Working for yourself as a freelancer or consultant means you wear a lot of hats from day to day. You’re the CFO, lead creative, and payroll specialist — not to mention sales. It can be overwhelming when you realize there are dozens of ways tasks and materials can fall through the cracks. Even when you don’t have teammates to fall back on, you still need some kind of support. That’s where the right project management tools for freelancers can make all the difference.
If you’ve done any stints in a corporate 9-5 job, you can probably rattle off a list of tools as long as your arm. The problem is, many of these systems are built for teams; freelancers tend to fly solo and have a different set of needs.
Working for yourself means you manage several concurrent deadlines and need a high level of visibility across projects to prioritize your work. Here are a few of our favorite project management tools for freelancers looking to up their game and save time with tasks, time-tracking, client relationships, and research.
Task management tools
A good task management tool is a freelancer’s best friend. No more tracking assignments in spreadsheets or wrangling blocks on your calendar. With these tools, you can manage deadlines, add relevant assets and briefs from your clients, and even set follow-up reminders for invoicing.
Beautifully designed with a great price point to boot (free for solo users!), Asana is already a fan favorite in the freelance community (and the one we use too!). The design is fairly straightforward — the brand bills itself as “built for everyone” — offering several ways to view project information depending on your working style.
Add your project tasks once, and Asana generates a list view, timeline, calendar, or Kanban board to manage your work. Projects are the heart of Asana; tasks, subtasks, and milestones fold up into projects. Many freelancers find that assigning a project per client keeps their work streams separate and well-organized.
If you’re a fan of Kanban or GTD methodology, you’re going to feel right at home with Trello. Using a board system, Trello enables users to move from idea to action in seconds through organizing tasks by status. You might have a board for work you haven’t started, blockers, in-progress tasks, and completed work. Visual processors thrive in this kind of environment because they can quickly scan to prioritize time from client-to-client.
Trello is also highly customizable once you tap into their integrations library, called Power-Ups. These Power-Ups are partnerships with other tools (like Airtable, Dropbox, Slack, and Google Drive) that enhance Trello’s functionality for your exact needs. The Slack Power-Up for Trello, for example, allows you to send notifications to a Slack channel each time there’s activity on a particular board.
Largely billed as a task management tool for individuals, Todoist moonlights as a project management tool for creatives who love prioritization and focus. Similar to Asana, Todoist encourages users to sort tasks into projects which can be further broken down into subtasks. From there, the major difference between the two is workflow management.
Todoist displays tasks by project and also by due date; you can see what’s on your plate for any given day, or you can dial in your focus on one particular client. Tagging your tasks takes the system to the next level.
By grouping similar kinds of work together — by scope or type — you can spend your morning tackling all your emails, your lunch hour knocking out all your invoices, and save your best working hours for tasks tagged “deep work.” These are some of the many reasons why Todoist is among the most popular project management tools for freelancers.
If you’re charging by the hour or working within a defined scope for your freelance work, you’re already familiar with the importance of a reliable time-tracking app. Here are a few that we recommend especially for freelancers, based on integrations with task management systems and overall usability.
With over 100+ app integrations, Toggl can track time across task management systems like Todoist and Asana and queues up your data in a project dashboard to compare project progress. Toggl’s mobile app also enables users to start and stop timers on the go — perfect for a busy day full of client calls and meetings.
Clients and projects are organized in their own tabs, and projects represent the categories of work you might perform on a client’s behalf (like design, research, and meetings).
Harvest excels at displaying the key components of time-tracking in one elegant dashboard: the work to complete, who’s responsible, and the projects where the tasks are assigned. Freelancers love Harvest for its adept invoicing tool, too — log your hours with a billable rate, and the tool will serve up a fully itemized invoice at the conclusion of the project.
Dozens of integrations across CRMs and task management tools ensure Harvest can be customized for all your needs.
Brainstorming, collaboration, and notes tools
These tools are like Swiss Army knives: they’re all-in-one, multifunctional apps that will have you wondering, “How did I ever get by without this?” Brainstorming and collaboration apps can help streamline your work and should be included in your arsenal of project management tools for freelancers.
If you’ve felt any FOMO (fear of missing out) on Slack as a freelancer, you’re in luck: this delightful collaboration tool is nimble enough to adapt to client communications, too. Large companies rely on designated Slack channels to cut down on inbox overwhelm and to streamline decision-making… sound familiar?
Once you’re all set up, you can chat, collaborate, and get feedback from your clients in real-time, so don’t forget to adjust your notifications settings appropriately. To use the app outside of a corporate setting, create a workspace for each of your regular clients to collaborate with you.
What freelancer couldn’t use an extra brain to help them keep track of their clients? Meet Evernote, the note-capturing endlessly organized archival tool that promises to help you “remember everything.”
Evernote encourages users to create notes for anything they come across and may need to reference later — business cards, articles, projects, meeting notes, ideas, emails, you name it.
The search feature is magical: Evernote has an uncanny ability to “read” PDFs and tags to serve up exactly what you were looking for. Create notes for every call, project, and visual asset you associate with a client or manage your leads and pitch templates. Regardless of the use case, Evernote proves to be a worthwhile business partner.
If you work in illustration or design, you may prefer to reference many visual elements at once. Instead of linear note-taking, Milanote uses an artboard format to take in groupings of images, illustrations, and design elements alongside text. This tool is especially useful in conveying visual concepts to clients and teammates because you can share out and get feedback on versions by sharing a simple link.
There’s something so satisfying about having one tool that does it all, and Notion wants to win that title. The tool is built around four primary capabilities: notes, wikis, task management, and databases. With a minimalistic design and drag-and-drop UI, you can set up an entire workspace for your freelance project management without having to navigate outside of Notion.
Customer relationship management (CRM) tools
You may think of “big business” when you imagine a CRM, but as a freelancer, you’re handling all the typical business tasks solo! Managing inbound leads, nurturing client relationships, and balancing the books can get overwhelming. Using a CRM built for solo workers, you can save a lot of time and spend your working hours on your billable tasks, not admin.
With a calming UI and informative dashboard, Bonsai brings a sense of peace to some of the more daunting elements of freelance work like proposals, invoices, expenses, accounting, and taxes. Their system covers every element of the client relationship, and you can even manage tasks and track your hours alongside relevant client files, invoices, and documents.
Bonsai’s interface is approachable and lightweight while still being packed with intuitive features that save time. For example, any tasks completed in Bonsai appear automatically on your timesheets to give clients further context around billable hours.
Deciding on the best project management tool for your freelance or consulting work depends on what kind of work you do, how you work with clients, and what is the most intuitive to use. With so many options available, you can decide if you want a singular tool to use for project management or an integrated suite of applications. Either way, you can’t go wrong with any of the project management tools for freelancers above.