As a freelancer working on contract or for yourself, many of the conventional organizational and time-management structures one finds in an office setting are absent. Meetings are often conducted over Skype and tend to be brief check-ins rather than detailed planning sessions, and the independent nature of the freelance lifestyle means you may not have accountable team members. In the absence of a group environment, project management tools may never enter the freelancer’s workflow - but they should.
Modern project management tools are designed not only for large organizations or teams working on complex, multi-tiered projects. These tools serve to maintain order and enhance productivity by breaking down a project into individual tasks whose progress can be tracked, and the responsibility for which assigned to the appropriate people. By dividing projects into chunks of work based on the nature of each task and associating due-dates for the tasks themselves, reasonable estimations can be made regarding the completion of the project as a whole.
By using project management tools as a freelancer, you’ll enhance your reputation as being organized, timely and accurate.
Asana is a web-app project management tool currently available for free. It features an email-based invitation system for your team members or anyone you’d like to be able to oversee your work and its status. Asana revolves around the concept of projects and tasks: you create projects in the master workspace area, and then further subdivide these projects into tasks. This is great for freelancers working for multiple clients: each project in the master workspace can be attributed to a different client, and you can invite people to oversee your work. Each project exists independently from others, which means your contact at Acme Co. won’t see what you’re doing for another client if you don’t want them to.
For each project, you can create priority headings and tags. Priority headings let you establish the importance of different tasks relative to each other, while tags let you separate different kinds of work for the same project. If you’re a photographer doing a fashion shoot, you could have priority headings like "Week Before" "Night Before" "Day of" and "Week After". Combining these with tags such as "Gear Preparation" "Editing" "Shooting" and "Client Care" you can start to see how you should be budgeting your time.
When creating a task, you can choose the person you’d like to assign the task to, as well as any followers you’d like to see updates on the status of the task. As a freelancer this is especially valuable, as you are actually adding a level of accountability your clients may not even expect. Your client can feel a sense of security seeing that work is being done, and you gain the benefit of being able to more easily communicate snags in the road or slowdowns resulting from an individual task in the broader scope of the project.
Asana features keyboard command shortcuts as well as extensive tutorials, which are a welcome addition considering the scope of the app itself.
Like Asana, Flow is project management software designed for both individuals and teams. It offers a 14-day free trial, and costs $9.99/mth thereafter. Featuring an iPhone and OSX desktop app, Flow aims to reside on all of your devices so that you can update and track tasks any time, any place.
Flow has two unique features - their Concierge service and email integration. Flow’s Concierge offers (for an additional monthly rate) the ability to complete a number of "lower level" tasks outside of the parent organization. For freelancers, this may be well worth the money - you gain the benefit of a limited-use personal assistant. Tasks like making appointments, doing simple research and making calls can be assigned to your Concierge - from any of the web, desktop or mobile apps.
Email integration lets you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with special markup in the subject line to do things like assign a task to a person, workgroup or project. This is a great feature for those times when for whatever reason you aren’t able to use the available applications themselves. When creating tasks in-app, you can also add file attachments which is a great feature.
Dropbox is an essential tool for file management, offering a free 5GB account to new users as well as paid accounts with larger storage allotments. Dropbox is cross-platform and includes mobile and desktop apps for iPhone, Android, Mac and PC.
Cloud-based storage is invaluable for anyone who needs to move large files around on any regular basis, and Dropbox enhances this through the integration of their apps with the host device. With the desktop app, any changes made including the addition and removal of files to or from a folder are tracked and can generate a notification. Folders can be shared with other Dropbox users, and individual links to files can be sent to non-Dropbox users as well.
Integrating Dropbox links with project management tools like Asana or Flow allows you to have a streamlined workflow where every aspect of a project is tracked and its resources made available from any location.
Any freelancer can take advantage of these tools and combine them with workflow ideologies like the scrum method for top-to-bottom organization.
You won’t be hearing "I needed that yesterday" or "I didn’t get that email" again.