Kick chaos to the curb: Useful freelance tools for improving workflow and time management

Photo by Sebastian Rieger via Flickr.

I’m old-fashioned and often reluctant to download apps to organize my work. I mainly use spreadsheets, mailboxes and desktop folders. While this method works, it’s not efficient. For example, I have story ideas scattered in several places, and occasionally, I’ll open a document or an email where I typically store them and realize that my great story idea is now stale.

Now, I have begun to cautiously try some apps to help improve both my workflow and time management.


I usually get paid by the word or the project, but often what I care about most is how that translates into hourly payment. Am I spending too much time on an assignment that I’m working for 99 cents an hour? Clockify is a time management tool that allows me to enter a project and click on and off a timer as I work. If I were ambitious, I could also create reports and send invoices. The company offers paid plans with more functions, but I use the free version.

Toggl Track

Toggl Track, another time-tracking app (available in both free and paid versions), is a popular choice among some AHCJ members. 


Aina de Lapparent Alvarez, a journalism student at Columbia, recommends Habitica. It makes keeping and using a to-do list a fun game. “You kill monsters and go up levels,” Alvarez said. “It makes me follow up on sources who are not responding.” The better your avatar does at keeping up with your to-do list, the more gear and prizes you win.


Health and higher education writer Koren Wetmore uses OmniFocus to organize her work and passion projects and domestic tasks.

“The app allows me to assign task and project deadlines, provides reminders, a calendar view (forecast) that offers an at-a-glance for my workload, plus tags and flags for assigning priority level,” Wetmore said.

Users can also keep track of tasks and ideas that occur to them while working and later add them to an existing project.

Other useful tools

Journalists who are app-resistant may benefit from freelance writer and editor Ruth E. Thaler-Carter’s go-to list of organization tools.

  • A Word document with tabs for Client/Rate/Project Type/Assignment/Due Date/Submitted/Billed/Payment Received that is updated regularly as new projects come in and others wrap up.
  • A “Do-Today” list in Word on the computer desktop.
  • Excel documents for clients billed by the hour that does the computation of time and amounts.
  • A computer folder for every client or project.
  • E-mailboxes for client/project messages that can be deleted when no longer needed.
  • A Dropbox to move files from desktop to laptop and to save or have access to items long-term in case something happens to either or both computers.

“Some of these are redundant, but that’s deliberate; I believe in a ‘belts and suspenders’ approach to saving files,” Thaler-Carter said.

I’ve compiled a more complete list of apps to help with organization and time management, including Evernote, Scrivener and others, at the Freelance Center page on the AHCJ website. It’s under the Tools & Apps tab.

If you have suggestions for apps that should be added to the list, please contact me at

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