The irony of working for yourself is that with the incredible amount of flexibility you get comes a very real need for a lot of structure and organisation. There is no pre-built system or process for you to slot into, you have to build it yourself and find smart ways of managing your productivity.
My work involves a huge amount of context switching – I might be on location on a shoot one day, interviewing four different people for three different features the next, brainstorming and pitching on another or just trying to clear through a backlog of photo editing and email answering. I really enjoy the variety, but it means I need to try to be as efficient as possible and make the most of the time I have.
Below I’ve listed some of the tools that help me stay productive and, to be honest, sane. I’m a total nerd when it comes to productivity apps and communication tools (I feel I should list “trying out mail apps” as a hobby 😂 – I’ve three on the go as I type) and while none of these are a magic cure-all, they’re really working for me right now.
Trello: I use Trello to stay on top of workloads and projects. I have lists for commissioned work, in progress projects and for what’s been filed and invoiced. I add due dates that sync with my calendar so I can see an overview of what work is due when and, hopefully, catch any potential hot spots of overlaps. I can add links to Pinterest boards, attach creative briefs from agencies or paste in comments from editors so that I’m not hunting in two or three different places for info. I also use it to collaborate; for the upcoming issue of Weir & Sons Style Magazine (which I’m deputy editor of), myself, the editor and the art director had a shared Trello board for the magazine. They’ve also just announced a desktop app, which makes me very happy.
Fantastical: This is a pricey enough Mac app, but so worth it. With it, you can use natural language to quickly create events and reminders – so, for example, I can just type in “Portrait shoot next Tuesday 9am-12pm at Tara Building” and it will put all the info into the right places.
FreeAgent: Hat tip to Brian at MiniCorp for introducing me to this. At its simplest, FreeAgent makes it easy to create and track invoices, but it can do so much more than that – it integrates with Stripe so that I can receive card payments, it can pull in my bank transactions to make it easy to log expenses and lets you go from estimate to invoice in one click.
Dropbox and iCloud: I rely heavily on cloud syncing for my work. I can start a draft in Pages on my iMac, make tweaks on my laptop or iPad while on a bus or DART, and arrive at my destination, open my laptop and find the most up to date version there. It’s easy to forget how magical that is! Dropbox is where all contact sheets and high reses from shoots go for easy sharing with clients and editorial teams.
Evernote: This is basically my digital brain. It’s great for collecting ideas, rough drafts, meeting notes, clipping interesting links for the blog – basically everything and anything. I use the browser extensions to easily add things to notebook from Safari or Chrome. The desktop app isn’t great at the moment, but I’ve stuck with Evernote through thick and thin, and delighted to see they finally made some much-needed improvements to the iOS version (fingers crossed for an OS X update sooooon). I use the FastEver iOS app to quickly add notes while on the go.
Teux Deux: I’ve been mourning the news that Wunderlist will soon be no more, and hunting around for another great to-do. Tuex Deux doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, though that’s what I like about it. I use it as a kind of virtual daily standup for one: I list my three big goals for the day on it, as well as any straggler tasks that pop up throughout the day.
RescueTime: Productivity pro Claire Burge introduced me to this about two years ago and I’ve been using it religiously since. It runs in the background of my laptop and desktop computers and monitors how much time I spend in different apps, giving me an overview at the end of the week with a productivity score and a breakdown of what categories I spent time in.
Screen Sharing: This Mac app comes bundled with all Apple computers and is insanely handy if you have more than one machine. I try to keep as much space as possible free on my laptop, so the bulk of my Lightroom photo archive is stored on external hard drives that are connected to my iMac (and backed up to the cloud using Backblaze). So if I ever need to grab something off it in a hurry, I use Screen Sharing to remotely connect to my machine at home and get what I need. Again, magic.