Total freedom – work on whatever, whenever and however you want. That’s the freelance dream. But between pressing deadlines, client acquisition, LinkedIn and hanging up laundry, it's easy to get bogged down. So how do you manage to work productively and avoid burnout?
Today I'm going to introduce you to my favourite productivity tools for self-employed people, almost all of which I use daily as a content writer at Holvi.
My top apps for self-employed people
- Pomodoro – a method for better time management
- Toggl Track – easy time tracking
- Evernote – capture ideas anytime, anywhere
- Todoist – for a clear head
- Lexoffice – less tax stress
- Do not disturb – for focus time
- Slack – teamwork made easy
- 7mind – for switching off work mode
- Feedly – against information overload
- Noisli – for coffee house vibes
1. 🍅 Pomodoro – a method for better time management
You know those hectic days when you collapse in bed the second you stop working? You probably haven't taken enough breaks.
Everyone knows that muscles need rest after a jog, but we rarely give our brains a breather. The Pomodoro technique can help. It’s named after a tomato-shaped kitchen alarm clock. Cute, right?
This is how you follow the Pomodoro method at work:
- Choose a task to accomplish
- 25 minutes of concentrated work on this task. No distractions!
- A short 5-minute break – coffee, watering flowers (just don’t pick up your phone)
- Repeat steps 2 and 3
- After 4 rounds take a longer 30-minute break
The Pomodoro method helps bring structure to your workday. It also works wonders against procrastination, multitasking and constant interruptions at work.
Intervals create structure
Strict time intervals can take some getting used to. But if you really concentrate on one task during the 25 minutes, you’ve already gained a lot! You’ll also get a better overview of how you spend your workday. Fun fact: I wrote this article using the Pomodoro app! So efficient.
2. 🕓 Toggl Track – easy time tracking
Now that you’ve brought structure to your workday, you’ll need a way to keep track of time. This is especially true for freelancers. Whether it’s to monitor and periodically assess how much you charge per project or you’re billing on an hourly basis, time tracking is crucial.
To get started, I recommend toggl. It's a free time tracking app that works across devices. You can track your time anytime, anywhere – on your smartphone or at your computer. It also includes a digital Pomodoro timer!
- Free version available
- Includes a Pomodoro timer
- Numerous integrations – e.g., connect your calendar
3. 📔 Evernote – capture ideas anytime, anywhere
When do we actually have good ideas? Science says when we’re relaxed:
‘When people are relaxed, they are more likely to have those great ‘aha moments’, those moments of insight when seemingly unsolvable problems are solved.’ – Jonah Lehrer, author and neuroscientist at Wired Magazine
You know it’s true. A sudden flash of inspiration in the shower, a genius revelation in the middle of a forest. Ideas often come in these less than opportune moments. Unfortunately, they disappear just as quickly. Tricky little beasts.
So that I never forget a good idea, I write my thoughts down instantly. Some people swear by a classic notebook. I'm always prepared with a note-taking app, as my phone is usually on hand.
Evernote note-taking app:
- Syncs between different devices
- For Android, iOS and as a web app
- Free version available
4. ✅ Todoist – for a clear head
Imagine having to remember all this:
- Call customer XY
- Buy printer paper
- Update LinkedIn profile
- Send an invoice for project XY
- Book a dental appointment
- Buy groceries
Sounds like a normal day, but just ‘trying not to forget’ all these tasks stresses me out – and takes up a huge amount of brain power.
No more forgetting
That’s why I handle to-dos the same way I handle ideas: by writing them down. And I really do write down EVERYTHING. That way I don’t have any mental clutter. I can relax knowing nothing important has slipped through the net.
To organise my to-dos, I use my Todoist app. For example: buy printer paper this week.
You can plan your whole life
Todoist also helps me plan my more long-term goals. If I want to achieve a better work-life balance, I set it up as a Todoist project. I can add individual sub-steps: ‘Buy a new book’. ‘Try out café xy’. ‘Do nothing tonight’.
Try writing down your next me-time in a to-do list. This can take some getting used to, but it helps to develop positive routines.
- Web app and smartphone apps always in sync
- Daily reminders
- Easily edit or reschedule tasks
5. 📚 Lexoffice – less tax stress
This one is just for my 'expats in Germany' readers. No one likes filing receipts or filling out tax returns. Seriously, like no one. But as a self-employed person, you can’t escape bookkeeping altogether. And the reality is many of us can’t afford a tax advisor right now.
