Sounds like the One App of Power I must carry to Mount Doom, doesn’t it?
Actually, it is a relatively new productivity tool on the market, and like Notion, whose tagline is All-in-one Workspace, it claims to do it all. I wrote getting started guides for Notion also, and you can find those links at the end of this article.
And while neither product actually does everything, either may do everything you need depending on those needs. Notion is more of a document/database app, great for building wikis or processes. It’s good at managing projects, but where it falls flat is actual task management.
ClickUp excels at task management at many levels. And it’s that multi-tiered hierarchy that makes ClickUp such a powerful tool. Another great feature of both is they have a small, but dedicated team of developers that are constantly adding new features. I think ClickUp is leading the pack with new features almost weekly. And with features released recently, such as better document integration, formula fields, and now automation, it could soon be the One App to Replace Them All. It can certainly replace your to-do lists and project management software. And depending on how deep you use them, it could replace your document storage and note-taking apps.
The one problem I found with ClickUp is that its hierarchy, custom fields, and statuses, creates both power and confusion. But if you start slow and simple, it’s not such a problem. This article will walk you through your first day with ClickUp and help you get started.
When you first browse to ClickUp.com you can enter your email address and click Sign Up for Free, but spend a few minutes looking around. One thing you want to check out is the pricing. There is a free forever plan that includes 100Mb of storage, and unlimited tasks and users. And while that sounds like a lot, like Notion, there are a few gotchas. But, also like Notion, the cost is very reasonable and if you find the app useful, it’s worth the price of admission.
The hurdle most people hit in the free plan is the custom fields. They allow you 100 uses in the free plan. This is confusing to most new users, so I wanted to explain that before we get started. Using the custom fields will come in another chapter of this series, so stay tuned.
Custom fields are one of the most powerful features of ClickUp, but one that is native to Notion. Let’s say you create a custom text field called Publisher. Okay, that is one custom field. But if you use that field in a list with 100 entries, that’s 100 uses. You can use ClickUp without custom fields, and I would encourage you to do so to get started. But it is a key feature, so plan on being a paid subscriber at $5 a month per user if you find the app useful.
Back at the home page, enter your email address and click the Signup button. On the next screen, enter your full name and a password, then click Play with ClickUp. Don’t worry about the SSO option for now.
They will email you a confirmation code you will use to verify your email address and enter the site. Enter the code and you will get a basic setup screen. You can customize or upload an avatar, choose a color theme, or add some personal apps. For now, click through I’m Happy and No, thanks.
One of the powerful features of ClickUp is the ability to handle teams or even entire corporations within its structure. For the sake of simplicity and because it is an area where documentation is harder to find, this tutorial will use the Personal Space Workspace. To follow along, click It’s just me, and then Play with ClickUp. Again, we will cover templates in a future episode. If you do want to try one now, I would suggest the Getting Started template, which adds help balloons to each new screen and a few other features. I am proceeding without a template.
After a few seconds of setup, you get a blank slate. Actually, it’s not blank; there’s a lot going on here, so the rest of this article will walk you through this screen.
Starting at the upper left with your sidebar, the first item under the ClickUp logo is Tasks, currently highlighted. This is where I spend most of my time, but your results may vary. That’s the beauty of ClickUp, its versatility.
Under that is the notification, the bell icon. This is where you can get a variety of notifications based on the preferences you set. I will cover settings in the next installment — we still have a lot to get through today.
Beneath that, with the icon that looks like an inbox, is… the inbox. This is sort of a today view and where many people focus their attention. I have built custom views for myself that replaces it, but it’s handy and you should definitely try it before you build your own.
Beneath that is Dashboards, an advanced topic covered much later. After that is Docs. This is the place for all of your documents. Again we will cover docs later, but it’s not just plain documents stored here. You can build complicated hierarchical documents and wikis, embed almost anything, or make simple checklists.
Toward the bottom of the sidebar, you come to the help icon. This brings up access to all the help ClickUp offers, and it’s an impressive list. The Onboarding section is almost as good as my article. Almost. There are a lot of videos both here and on YouTube. The Docs/Faqs section is quite extensive. If you want or need specific or quick help, I have found the Chat feature very useful. This is not actually a live chat, but more of a messaging app. When you open it, they will tell you when they will be back, but I always get good help in a reasonable amount of time.
