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Review: Etelos Projects Offers Good Ideas, Poor Execution

Review: Etelos Projects Offers Good Ideas, Poor Execution
Etelos Projects Main Screen

    Etelos Projects for Google Apps is a new online project management application that is distinguished from other project managers like Basecamp by its integration with Google Apps. Etelos uses the Google Calendar for scheduling, Google Spreadsheet for task management, and a set of iGoogle homepage widgets to add to and review your projects. It also offers limited upload space for files related to the project. The service is free for users managing a single project, with 10 MB of file storage; for more, you have to upgrade to paid accounts at rates roughly equivalent to other online project managers.

    I have been in the market for an online project manager I could integrate that would allow me to access and work on Google Docs and Spreadsheets, and Etelos’ integration with Google Apps (the all-in-one package that integrates with your domain) seemed promising. Unfortunately, Etelos Projects does not live up to my expectations, offering an overall poor user experience that seems less like growing pains and more like the result of a wrong-headed approach to the problems project management systems are meant to solve.

    Setting Up Your Account

    Signing up for Etelos Projects is a little burdensome and somewhat non-intuitive. As far as I can tell, the only place you can sign up from is the “features” page, by clicking on the “Free Trial” button at the bottom. That gets you a standard account setup page, after which you are sent a confirmation email with your username and password, and a link to login. You need to use that link, since a cursory look at the website revealed no clear place to log in to your account.

    The link in your email, however, does not lead to a login page either; instead, you are taken to shopping cart populated by your free account. Clicking “checkout” takes you to another license agreement (you are asked to accept the terms of service when you sign up, too), which after accepting takes you to a new page saying your instance of the software is being installed and to check your email for another login link, username, and password.

    Neither the link, username, more password are memorable, but bear with them; once you use the crazy login, you are given a chance to change both username and password to whatever suits your fancy. You are asked to “update your profile”, mostly with information you’ve already entered when signing up, and then offered the choice to finish or to add more users. Once you finish, you are taken to your Projects homepage, which looks very Google Apps-y, which is promising — if you use Google Apps, you should have no difficulty navigating between the main sections of the site. The URL is crazy, though, so you’ll probably want to click the link at the bottom to add widgets to your iGoogle homepage if you want to find your projects again. There are three separate widgets, one for tasks, one for projects, and one for time logs; I went ahead and installed all three (which is a simple matter of clicking a link and confirming the add on iGoogle).

    Using Etelos Projects

    Etelos Projects Project Screen

      Now click “Start a new project.” Because Etelos is apparently taking cues from Windows 95, it will pop up a confirmation, asking if you really want to start a new project. Click “yes.” The new project screen asks you for some details about the project – name, status, notes, due dates, and who you want to share or collaborate with. Etelos Projects offers three user roles — the project owner, who can do anything with the project, collaborators, who can make modifications to files, and sharers, who can view the project only. I am working on an article titled “Sexuality, Gender, and Taboo” for a book being published next year, so I thought I would use that as a test case to try the system out. I entered my title and added a due date, which apparently has to be done using the drop-down calendar, as typed-in slashes are immediately deleted.

      Etelos Projects Tasks Screen

        Clicking “Quick Add” above the project title allows you to add tasks one after the other. You enter a title for the task, a description, an estimated time, and a due date if relevant. After each task is entered in this mode, a “Create Another Task” button comes up that you have to click to add another task; unfortunately, your tasks do not appear on the page to review what you’ve entered so far or to check for errors. Clicking “tasks” takes you to the task page, where your tasks appear in reverse from the order you entered the (blog-style, with most recent additions at the top). Next to each task is an icon for editing the task, and another to log the time you spend working on it.

        Editing a task opens a new page, where you can update the status, add notes, share the task with collaborators or sharers, change the priority, and mark it as “business”, “development”, or “personal”. You have to manually save your tasks using the “save” link at the top right. Doing so refreshes the page but does not close the task.

        The timeline feature creates a pretty nice Gantt chart of your project. However, it moves completed tasks into a new chart at the bottom, based on how much time you logged using the time log function. You can also get a list of any emails you’ve sent to sharers or collaborators. There is an export function, but you have to enter your Google Apps information under “settings” first. Once set up, you get a decent enough spreadsheet of your tasks, timeline, etc. As I mentioned, you can attach files to your projects, but can only upload them and not import them from Google Apps.

        Conclusion

        I was excited about the prospect of integrating a project manager with Google Apps (which I’ve never been able to get to integrate into my domain, but whatever) so I could access, modify, and review files from within the project management framework. Alas, Etelos Projects did not, to this untrained eye, live up to the excitement. The Google integration amounts to exporting project details only — as opposed to offering a workspace where Google Apps can be used to work on your project. The iGoogle widgets offer access to your project data without logging in, which is good since I’m still not sure what URL to enter to access my projects, but they are easily the slowest widgets on my iGoogle page (and I have a lot of widgets). Where Basecamp and other project managers use AJAX to make things like adding tasks easy and attractive, Etelos adds far too many steps to each action and wraps it all in an ugly and non-intuitive interface. I would like to say the difficult sign-up was worth it, but it’s not; it is completely in keeping with the overall aesthetic and usability philosophy of the web app as a whole. The time tracking seems to work well, and I appreciate the sharing aspects (though not having anyone to share with, didn’t test them out much), but overall there’s nothing here worth recommending. If Etelos wraps the whole service in a new, simplified interface, it might rate consideration; until then, stick with Basecamp or join me as I keep waiting.

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        Last Updated on July 17, 2019

        The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

        The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

        What happens in our heads when we set goals?

        Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

        Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

        According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

        Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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        Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

        Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

        The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

        Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

        So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

        Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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        One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

        Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

        Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

        The Neurology of Ownership

        Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

        In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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        But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

        This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

        Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

        The Upshot for Goal-Setters

        So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

        On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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        It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

        On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

        But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

        More About Goals Setting

        Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

        Reference

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