5 Best Productivity Apps for Freelancers to Get More Work Done

Use these apps and resources to increase your effectiveness

A freelancer working
•••   Westend61 / Getty images

Ever since we made the leap to working full-time as a freelance content marketer earlier this year, it's been a constant challenge to remain productive and plan properly.

As a freelancer, there are so many competing priorities, incoming requests and demands for my time, so we have to make the most of the time we do set aside for client work and pursuing new business.

What's more is that we know we're not alone in this struggle. Last year, there were more than 54 million freelancers in the U.S. alone, many of whom have multiple jobs—or even a full-time job on top of their freelance work. According to a new report from LinkedIn ProFinder, there are over 331,941 Americans who freelance on the side of their day jobs.

In our experience, balancing freelance work with a full-time job is incredibly difficult. When you only have 15 to 20 hours of concentrated time to focus on your freelance business outside of your day job, you very quickly need to become an expert at ​maximizing your productivity.

The reality of being a freelancer is that you have to pitch new clients, work on proposals, do the actual client work, handle your taxes, account for savings, deal health insurance and so much more. All of that takes a significant amount of time and thoughtful effort to maintain well. 

While time management for freelancers is without a doubt an eternal balancing act that's never truly perfect, there is a suite of tools and apps we use to help stay focused and be more productive with the limited time we do have. Today we're going to talk about a few of the most impactful ones.

If it weren't for time management platforms like Harvest, financial management apps like Qapital, and collaboration tools like Mural, we would have a much harder time managing our freelance business.

5 Essential Productivity Apps for Freelancers to Get More Work Done

As a freelancer, your success depends heavily on your own self-management, effectiveness, and efficiency in accomplishing tasks when you sit down to do work. Luckily, there are plenty of apps to help us do just that:

  1. Wave Apps: Contracts & Accounting
    1. Wave is a free suite of tools for freelancers who need accounting software that helps manage the day-to-day aspects of your business. Designed specifically for freelancers, Wave provides an easy-to-use invoicing software, credit card processing for accepting client payments, payroll management, detailed reports, as well as the ability to add accounts and link up directly to your bank for quick payment transfers. Their interface is super easy to use and most of all, the quick-response customer support really sets them apart from other contract and accounting tools.
  2. Qapital: Financial Management
    1. Qapital is a banking app that turns everyday activities into opportunities to save, but what I really like about their service is that you can choose to set aside money for your annual or quarterly estimated taxes (or health insurance premiums) without needing to spend a lot of time or energy making it happen.
    2. Their "Freelancer Rule" automatically transfers 30% (or another designated income percentage) from any check or payment that hits your account for over $100, to your FDIC-secured Qapital account to later be allocated toward taxes and/or health insurance premiums. This essentially helps me treat my freelance business more like how my taxes and health insurance payments were automatically deducted from paychecks back when I had a full-time job.
    3. I reached out to George Friedman, the CEO of Qapital to get his opinion on what the biggest challenges are for millennial freelancers who are trying to save more.
    4. "Making a plan and actually sticking to it. Student loans and other expenses quickly add up, and there’s never a ‘right time’ to set aside a large sum of cash. Many people, millennials included, commonly view savings as whatever is left over once the bills are paid, but that logic is flawed."
    5. "If there is money in your account, chances are, you’re going to spend it in one swipe of your debit card, or in increments throughout the month. This is the problem we’re solving with Qapital. Our Freelancer Rule, for instance, mitigates this danger by transferring a percentage of users’ income automatically into their Qapital account, giving freelancers, and other millennials no excuse to say they don’t have 'extra' earnings to put away for savings at the end of the month."
    6. We couldn't agree more with George. When we first started freelancing full-time, we had to set multiple monthly reminders to manually trigger transfers within our checking and savings accounts
  3. Mural: Visual Collaboration
    1. Mural is a really unique visual collaboration software, specifically designed for creatives. Once you're inside of the app, they provide a flexible canvas to help you brainstorm ideas, workshop on content and integrate multimedia components so you can actually visualize where different assets will be placed within your content once you publish. This is great because we work with a lot of teams that rely on blogging and long-form landing pages to convert readers into customers, so it's immensely helpful to have a very clear visual picture of how our final product will look before we publish.
    2. Similar to the Google Docs, Mural also has built-in features that allow you to start conversations, looks over revisions and collaborate remotely as if your team were in the same room.
    3. Since we work primarily as a remote content marketer, we asked Mariano Suarez-Battan, the CEO of Mural to weigh in with what he thinks is most important for remote teams who collaborate closely on projects.
    4. "Trust is key for creative work to thrive and it's generally built by spending time in person. If you haven't met people on your team, assign extra time to talk about goals, work styles and topics unrelated to the project, in order to build rapport."
    5. "On a more tangible level, it’s critical to set clear goals and have frequent, visual interactions with one another. Use video conferencing with your entire team, reserve breakout sessions for online platforms and, most importantly, document everything in a shared space like Mural, where ideas can be visually mapped and changes tracked."
  4. Harvest: Time Management
    1. Harvest is a flexible, easy-to-use time management tool that compiles detailed reports so you can see the time distribution for your work, visually right in front of you. As a freelancer, this has helped me realize just how much time gets spent on client projects each week.
    2. Because we tend to bill our clients on a monthly retainer, it's easy to lose track of the number of hours we actually spend writing and promoting content for each of my clients. Sometimes we go way overboard with client work and neglect other aspects of the business, like bringing in new clients. By logging into Harvest while we're working and tracking exactly when we're working on client projects, we are able to keep a closer tab on when it's time to wrap up our projects for the week.
    3. For freelancers who do bill clients on an hourly basis, Harvest is even more valuable because you can also create invoices that reflect the project hours you're tracking, add in any additional expenses and deliver invoices instantly.
  5. Dropbox: Cloud Storage
    1. Dropbox is a cloud-based file sharing service that allows you to save files (think: documents, spreadsheets, designs, photos, videos, and music) to the cloud and sync it with all of your devices at once. We choose to use Dropbox instead of Google Drive with my freelance clients to help keep things more segmented and to avoid accidentally sharing personal documents with clients.
    2. When you sign up for Dropbox, you only get 2 GB of storage free compared to Google Drive's 15 GB of free storage, but the desktop app on Dropbox is a huge selling point for us because we prefer to do much of my creative work offline without a browser open, to eliminate distractions. Like all cloud storage platforms, you still have access to files across multiple devices, which saves you from having to email documents back and forth.

Stay Productive

Staying productive as a freelancer can be difficult. While using the right tools and resources like we've mentioned above can help you significantly increase your productivity and become more efficient at certain tasks, you need to ask yourself if you're doing the right tasks in the first place.

If you spend several hours each week simply tracking your hours and managing invoices for a client, we'd argue that choosing to instead bill clients on a project-basis or monthly retainer would be the most effective solution. Get creative when it comes to finding the right solutions and tactics for increasing your productivity. The more time you can remove from managerial tasks in your freelance business, the more clients you'll be able to bring on.