Beneath that are Goals, Portfolios, and Reporting, all of which we will cover later. The final icon brings up your profile information and access to all the basic settings. We will cover this section along with other settings in the next installment. One thing that may confuse you is the two sections, both of which probably have your name at the top. One is the Workspace and the other is you as a user. The Space also has your name on it. The difference will become apparent, but if it is troubling, you will learn how to rename the workspace later. For now, know that once you have things set up. You won’t come back here that often.
Click on the task icon again, and we will look at the rest of the screen. Across the top is the Space name, which is probably also your name. We will get to Spaces shortly. Next to that are two default views, a list view, and a board view. There are several views available and the view options are some of the great features of ClickUp. If you are familiar with views in Notion, you will be right at home.
On the right side at the top is the Search function and the QuickSwitch Icon. Search allows you to find anything quickly in your workspace, and QuickSwitch (keyboard shortcut k) allows you to switch between main views. You may find this handy; I use Favorites for the same thing.
The rest of the main screen will become apparent shortly, but there is one more important icon to cover. In the lower right corner is a plus icon. This is one of the many ways to add things to ClickUp. Click on this and you can jump to adding a task, reminder, note, doc, or clip a web page.
If you hover over the sidebar, you will see another flyaway sidebar that pops out. Click on the purple arrow next to the ClickUp icon to lock it in place for now. Later, you can decide which way you like it better.
At the top of this is where you can view Favorites once you create them. Under that is a high-level snapshot of the hierarchy in ClickUp.
Under the workspace level, which is what you created when you signed up is the Spaces level. This level is mandatory and they have already created one already for you. You can use spaces for clients, departments, or any other division you want at the highest level. I started with Business and Personal to keep mine simple and added more later. The Everything view under that is just what it says. Another great thing about ClickUp is the granularity at which you can view entries: Everything, Space, Folder, List, or Task.
I would suggest you play with this default space. Once you know how you want yours structured, create the real spaces and delete this one. Despite my advice, we will create a test space to walk through the process. I will go over thoughts and recommendations on the entire hierarchy at the end of the article.
Like many apps, ClickUp uses the three-dot ellipse menu system. If you hover over your space you can pop up the submenu, which has a lot of features we will cover later (I promise). Next to that is a plus sign. This is used to create a new folder or list under this space, not create a new space, which we will do now.
Just below the space, you will see + Add Space. Click on this. Again, we will cover templates later, so give this one a name and click Next. I am calling this one Test Space. Here you will see a set of customizations, that you also saw when you clicked on the ellipse menu. You can give your space a color and icon if desired. Click next and you can decide who the space is for. Since this is a one-person setup, accept the default and click Next.
On this screen, you will see statuses. In ClickUp, you can have the normal status of Open, In Progress and Closed, statuses from several templates shown, or build your own custom statuses. For now, click on Normal and Next.
Note that even with the Normal statuses, you can rename or change color. You can also remove the In Progress status if you don’t use it. This will have an added advantage of replacing the status drop-down for tasks into a simple check for completion. Statuses are customizable not just on the space level, but also the folder and list levels. Very flexible.
Next comes ClickApps. These are sort of sub-apps that can add more power and flexibility to ClickUp. If you have ever used Amazing Marvin, these are sort of like strategies. Click on Show More to see the whole list. You can decide later about which apps you want to use. There is no harm in enabling all of them for now.
Next, come the default settings for views. The only required view is the List view, but you can add more if you always use the same views. In most cases, I leave this alone, but I do have one list where I always want to see the board and calendar views. It is a trivial thing to create them on the fly, so don’t worry too much over this screen.
Finally, click Review Space to check your choices and click Create Space. Now, there are two spaces. Under each one, you can add folders or lists. You can do so by clicking on the plus sign to the right of the space name, or with the space highlighted, click on the links below it.
Again, I will discuss the hierarchy in a minute, but for now, just know that tasks live in Lists. Folders are just another level of the organization if you need them. Lists are mandatory, folders are not. I have spaces with folders, spaces with just lists, and spaces with a combination. Don’t create and use a level just because it’s there.
But don’t worry if your hierarchy gets too complex. You can move things around later. You will build views that make the hierarchy transparent. I have views that span lists and folders in one space and views that span all folders in all spaces. Similar to the Inbox we looked at later, I have a view showing everything I need to do today, one with everything for tomorrow and one displaying the next week. These are where I spend most of my time. Building a view is more flexible than using the built-in Inbox.
