Technology is amazing! Thanks to tools such as iChat, Skype and GoToMeeting, we can talk face-to-face with colleagues in various time zones around the world. We extend our beach vacations by a day and still access the office via VPN. We keep up with email traffic while taking the afternoon “off” or while surfing the web and taking in a colleague’s presentation. Debates abound about the perils of multitasking and whether we’re really more productive, but let’s save that discussion for another day. This inaugural (Technically Speaking) post is about finding the best method to keep your workday and your projects on track, preferably without 2 a.m. emails.

On the WWPR blog in March, in her excellent re-cap of Kiki McLean’s WWPR annual meeting keynote, Tracy Mason asked whether work-life balance is an oxymoron and advised setting boundaries to create a more productive work environment. In a still-recovering economy, our clients, colleagues, and managers all are under pressure to accomplish more with less. How do we make the most of our most precious resource – the only one we truly own – our time?

For me, a solid project management tool is the answer. But to identify the right tool, you have to know your challenges and come to terms with your own time management shortcomings.

Know the Pain Points

Do you work as part of a team? If so, are your challenges related to a lack of central file-sharing application or a breakdown in the collaboration process? Are you a solo practitioner? Do you need a better way to organize multiple projects or a daily reminder to keep you honest?

Take a look at your calendar (and your email traffic) for the past month. How much of your time did you dedicate to strategic work? How much of it was reactionary rather than proactive? Often, urgent (or worse, non-urgent) email requests crowd out the time we could spend on more meaningful tasks. Consider building email into your daily task list at manageable intervals, rather than letting it dictate your workflow.

For me, a good project management tool should provide a long-term view, so I can identify places later in the schedule where I can make up for lost time. User interface is also important to me. Others may be fine with a simple task list with due dates. Or maybe a task list will only work for you if you can access it from your iPhone, iPad and laptop. The point is that you should know what you need before you go shopping.

A Not-Nearly Exhaustive List of Resources

Over the past few years, I worked with a team that stretched from Riyadh to Portland. As a small firm, we needed an easy way to track time, share files and pass the baton to colleagues in four different time zones. After a couple of trials, we settled on an online project management tool that met all of our requirements.

I recently moved to a large firm where I am responsible for the PR outreach for several offices. Once again, I need more than a basic Excel spreadsheet. The tool from my former firm is still a solid choice for me, but tools advance quickly, so I decided to research the new options. Below is a small sampling of the most popular tools I found – culled through research on Mashable, Harvard Business Review and others. Most offer free trials, so you can test drive before you buy.

Basecamp: A former client introduced me to Basecamp. She started using it to plan her wedding and found it so helpful that she eventually added work projects to the mix. This web-based collaboration tool allows users to track milestones, share files and make assignments.

Teamwork PM: This web-based tool does everything Basecamp does, plus addsthe ability to set task dependencies, makes time tracking available in the lowest cost plan, and (personal preference here) has a more intuitive interface.

Tracky: This tricked-out task list tool comes with a sense of humor and the ability to integrate your favorite social media tools. The developers describe Tracky as “a lot like a mullet: all business in the front, all social party in the back.” Track your projects, and then share your progress socially. Tracky should hit the right note for people who like crowd-sourcing or open source.

Podio: Citrix recently acquired this social business collaboration platform. According to the company, Podio enables ”messaging, tasks, reporting, workflow and contact management.” Podio lets users purchase app bundles for specific purposes, including a customer relationship management tool.

If these tools are more than you need and you really just want a better way to organize your day and track your tasks, Freelance Switch offers an extensive list of to-do-list apps.

Have a favorite time management tool? Share them with other WWPR members. Are you looking for a technology to solve a work challenge? Please drop us a line and we’ll explore solutions in this column overthe coming months.