For those who trust themselves with their own bookkeeping and want to make life easier, Lexoffice is a good choice. 100% online, Lexoffice lets you handle bookkeeping and tax returns without any basic knowledge. Plus, Holvi teams up with Lexoffice. You can connect your Holvi business account to Lexoffice with a few quick clicks.
6. ⛔ Do Not Disturb – for focus time
I was waffling over whether to include this ‘tool’ here. It's actually just a button on your phone. For me, it's called Do Not Disturb.
This little button can work wonders. Every notification, each vibration of your smartphone is distracting. All these ‘micro-interruptions’ add up and can wreak havoc on your productivity. So when I want to concentrate on work, I switch my phone to DND.
DND: Done ‘n’ Dusted.
Computers have this feature too. You can access DND on Macs in the Control Centre – see that tiny settings button next to the date and time? Actually, most operating systems now have this feature, and for good reason.
7. 📎 Slack – teamwork made easy
At Holvi, we use Slack for our daily communications. This nifty messenger service has long since replaced email for us – thank goodness! Its chat-like communication via channels is fast and clear. And once you start using threads you realise how indispensable they are.
Though Slack was first developed as a tool for companies, it’s also useful for self-employed people. You can create a workspace to exchange messages and files with clients. Just make sure to manage expectations around communication. As a freelancer, you’re not on call 100% of the time.
Slack also helps you keep up on industry news by joining open workspaces in your industry. Search for ‘Slack Workspace’ + your industry online to find interesting workspaces for you.
Slack communication tool:
- Free version available
- File sharing and integration with Google Drive
- Audio and video calls
8. 🧘 7mind – for switching off work mode
It’s not always easy to switch out of work mode at the end of the day. Especially if you’re working from home, where there’s no physical separation. And self-employed people, as we all know, are notoriously bad at switching off. So... what to do?
A brisk walk around the block can often help. Sometimes I listen to music or simply close my eyes for a few minutes. But last year I discovered guided meditation, and I’ve since tried out a few meditation apps. The most convincing one for me is 7mind, which also runs an inspirational podcast with Berlin-based psychologist René Träder, although sadly this is only in German.
7mind offers a basic guided meditation course in the free version. And for our German users, if you take 7mind’s stress prevention course, your health insurance will subsidise the cost 7mind’s Plus package.
The relaxation app 7mind:
- Free version with basic course
- If you take a stress prevention course, you can have the costs of the plus package subsidised by your health insurance company.
9. 🗞 Feedly – against information overload
LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram have all become a normal part of our daily lives. When it comes to industry news, social networks are indispensable. I often scroll through feeds, always finding something new – for good or bad. But am I really smarter afterwards? Algorithms try to keep you hooked. In the end, I was spending more time on social than I’d care to admit.
Escape the social media time trap
To keep myself up to date on work topics, I now use feedly. It shows me:
- News sites
- Business blogs
- Industry news (shout out to t3n.de!)
In feedly, I’m presented with a curated selection of the latest articles each day, making my research workflow more efficient. No infinite scroll. No devious algorithm trying to keep me on the platform as long as possible. Feedly gives me the news I crave while handing back valuable time.
10. 🎧 Noisli – for coffee house vibes
This is probably my favourite productivity app. Do you like to work in total silence or does music help you get into the zone? Not everyone can cope with music. Light ambient noise, on the other hand, can help boost productivity. Just one reason why co-working spaces are so popular.
But at the moment, co-working spaces and coffee shops are still off limits. My solution? It’s 2021 and you can bring soundscapes to your home office.
To get started, search ‘white noise’ on YouTube. For something more advanced, try Noisli, a soundscape app that helps you focus, tune out other noises or have a moment of calm. You choose between thunderstorms, crashing waves, campfires and countless other sounds. And you can mix them.
Want to work next to a bonfire in the pouring rain surrounded by wolves?
Okay, you’ll have to imagine the wolves.
My favourite Noisli sound is the coffee house! With the soft clinking of cups and rustling of chairs on wooden floorboards I can quickly get into the flow.
You deserve more focus
These were my favourite productivity tools. Anything here that helps you work? If so, make sure to share this article with friends or other freelancers and spread some positive productivity!