When you’re a freelancer, you are every department of your business—sales, A/R, administration, IT. Not to mention, you know, the actual writing part.
Your time is valuable, so spending time on unnecessary tasks (or doing necessary tasks in an inefficient manner) is not good for business, literally. Which is why we’ve compiled this list of apps that will help you cut back on wasted time, boost productivity and get on to the high-value work that really makes your business hum.
So whatever your need, there is — as they say — an app for that. Here are some of our favorites. Different apps work best for different people, be sure to play around with whichever sound interesting! Some even offer a free trial so you can try them on for size.
Whether it’s keeping track of how long you’ve worked on a project or learning just how much time you’re wasting doing other things (so you can swiftly cut them out), these apps have your back.
Klok is a simple work timer at its core, but with a clever twist: it displays your work as it fills you day, as if you added in everything you actually did to Google Calendar afterwards. It can be connected to other popular productivity apps like FreshBooks and Basecamp, making it useful for team collaborations as well as solo writers. There is a limited free version, and paid licenses start at $19.99.
RescueTime is an invaluable (and frankly terrifying) tool, whether you’re a writer or not. It breaks down your screen time into categories and shows you exactly what percentage of those hours are spent productively, and which are spent on, you know, Netflix. RescueTime is a great way to get an overall sense of how you’re actually directing your energy, giving you both daily and weekly reports to keep you accountable. But like we said, you probably won’t always like what you see… so be prepared for that!
Tick is unique in that it allows you to access your time-tracking tools from any device, anywhere. (After all, not every aspect of your business takes place in front of your laptop. Sometimes, it’s a client meeting over coffee. Still counts!) After your 30-day free trial, you can opt into a membership starting at $19 per month. The tiers increase from there based on your desired number of projects.
Toggl is a simple, but powerful, time-tracker, allowing you to break down your hours by project, client, and task to see exactly where they’re all going (and where they maybe should be going instead). The basic plan is — score! — free forever, but there are also paid tiers to explore, starting at an affordable $18 per year.
Taking notes and organizing your thoughts
Keep your brilliant gems at your fingertips and easily findable by letting these apps take the complexity out of capturing all those fleeting inspirations.
Evernote, the self-described “best note taking app” on the market, may just be offering truth in advertising. It comes with a host of inventive features including the ability to turn voice memos into notes or to clip and tag interesting things you find on websites, as well as creating to-do lists and sharing with other users. Your notes will be accessible from any device, no matter the OS and no matter where you are. Premium and business versions are available, but the basic service is totally free, and still powerful.
6. Google Keep
Google Keep works similarly to Evernote, and comes installed stock on many Android and Google-based devices. You can use it as a mobile app to quickly capture those amazing one-liners, and then open the app on the desktop to more easily put them to use. It also offers a simple but powerful labeling system to help you keep your thoughts organized, as well as reminders and check-off-able lists for those times when you just need to remember to pick up some milk on the way home.
7. MS OneNote
MS OneNote allows you to take personal notes as well as to easily collaborate with others, and you aren’t just limited to typing out your thoughts. You can use a stylus or your finger to draw or annotate existing content, or include audio notes, online videos, and other kinds of media. OneNote comes as part of an Office 365 subscription, which starts at $69.99 per year and also includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and so many other classic Microsoft services.
MindManager by Mindjet is perfect for those writers who quake at the very thought of creating outlines. Instead of staring down the scary blinking cursor, you’ll create a “mind map” — a non-linear, stream-of-consciousness diagram that might just help you see what you’re actually getting at. From there, it’s easy to sync the information with MS Word, or to pop it into an Outlook email. You don’t have to enter your credit card information to take part in the 30-day free trial, but a perpetual license will cost you between $99 and $349 depending on your operating system.
Simplenote is just that: simple. It’s a free service that allows you to take and sync notes on iOS, MacOS, Android, Windows and even Linux, and it even creates backups of past versions of notes you edit — which can help put writers at ease when it’s time to kill their darlings!
Conquering your to-do lists
Categorize, prioritize, sort and ultimately cross off your tasks with these apps.
10. Get It Done
Get It Done allows you to sync your to-do list between your mobile device and your web browser, which is perfect for when you remember something you meant to do the moment you close your laptop and head out the door. It also allows you to delegate tasks to team members and colleagues, as well as organizing related tasks into projects.
HiTask is free for up to five users, and is a great simplistic to-do app — but the real power move is upgrading to the $5/month business tier, which allows you to sync your list in real time with Google Calendar or outlook. (It’ll also grant you unlimited storage.)
12. MS To-Do
MS To-Do is a great option for those who keep most of their work documents organized in MS Office. It’s easy to sync up with the other MS products you use on a daily basis, and it’s available to anyone with a Microsoft Account — which means you don’t even have to purchase a subscription to use it.
Remember the Milk is a to-do app that will work for your business must-do lists as well as personal ones. The basic service is free, but with the $39.99/year Pro level, you can break down individual tasks into subtasks. For instance, “write essay” might house, under its umbrella, “write outline,” “draft thesis,” “flesh out paragraphs,” etc, which may help make even overwhelming projects seem doable. (Which they totally are. You’ve got this!)
