You just heard back from Client No. 1: She likes your pitch and wants a first draft within seven days. Client No. 2 just sent you his comments on your piece and would like to see revisions by Friday. Client No. 3 needs an invoice for the projects you’ve already completed this month. Meanwhile, you’re waiting on checks from Client Nos. 4, 5, and 6. Oh, and you’re still putting together some ideas for Client No. 7.
The nature of freelancing means you’re constantly juggling projects in different stages of completion. And you have to be keenly away of letting any accidentally drop—because your reputation depends on meeting your deadlines, while your livelihood depends on making sure you get paid.
Luckily, there are some great online tools out there that’ll allow you to carefully track the progress of every project on your docket. Check out my top 10.
Not only does Asana’s clean, simple layout make it incredibly easy on the eyes, it also makes using and mastering this app a breeze. When you create a project, which can be broken down into sub-tasks with individual deadlines, it’s really easy to monitor exactly what you’ve done and what still needs to be taken care of.
I suggest making every assignment a separate project and using Asana’s “Highlight” feature to color-code them based on the client. Then, you can outline everything that needs to happen from pitching to getting paid.
Asana also allows you to upload attachments and share your projects with other people—meaning you can loop in your clients or collaborators depending on the situation.
Trello is a good choice if you handle a lot of recurring projects for different clients or if you’re a very visual thinker. Its basic organizational tool is the “board.” Each board is separated into lists, and each list is composed of one or more “cards,” which represent separate tasks.
I recommend making a different board for every client. Then, depending on how each client handles submission and payment, you can make individualized lists for each step of the process. Maybe your first list is “Pitched,” your next list is “Approved,” and so on, until a list for “Paid.”
Once you’ve made a card for each task you need to complete, you can give it a deadline, add an attachment, choose labels, make a checklist, write notes, and even share it with other Trello users.
Price: Free, or $5 for the enhanced version
At first, Wrike seems pretty similar to Asana and Trello: You set up folders, create tasks, and assign task deadlines. However, Wrike has a few unique features really set it apart.
First, it automatically tracks how much time you spend on each task, which is really helpful if you charge by the hour or need to see how long a project is taking. Second, it lets you create and share your project schedule. Once you’ve planned out a project, all you have to do is click the “Share timeline” button, and Wrike will send snapshots of your schedule to anyone you want, even if they don’t have a Wrike account. And third, Wrike integrates with a bunch of third-party apps, like Chrome, your email, cloud storage, and iCal.
Price: Free for up to 5 users
Formerly known as Solo, Thrive belongs on this list because it was specifically designed for freelancers. In addition to creating projects and setting due dates, you can also create a client roster, which analyzes how many returning clients you have, what sectors they’re in, and how profitable you are working with them. You can easily see which clients are your most valuable while also keeping track of basic contact info like phone numbers and emails.
This is also cool: When you can make invoices in the app, the software tracks which clients have paid you, which clients have overdue payments, and which clients you still need to bill.
Thrive also comes with a “Quotes” feature that logs how many quotes you’ve sent out and tracks how many have been accepted.
Price: $13 per month or $130 per year
This tool is definitely the way to go if you want a quick and easy way to keep all your assignments organized. You start out on Wunderlist by making folders—I give each client their own—then adding “to-dos.” The program offers reminders in addition to deadlines. The reminder feature is super helpful—for example, maybe you need to interview someone for a story in the next eight days, so you can easily add a reminder at the four-day mark.
Plus, Wunderlist pulls to-dos from emails. Let’s say you get a message from a client asking for revisions; just forward it to Wunderlist, and “make revisions on X article” will become a task.
When it comes to personalization, most project management tools are fairly limited—you can adjust names and color-code, but that’s pretty much it. Not so with Podio, which lets you completely control the design of each project outline.
You can add endless fields, from links or numbers to text boxes, categories, and even maps. So if your typical assignments are pretty detailed and complex (or you just want an app that gives you lots of customization power), Podio is worth checking out.
You can also make project templates, which comes in handy if your freelance process can be replicated. Let’s say you write a similar set of articles every month for the same magazine; rather than creating a new project each time, you can use the template option to clone the first one and reuse it in the future.
Podio: Free for basic version, $9/month for 5+ users
Thanks to its email and desktop notifications, Redbooth is ideal for people juggling a lot of deadlines. Suppose you’ve created a task like “Turn in website copy for approval” and set the deadline for August 14. If you haven’t marked the task as completed by that day, Redbooth will either ping you on your browser, send you an email, or both. In other words, you’ll never miss a deadline because of forgetfulness.
There’s also a useful “Reporting” section. This tab will show you when you’re finishing tasks, from “early” to “more than 1 week,” and record all your activity from the past seven days.
Price: $5 per month
Want a project management tool that’s functional without all the bells and whistles? Go with Flow. It has all the basic functionality of the others (separate workspaces for separate projects, project and task creation, work history, etc.), but without some of the busy interfaces. In fact, its design is nearly Mac-like in its minimalism and friendliness for new users.
In addition to the computer-based platform, you can also use Flow’s iPhone and Android apps. Plus, the software also comes in a specific desktop version for Macs so you don’t have to go through the brief hassle of opening Flow in your Internet browser.
Price: $19 per month for up to 3 users
Quire’s setup is pretty traditional: You’ve got projects composed of tasks that can be drilled down into sub-tasks. Furthermore, you can set due dates, add tags, and track your progress.
However, Quire has a few qualities that stand out. It has a ton of keyboard shortcuts, which means after a week or two of using the platform, you’ll be navigating really quickly. Also, you can make individual projects viewable by URL—so if you have a client who wants to know exactly what the status is for an assignment, you can conveniently share the project specs. This feature can also be helpful if the project scope expands and you’d like to renegotiate your price.
And if you like looking at physical to-do lists, rather than virtual ones, Quire automatically formats your tasks for printing.
Unlike the other tools above, Taskboard is a completely free, open-source project. You don’t make an account to access Taskboard; you just download it.
My favorite Taskboard feature is the “automatic option.” When specific criteria are met, items will automatically update. For example, you can tell Taskboard to clear the deadline if you mark a task as complete before its deadline. The automation saves you from having to constantly fiddle with all the different details to keep your board clean.
Taskboard’s Markdown compatibility makes it even simpler to use. (If you’ve never heard of Markdown, it’s a plain text style that converts to HTML and saves you tons of time formatting your work. Learn more here.) Thanks to this feature, you can seamlessly transition your comments, notes, and reminders from documents to Taskboard to a website, and back again.
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