There are a million good reasons to pursue a freelance career.
Reason #1: You get to make your own hours.
Reason #815: Your boss doesn’t hate you because you are your own boss and you tend to think you are pretty great.
Reason #2,227: You don’t have to have weird conversations about your weekend in a break room while you wait for your Lean Cuisine to heat up.
All of these reasons and more were contributing factors to my career shift over three years ago. At that time, I was done living the 9-5 life, and I was beyond certain that freelancing was the life for me. In many ways, I 100% made the right decision. However, what I've realized over time is that while setting my own work pace and focusing on creative projects are massive perks, freelance life also comes with its own unique sets of challenges.
Unique Challenge #1: Without a boss, you don’t have anyone telling you what to do.
Unique Challenge #57: It’s hard to stay organized because you are in charge of ALL THE THINGS.
Unique Challenge #225: It can be hard to keep yourself on task while working at home/in a coffee shop.
It took me a longer time than I’d like to admit to figure out how to organize my life as a freelance writer. In the early days, it felt like new challenges kept presenting themselves all the time. I couldn’t develop a solid editorial calendar, I couldn’t figure out how to schedule my day, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to separate my work life from my life-life.
But then, one day, I had a thought: Oh wait! I live in the 21st century. There’s an app for all of this stuff!
Just like in every other aspect of human existence, apps make working as a freelancer SO. MUCH. EASIER. Over time, I’ve fallen in love with a select few that have made me a productivity machine (that might be an overstatement, but you get what I mean).
Looking for some apps to amp up your work-from-anywhere lifestyle (or, you know, some apps that will simply boost your general productivity)? Here are my favorites:
I've got a lot to say about this one because it's practically revolutionized the way that I get work done, so let's get started.
Where oh where in this freelance world would I be without Croissant? I will tell you: I would be huddled in the corner of some coffee shop in Brooklyn with a dying laptop (because I can't find an outlet), ordering coffee after coffee out of sheer guilt for staying there so long. Before Croissant, if I ever got the urge to get myself out of my home office, away from the cat, this is exactly what I had to do.
But now, I get to do the very dignified thing of going to a coworking space! Croissant is an app that aggregates some of the best coworking spots in your city (as of right now, they operate in New York, Boston, and DC), enabling users to hop between all of them. These are usually places with significant membership fees, but Croissant gives you access to them for as little as $39/month! Like, what?!
I love this app in particular because it gives me the freedom to live my go-with-the-flow, freelance-y life while also providing me with the structure and resources of an office. Croissant also gives me the rare opportunity to work around other creative, motivated human beings, which I really believe, in turn, forces me to be a more creative, motivated human being.
OH, and did I mention that every coworking space on Croissant's directory is absolutely delightful? My favorites are Rise, The Farm, and Workville, but they all have that wonderful, clean, startup-y charm that makes for a perfect working environment.
You know how crafting your daily to-do list is often just an exercise in documenting your upcoming failures? Well, it is for me anyway. Typically, with to-do lists, I'll write down every single thing I can think of doing that day, even if realistically it would take me roughly a month to check off every item. Then, when I inevitably fail to get it all done, I sulk and I eat a lot of salt and vinegar chips. It's a rough cycle.
But the One Big Thing app has nearly solved that problem for me completely! The principle behind One Big Thing is that on any given work day, even if you have ambition out the wazoo, you likely won't have the time or energy to get more than one big thing done. A blog post, a slideshow, a project outline, etc. -- if you get that ONE thing done, believe it or not, you are a success.
So the One Big Thing app is exactly what it sounds like. Within its minimalist design, you write down the big thing on your list for that day along with three little things you would also like to accomplish (send an email, buy more post-it notes, eat a salad, etc.). This kind of list helps keep us overzealous task-masters in check by providing reasonable expectations for the day. Plus, for those of us who appreciate a good affirmation, One Big Thing has lots of built-in encouragements whenever you check something off of your list. (For instance, whenever I checked this blog post off of my list, the word "YES!" popped up really huge on my screen, and my heart grew three times its size).
