4 Tools You Should Be Using
If you're a freelance designer, you've probably started looking for tools to make your workflow even simpler. Every Monday I'm going to share tips and tricks I've learned for increasing productivity, for managing a range of client work, and for minimizing time spent running your one-[wo]man business.
Each app in my list has plenty or pros and cons. You may find one of their competitors more helpful depending on how you process your tasks. After trying almost everything on the market, these are the four I've liked the most from each category. Here are four tools I use everyday.
1. Todoist (a daily task tracker)
Having a dedicated space to organize your tasks for the day makes it easy to keep track of your priorities. I've been making lists for a long time — physical checklists, text document lists, etc. The biggest problem I've found: losing the list, or at least losing quick access. Todoist, available in the App Store, gives you the flexibility of tracking your list on all of your devices. At $28.99/year, ToDoist makes use of really nice app design, with highly functional tools, like inbox integration.
You can select priority levels for each task, assign due dates and times, and make special notes. Although unnecessary to my workflow, the app is organized by projects and labels too. Simply type "#" or "@" into the item name to choose from recently assigned projects or labels. Best of all, you have the option of viewing your list in a number of different formats. While most days I stick with "Next 7 Days", you can isolate to "Today" or view an expanded list of all lists from your "Inbox".
More here: todoist.com
2. Basecamp (a project tracker)
Next is a good project management tool. Asana, Trello, or even Slack can be suitable depending on your project structure and how many collaborators you're working with. I've chosen Basecamp because of the overall ability to structure projects as lists and not as cards. Also, my time tracker (Everhour) has a really nice integration that allows me to keep track of billable hours directly from my project listings.
To start, Basecamp has a landing page for your Projects. I use this page to organize by clients. Once setup, each Project (or client) has a single message thread to collaborate with your client, a to-do list of tasks, a space for documents and files, and a calendar to track important deadlines. From the to-do list page, you can breakup your tasks into as many separate list headings as you'd like. For instance, I have an "Active Projects", "Completed Projects", and "On-Hold Projects" list for each of my clients. Within each list, individual assignments are listed out. Unlike Asana, Basecamp has a special header in each project where you can post the original assignment brief along with reference or supporting files. Once a project is started, each "task" in my lists functions as a thread—I collaborate with my clients on feedback, send updated files, and track the progression of a project from start to finish.
Basecamp is $29/mo for Basic, and $99/mo for additional features that help separate client and designer communication. The mobile and desktop apps are a huge part of the user experience. While most project management apps work only in-browser, Basecamp has spent considerable time designing beautiful apps to enhance the overall project experience.
More here: basecamp.com
3. Everhour (a time tracker)
Here's another tool with tons of competition. Everhour is a time tracking app that connects directly with your Basecamp, Trello or Asana account. Rather than manually entering an item to time, Everhour pulls projects directly from your ongoing lists and allows your timesheet to sync perfectly.
I didn't start tracking time like this until recently, and it's been a game-changer. Keeping track of an 8-hour workday is difficult enough. Everhour is organized by day, which keeps a running tally of your daily total time used as well as a log by project, by client, or by tag. The reports panel is customizable and easy to navigate. The app costs $96/yr for the Solo plan, and is the perfect add-on for your toolkit. By tracking time like this, you'll save time calculating totals, finalizing timesheets, and billing your clients.
More here: everhour.com
4. Quickbooks (a financial tracker)
Lastly, and most importantly, you **need** Quickbooks Self-Employed. Unlike QuickBooks Pro (or another multi-person team tracker), Quickbooks Self-Employed includes a mobile app for tracking mileage (using GPS), streamlined invoicing capabilities, and reports to help organize estimated taxes.
Before I started using QBSE, my taxes were a mess. I was saving physical receipts, creating manual invoices, and collecting checks left and right. QBSE works like any good budgeting app, making it easy to classify income and expenses. Calculating quarterly estimate tax payments is painless. Even better, you can track paid and unpaid invoices, which are payable in-browser via credit card (transaction fee) or ACH (no transaction fee) for your clients.
More here: Quickbooks Self-Employed
These are the top four apps in my toolkit for running my business. They keep my time focused on producing work. Hopefully they can save you some time and money as your business grows.
For more tips and tricks, come back next Monday!