Time Management for Freelancers: the best tools for the switch to freelancing
I recently turned my side hustle into a legitimate company and quit one of my jobs. I had no idea how the switch to being my own boss would impact my productivity and workflow — I assumed I would just be using the same pattern I had when I worked in an office. I could not have been more WRONG.
“Be your own boss” sounds great: you get to determine where your time is spent, make decisions that move your business in directions that you care about, learn new skills, and create a company from the ground up. You also have no structure – no office commute, no deadlines, no drains on your time. I thought this was going to be the answer to my hopes and dreams, but I struggled enormously with the change. I had no office to get to… so there was no reason to routinely get up in the morning. There were no deadlines, so I could put off items on my to-do list that I didn’t like or didn’t want to do. I found that small tasks were draining time away from the large-scale projects for which I hoped to make more time. My productivity crashed in a major way.
I’m not up to the level of productivity that I think I need, but I found some tools that help me manage my time and keep me on track so I can get through the small things and to the big things.
Here are the apps I use to help me with time management as a freelancer:
This app from an Estonian company helps me understand exactly how much time I’m putting into a project. This is good for billing hours or running reports for a job, but it also shows me that I constantly under-schedule for projects. Through consistent usage, I have come to grasp a true understanding of how long projects take. This has helped me refine my daily schedule and my project timelines and customer turn-around times.
Do you love sticky notes? Then this app is for you. Trello is an organization platform that allows you to create cards (a sticky note) and put them into lists. These lists then live on a board, keeping all the info for one project in the same place. I make a new board for every client, containing research links, design drafts, article inspirations – anything that pertains to them and their needs. I can even give access to the board to the client. It’s a great way for them to jot down content ideas in a place I can see them and act on them.
This one is a cheat, but this app is so important to one of my non-profits I can’t leave it out! Slack is an online messaging program for work. At my old job, I used to get an email that had less than a dozen words in them, mostly short questions that needed answers immediately. It clogged up my inbox, making it harder to find the important emails. In steps Slack. Instead of short emails or colleagues texting you on your personal phone, it all goes into the platform. You get instant communication between team members in a forum that can keep everyone up to date on a particular issue or project. This program has totally revolutionized the workflow in one of my non-profits. It’s allowed us to maximize the impact of everyone’s time, making sure they can get the answers they need to finish what they need to in the time they have. Mind blown.
With all of the running around that I do, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of everything. I used to be a small notebook devotee, but I have recently found something better – the reuseable Rocketbook! Using the Flexion pen, this notebook is completely erasable with water so I can use the same notebook for everything. I don’t worry about keeping enough pages to keep notes on one subject together; in addition to being reusable, Rocketbook has a scanning service that allows you to designate a number of places your notes can go to be stored. Now I don’t worry about sticking a page of notes for another project right after notes for a video – I just scan them into the right folders, and all of my notes are together! It’s revolutionized how I take notes.
The switch to business owner has been intense, but as time goes by I learn more and more about how to create the situations I need to be successful and productive day after day. As I add gigs and clients I know this will continue to change. What do you use to keep you on track? Let me know in the comments!