Arguably the worst thing about being a writer is having to get my work done from a computer. If I could handwrite all of my blog posts (which I've actually done, by the way) or painstakingly type out essays on a typewriter, I feel like I would be downright prolific. But computers come with the Internet and the Internet can be a distracting place. I don't know about you, but I can easily lose an hour looking at nothing in particular online, and that's a scary feeling.
So when I really need to get cracking on some work, I use Freedom. Freedom is an app that works across all of your devices to block distracting websites. You can set it up to block specific sites for customizable amounts of time. For me, I block all of my social media and Buzzfeed. That way, I can't stray from my work by reading a list of 10 Cats That Look Like Presidential Nominees.
After spending the early days of my freelance career writing down ideas on the backs of gum wrappers and receipts, I can easily say that Trello has been a game changer for me. In a nutshell, Trello allows users to organize ideas and projects using two basic systems: boards and cards. Cards are the small ideas or to-do list items that make up a larger project (a board).
I've used Trello to organize everything from my e-course, to this site design, to my editorial calendar, and I even used it at the start of this year to create a vision board for 2016. Don't judge me.
What I love most about Trello is that there is a calendar attached to every single board. This means that you can attach due dates to every item and it will reflect that information in calendar-form. This means no more having to rewrite things from your to-do list onto your calendar. It's all connected. And it's a miracle.
Also, one last thing: Trello is a fantastic collaborative app. You can share boards with other users, which as a freelancer is immeasurably valuable. I mean, imagine being able to show a client a detailed project board while you are creating it. This earns you mega independent contractor points, my friend.
When I'm not using Croissant to do my coworking thang, I'm usually at home working in my tiny, quiet office. Now, if you're anything like me, a quiet room can be somewhat terrifying, so a bit of noise can be a good thing when it comes to productivity. A lot of people I know play music while they work, but that doesn't really work for me. When I listen to music, all I want to do is sing along and focus on Joni Mitchell's extraterrestrial voice instead of getting my work done.
That's why I use Coffitivity. Coffitivity is an app that provides users with the sweet, sweet sounds of a local coffee shop. The hum of customers chatting, dishes clinking, receipts shuffling -- it's all there. While that might seem a strange thing, it's the perfect background noise to help you stay focused on what you're doing while not having to sit in a painfully silent room. So save the $4 you would spend on a latte, and instead bring the coffee shop to your home.
But sometimes as a freelancer, you just feel like being at a coffee shop. While coworking is definitely my favorite way to work, there is just something about the feeling of sitting in a neighborhood coffee shop that will always have a soft place in my heart. So from time to time, I'll spend way too much on a latte just to have that experience.
The problem, however, is this: coffee shops can be loud. Loud customers, loud music, loud snacking, loud chairs squeaking. And for someone like me, with the inexplicable sensitive hearing of a small dog, this can be incredibly distracting.
These are the times when I pull out The App Formerly Known As H _ _ R (it used to be called "Hear" but they seem to have gotten in a bit of trouble for using that name, oops). This app is crazy (and warning: you might hate it, but I feel it deserves to be mentioned).
The App Formerly Known As H _ _ R filters the noise of whatever space you are in and synthesizes it all into music-like sounds. Essentially, it’s a noise-canceling device that takes distracting noise and turns it into a harmonious, productive ear massage.
That definitely sounds weird, I know, but it’s honestly hard to explain. You kind of have to experience it yourself. But warning: when you first turn it on, especially if you are in a relatively quiet room, you will think that aliens are taking over your brain. But play with the filters a bit and perhaps you’ll start to see/hear what I’m talking about.
What are some of your favorite productivity apps?
P.S. Did you miss your chance to sign up for De-Funked, my FREE 5-day email series for folks who feel a little meh about life? Well, it's not too late, friend-o! I'm leaving the course open, so you can sign up right here and receive your first email today :)