Under your test space, click on either of the options to build a folder. The options here are much more basic. You need to give it a name. It will create one default list named List which you can change now using the right arrow or later. You can also decide who can see this folder and whether you want different statuses from the space. Just give it a name and click Create Folder.
Now, under your test space, you have a folder. It has the same ellipse and plus menus, except now, the only thing you can create is a list. Since you already have one, click on the ellipse menu beside that. Here you have many options. You can copy a link to this list to reference it elsewhere. This is like creating an internal link in Evernote or Notion. The pencil icon next to that is where you can rename this list. You can create a task directly from here, although I don’t know why you would. You can also archive or delete this list.
The envelope icon in the middle is interesting. As with many task management apps, you can email directly into ClickUp, but here, it’s done at the list level. Each list has a unique email address created by the app. The pop up shows you how to use it from your email app. You will most likely want to give these easier to remember names as contacts inside your email app. If, like me, you prefer emails going to one location and dealing with it from there, create one list and send all emails there. Mine is all called My Inbox to differentiate it from the native Inbox.
Going back to the List pop-up menu, you have a List Info button, which does just what it says, and a New List button. The other options are more advanced topics, but I want to point out three of them. The Move out of folder, Move and Copy options show how you can always change your mind about your structure later. For now, click out of that menu and let’s wrap things up by creating a task; the heart of this whole beast.
With any list highlighted, you have your tasks in the main window. Since we don’t have any, you only see the new task entry form. Click on it and type something in. You can change things like Due Date and Priority from this view, then click Save, or save it and enter those things later. Let’s look at option two. Give the task a name, Click Save and then click the task again to open it up. Your first time through, it will show you some tips. The total number of things you see will depend on custom fields and ClickApps, but for now, just take a look at the basics.
At the top, you see breadcrumbs showing exactly where you are. You can use the trail to back up to any higher level. To the right, you can move the task from here to another list or create one on the fly. To the right of that, you can minimize the task. Just like minimizing a window in your OS, this will place the task in your system tray, handy for keeping that particular task front and center in your attention. Finally, you can press X to close this window. Almost all windows in ClickUp use the same X function to close them.
In the second row, you see the current status, which you can change by clicking on it. This one is Open. You can complete it by clicking on the check. Next is the assignee, which is you. The flag is for priority. ClickUp comes hard-wired with five levels. If you want more or custom priorities, you can use a custom field. You can share your tasks publicly with the next icon. Next to that is the ever-present ellipse menu, which is the same one we saw earlier. To the right is for Watchers, only applicable in team settings which we will not be covering.
In the main window, above the task name are tags and dependencies. Tags are like tags in other apps you may have used and are very useful for filtering tasks later. For instance, you could have a tag called Critical, then use that tag in the filter of a view across all of your spaces to bring together critical tasks from everywhere. If you need more than one set of tags, there is a custom field called Dropdown. Dependencies are for advanced project management so that a task isn’t visible until the one before it is complete.
You can use the description field for anything you like. This is a familiar block-based markdown screen. Use the / key to see all of your options. Note to the right is another area for comments. The application creates some of these to show your history, but you can add your own in the bottom right window with the same block commands available.
Below the description, you can add subtasks or checklists. You can also add checklists to subtasks. Finally, you can add attachments to any task. You could also add files to the Doc section and reference them here via a link. This would be useful if one file was useful to many tasks.
Okay, that’s pretty much it for today as far as operations go. As promised, I wanted to give you my thoughts on the hierarchy before you get too far along.
Based on my many years of trying and using different productivity apps, I would strongly advise against the habit of trying to build too much too soon. If you already have a productivity app, keep using it for the short term. Meanwhile, play with this test structure we created. Wait patiently for, and read my coming chapters. Go through the help files and watch some videos. There is a lot going on here. Don’t try to learn everything at once.
When you think you are ready, start moving things over slowly. It may be a pain to use two apps, but I counsel a slow approach. Move one project or functional area into ClickUp and practice with that. I created my content creation system in ClickUp. I really enjoyed being able to switch between the list, board and calendar views.
Give ClickUp a try. I think you will find it can replace a lot of other software you are using.