Despite all the flexibility working from home has to offer, it’s not always a walk in the park. The very thought of having to juggle multiple projects between various clients can make even the most Zen of freelancers lose their cool. In the three years that I’ve spent working remotely, I can honestly say that the key to succeeding is to keep an organized workspace. That doesn’t just mean your desk area (though that’s important, too); being organized means staying on top of deadlines, allocating your time properly, and using the best apps available to help keep track of your work.
Everyone has a different work process, and while some people stay up till 3 in the morning churning out deliverables, others follow a more structured 9-5 approach. Whatever work style you prefer, here are a few apps to help you stay focused and get more done.
Manage Your Time Like a Boss
If you’re anything like me, you often worry about undercharging or overcharging your clients. Charging a specific amount of time for a particular project can be unexpectedly stressful, especially if the client is asking for an estimate up front. Do you purpose more hours than you believe it will take to help cover the overhead, or do you charge fewer hours in the hope that the client will stay with you longer?
I’m usually in the second camp, though I’ve learned to find a better balance between managing client expectations and reality. How’d I do it? Simple. I started tracking every minute I worked.
Time-management apps like Toggl make it incredibly easy to monitor how much time you spend working on a specific assignment. With the ability to set timers for various clients and actually analyze how much time you spend working, you’re able to pinpoint weak spots in your day and help put more resources toward the right job.
The premium version offers a whole host of extra features, but the free version does a good enough job of helping you stay on top of your assignments. Best of all, I’m able to analyze my hours to help create a better and more accurate proposal for future clients. It’s a win-win.
Encrypt Your Online Network
Like most freelancers, I prefer a change of scenery every now and then. Don’t get me wrong — my home office is great, but I’ve found being around other people can sometimes increase my productivity. After all, I’m much less inclined to look at cute cat videos in public than I am when I’m at home.
While pretty much every coffee shop offers free WiFi these days, it’s usually unsecured, which means your network is extremely vulnerable. This probably isn’t a problem if you’re just scrolling through Facebook or checking Reddit, but if you’re submitting potentially sensitive information, I suggest using a VPN to encrypt your network. After all, there’s nothing worse than getting hacked. Trust me — it’s happened before.
A VPN lets you access the web through another IP address, meaning the information you’re sending can’t be traced. It sounds complicated, but all you do is choose a location to connect to, press the on button, and voila! Your network is protected.
I always recommend ExpressVPN for new users, as I have it my Mac and iPhone and had no problems downloading and installing the apps.
Access Your Accounts Easier
In the same vein as using a VPN to keep your information safe, I also recommend investing in a solid password manager. Because I’m always juggling a handful different email accounts associated with different clients, I often have a hard time remembering my logins and passwords.
That’s where a solid password manager can help. Instead of having to reset your username every three days because you forgot your credentials, a handy password manager keeps track for you.
I find LastPass to be the most user-friendly, as it automatically stores and logs your various passwords under one “Master Password.” The free version, which is what I use, can be synced to multiple devices and includes its own version of autofill. It’s even able to generate random passwords, which is a much safer alternative than using my dog’s name over and over.
Set Up Smart Shortcuts
While the bulk of my work consists of writing and editing, I do get those occasional “busy” assignments, (i.e., the ones that require a lot of pointing and clicking but no actual thought). That’s where having a good efficiency tool helps. What used to take me hours can now be done in a matter of minutes with the right setup.
There are literally hundreds of productivity apps on the market today, but most are meh at best. I’ve found the Alfred app to be the most useful, as it actually looks at how you use your computer and prioritizes certain apps based on usage.
More than that, it also offers a built-in clipboard feature that makes it easier to copy and paste multiple links at the same time. You can even use it to create customizable hot keys based on specific assignments. In short, it’s a killer app, and for when I have those days full of inputting, copying and pasting, there’s simply nothing better.
Do you use any of these apps? Maybe you have your own productivity tools to add to this list. Leave your questions, comments and/or concerns below.