Sometimes being self-employed feels a bit like being an octopus with all of its hands full. Lots of hands. All very full. The things that keep us sane are often the tools we use. In the past I’ve tried to use as few tools as possible, paring it down, until I finally understood that different jobs require not only different skill sets, but also different tools. I would like to introduce you to the (ever-changing) tools of my trade. However, I think I’ll have to split this into two posts. This is part one: Project management.
Freelancers need project management
Getting myself organised has been the hardest part of going freelance, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Finn Porter coaching me through the process. I knew I didn’t need complicated project management software since I’m just working by myself, but that way I ended up with a lot of different tools. But, as long as they all work together, that’s fine with me.
I often try new tools, so this list changes often. Most tools don’t last longer than a week, but some — those that easily integrate into my workflows — stick around. As long as I don't go overboard, I’m alright.
Scheduling: Google Calendar / Sunrise
The hub of my everyday scheduling is Google Calendar. I used to have a bunch of calendars within gcal, but since I went freelance I use just one, because I don’t have this deep need to separate my personal life from my work life anymore :) On my Mac I use Sunrise to view it. I don’t necessarily count that as a separate tool, it’s just that I prefer Sunrise’s look and feel over iCal’s. It’s also pretty much the only Microsoft product I’ve chosen deliberately.
All my appointments go into my main calendar (which is shared with my partner, so she can easily set up meetings with friends without having to call me about it). I have a second calendar that I use to schedule my work day around appointments — including breaks, so I don’t for get to actually take them.
I tried doing the everyday scheduling with a paper planner, but, at the end of the day, I need something that is more flexible and that I don’t actually have to lug around, because it resides on all my devices.
Task Management: Trello / ToDoist
Actual Tasks go into ToDoist, including errands and personal stuff — basically, all the basic reminders I need to set up in order not to forget things. Meanwhile, I use Trello to keep an eye on my general pipeline: I use Trello’s card stacks to collect inquiries from potential clients, things that are in the planned but have no set date yet, and items that have a due date already.
The Chrome browser extension Ultimello makes it easy to order tasks by due date. My most important stacks are “This Week” and “Next Week”. I set up my Trello on a week-by-week basis, shifting items from the hold-all to the This Week and Next Week stacks, and then I set up my Todoist tasks based on that as I go along. I basically set up my week on Sunday night or Friday night, if I manage in time.
I’m currently trying out Agantty, a gantt chart type app currently in beta, because I’m looking for a way to see at a glance how booked out I am at any point in time. I was planning to try it for a bit longer, but just as I was about to hit publish on this post, Finn sent me a link to Elegantt for Trello on ProductHunt.
It seems a little slow in my tab-riddled browser right now and I’ll try it a bit longer before I write more about it, but so far it looks to be exactly what I need — integrating neatly into my already existing workflow! I may or may not have started to flail happily when first opening it. This will definitely change my Trello workflow, and hopefully for the better :)
Client Contact: Gmail / Google Apps / Kiwi for Gmail
Todoist also comes into play when I get an email from a client or an inquiry that I can’t or won’t reply to immediately. I handle these open tasks in a variety of ways. If it’s timed and very important to get done, I push it into Todoist as a task. Other than that I keep emails I still need to reply to in my Priority Inbox. Since, other than that, I am pretty close to Inbox Zero, it is absolutely possible for me to keep a handle on it.
So, when I have a communication slot in my calendar, I just write whatever emails Todoist tells me I need to write and have a look at what‘s still moping around in my inbox.
I recently set up Google Apps to handle email for my own domain and absolutely love it. It also got me into Kiwi for Gmail, where I can keep all of my email accounts in one place outside of my browser — very handy. Now I’m just waiting for them to integrate Streak, because I love the email handling and scheduling options that Streak gives me in a browser. For now, I switch to Gmail/Apps in Chrome whenever I need to use Streak’s features.
UPDATE [01/02/2016]: I have since ditched Kiwi for Gmail, because of the lack of speed their development has shown. Ever since the El Capitan update for Mac, Kiwi kept crashing randomly when clicking on links. Support just kept repeating, “we’re working on it.” Furthermore, they never implemented any of the things they promised to implement. I’ve gone back to using Gmail in Chrome. Checker Plus for Gmail keeps me from having to have all three of my accounts open all the time. Works so far.
One big bucket: Evernote
Evernote is still the bucket I throw everything into, mostly via the Evernote Web Clipper extension for Chrome or via my Android phone.
- Article I want to read later, but probably never will look at again? ;) — Throw it into Evernote.
- Article I want to schedule for one of my social media accounts with buffer? — Throw it into Evernote and tag it #buffer.
- Cooking recipes? — Evernote.
- Notes for a talk I might hold one day? — Evernote.
- Screenplay or story ideas? — Evernote.
- Our shared grocery shopping list? — Evernote.
- Half-formed blog post ideas? — You guessed it: Evernote.
I am the first person to admit that my Evernote account is one giant, half-organised, constantly re-organised mess. But it’s my mess and, at least, everything is in there and most of the time I can even find it.
Alright, that’s it for the strictly organisational part. If you want to get actually properly organised in a way that works for you, I’d recommend you hit up Finn who is a Workflow Organiser and can probably help you with that.
Next time I’ll tell you a little more about my creative workflows, from writing to image editing! I’ll show you how I use Google Docs to work collaboratively, and where I get the images I use for my blog posts. Meanwhile I’d love to know what you use to organise yourself! Any advice for apps I might like but may not have tried yet?