make a big-boy salary. They are all expensive. I am sure they are all very worthwhile if I needed to collaborate with others (where these apps really shine), but right now I don’t. Plus, I really want to have my information on my Mac instead of out in the ether since I travel and am not constantly connected to the web.

Next I looked into setting up my own wiki locally on my Mac. Seems to make sense, each project gets a page. It’s easy to edit. I can use Fluid to make it feel like a real application. This solution actually came pretty close, but the feel of a website still isn’t quite as nice as a real standalone app. Plus, my limited experience with wikis means that there was a learning curve just to create pages, links, formatting, etc.

Journals and writing

Next I tried Journler and Circus Ponies’ Notebook. They both had a lot of the functionality that I wanted but didn’t look and feel like I wanted them to. They were too cluttered and text-list-based when it came to easily viewing my projects.

Finally a solution

Finally, after reading a post by D. Keith Robinson I downloaded Scrivener. It is an application built for writers/screenwriters. It allows a person to write in small sections called “texts” and then arrange those texts later. While this is not my purpose at all, the flexibility of the application allowed it to fit my needs perfectly.

Basically I started one main Scrivener “project” (I’ll call this a Scrivener “file” from here out to avoid confusion with my projects). Any Scrivener “file” can contain both “folders” and “texts.” Remember, texts are just like separate documents which can be organized into folders.

I setup one folder called Open Projects and one called Closed Projects. Each one of my projects gets its own text within the Open Projects folder. Generally one text per project is enough, but if I need more hierarchy for a particular project Scrivener lets me do that because each text can contain other texts (like sub-pages within a project’s main page).

The best part about Scrivener for me is the “Corkboard” view. I can click on any folder (or text that contains other texts) and I get a visual representation of its contents. So, by clicking on my Open Projects folder I can see all of my open projects quickly and easily. Each project has its own “index card” that is color-coded by “label” and marked by “status.” Each card shows the project’s title and has a place for a description (where I put due dates). I can also write notes for each document but I haven’t found a use for this in my current workflow.

I have created labels for these cards for “needs attention” and “waiting on response.” Applying a label colors the entire card, so any of my projects that need attention are bright yellow. I have also created custom statuses to mark projects as either open, closed, holding, to do, etc. Right now this is a little redundant based on my label/folder system, but it’s there and it makes me happy.


Scrivener is by no means an all-in-one project management solution. For example, it does not give me any kind of task-management (to do’s). For that I go between Anxiety and Things. (I’m really just waiting for Things to integrate into iCal’s to do system.) Scrivener does not allow for collaboration with others. I don’t mind that right now because I generally work on projects alone. I’m sure there are other things that I will want later that Scrivener will not do as well, but for now it does exactly what I need.

What do you use for project management?