Teuxdeux describes itself as “simple” and “shiny,” so if you’re looking for a great-looking to do app that will help you, well, write to-do lists, this might be the one for you. (It can also help you set recurring tasks and custom lists, and you’ll be able to download your to-dos whenever you want to.) After your 30-day free trial, you’ll be upgraded to either the “skeptic” subscription ($3 per month) or become a “believer” ($24 per year).
Todoist also starts out as a free service and functions similarly to the others in this list. But the $3/month Premium tier unlocks automatic reminders and customizable project templates, and there’s also a business level for company-wide team collaborations.
Toddledo is another free to-do list option that syncs across devices and makes it simple to share and export your to-do data. It’s available for both Apple and Android as well as being useable from a desktop browser.
Managing team projects
These apps help collaborate in a way that’s quick, intuitive and a lot easier than playing never-ending email tag.
Asana help you and your team not just get organized, but also stay on track. Its timeline feature makes it simple to see where projects stand at a glance, so you can more easily get ahead of those pesky deadlines. The basic tier is free, but to unlock the tool’s full potential, you’ll want to upgrade; subscriptions start at $9.99 per month per user, with a minimum charge of $11.99 monthly.
Basecamp is a whimsical team-managing tool, making it easy to break down projects by task, assign tasks to specific team members, and also to pow-wow around the digital campfire. Each assignment offers a functional discussion board, and it’s easy to ping other users. You can also add and organize related documents and necessary media, too! Pricing is a flat $99/month, no matter how big or small your team is, which may make it a little top-endish for freelancers — but if you’re working with a large client on a regular basis, they may enroll you in their existing Basecamp subscription free of charge!
Flow is a sleek, beautiful way to see all of your team’s projects in one place. It allows you to customize your workflow to suit your needs, including the ability to set priorities and track projects from start to finish. The basic tier starts at $5.95 per month per user, but the souped-up $11.95 version really unlocks the tool’s workflow-organization potential.
Slack is less about project management, per se, than it is about team communication, but it’s become such a darling of remote work teams that we had to include it on this list. It’s kind of like those old AOL chatrooms we all frequented in the late 90s, but with 21st-century additions like hashtags, integrated GIFs, and easily user pinging. Oh, and you’re supposed to be talking about work, not roleplaying wolves or whatever.
Trello is a flexible, user-friendly workboard that’s as handy for solo writers as it is for those working on a team. You can break down your potential (and actual) in almost any formulation you can imagine, and add tons of pertinent information under the task (i.e., has it been pitched yet? Drafted? If it has been pitched, who’s said no, and which outlet is next in line for the opportunity?) Best of all, Trello is totally free at its still-powerful basic level, and even if you upgrade, it starts at just $9.99 per user annually.
Sometimes that smartphone/tablet/computer that’s enabling us to do all these awesome things is also our worst enemy. So tap into the power of these concentration apps to block out distractions, improve your focus and get down to business.
Focus is a website and application blocker built specifically for MacOS, allowing you to set a specific amount of time — like 25 minutes — in which your browser won’t allow you to navigate to distracting sites like Facebook or Reddit. It has one-click implementation, making it easy to make the decision to do what you need to do. After your free trial, choose from three paid tiers, starting at a one-time purchase price of just $19.
23. Focus Booster
Focus Booster is sort of a combination app, working as both a time tracker and a distraction eliminator. It utilizes the pomodoro technique, a scientifically-backed approach to productivity cycles, to help break down your workday into digestible chunks (and help you see where the time actually did go, whatever your intentions.) Focus Booster starts at $2.99 per month or $32.98 per year at the individual tier, but a professional subscription is also available
Freedom aims to give you the — you guessed it — freedom from the internet’s ever-present distractions to help you get down to business and do the work you need to do. It’s usable across devices and operating systems, and after your 30-day free trial, you can subscribe for as little as $2.42 per month.
StayFocused is a Chrome extension that allows you to block those websites you just can’t seem to help yourself from clicking back over to, when you should be staying firmly in your draft. For best results, head straight for “The Nuclear Option,” which allows you to block ALL websites except for the ones you allow (i.e., Google Docs only) for a set number of hours. Best of all, it’s free!
26. Time Out
Time Out helps you hack your productive hours by forcing you to take automatic, customizable breaks. At regular intervals, your screen will dim and you’ll be prompted to take a moment or ten to get up, stretch, or do anything but keep poking around the internet. There’s also an optional app usage tracker to help hold you accountable if you need a little bit of extra motivation!
WriteRoom offers MacOS users a full-screen writing environment, which makes it marginally less easy to distract yourself with one of the internet’s many charms. It’s basically like a stripped-down word processor, making you focus on the stuff that actually matters: your writing.
There are plenty of other amazing productivity apps on the market, as well as behavioral techniques to help you get your rear in gear even when you don’t feel like it.
So, Write Life readers: what’s your favorite app for getting a lot done?
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This post was updated in May 2019 so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers! It was originally written by Kelly Gurnett and updated by The Write Life team.