Best project management & time-tracking tools for freelancers
May 31, 2023 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Project managers of MeFi, I need your help. I'm taking on a new client with several complex projects and need to find a simple and easy way to track my tasks and hours for each individual project or assignment. Normally this isn't an issue for me, but there are some complicating factors and I feel overwhelmed - more details below the fold.

At present, I use Asana (free version) to manage my other client projects.

That's because I'm visual and prefer a Kanban-style board, where I can create tasks for each client project and then slide them into different columns according to priority or when I need to work on them ("do today," "finish by end of week," "pending more information," etc.).

This process works great for almost all of my clients, especially since some of those clients use their own project management systems to assign work to me, which makes it easier to stay on top of the client's priorities and expectations.

However, I still rely on Asana as a centralized system for managing all of my clients and day-to-day tasks as a whole.

THE BIG ISSUE: My newest client does complex contract work for city and county governments, and they do not use any project management software or centralized repositories to track or assign projects to their freelancers. Basically, they just tell me what they need, and we then discuss and agree on an estimated number of hours I'll spend working on each project. They just send me emails or talk with me over Zoom about what they need. (I was a little shocked by the lack of a centralized project management system, given that the client is a company with several freelancers and clients of their own, but they're a little old-fashioned and eh, whatever - I just need to figure out something that works for me.)

Anyway, all of this has been getting overwhelming for me and I'm worried about keeping up with what this particular client needs.

For someone like me who has ADHD and anxiety, that type of loose, unstructured, "here's the work, figure it out" system doesn't work for me when the projects are this complex. Normally my current system in Asana would be sufficient but it simply isn't working for me here.

Where I need your help:

- Finding some kind of tool or integration where I can enter the total number of estimated hours for a project and how many hours I spend working on the project/task each day. Ideally, this system should always display how many total hours I've worked on the project so far and how many hours I have remaining (e.g., "8 hours remaining of 25 total projected hours"). If I can toggle back and forth or filter information between a calendar view, individual project view, individual task view, and individual client view, that would be FANTASTIC. (Note: I just need something for personally keeping track of my own hours - not something for billing or invoicing. I do all my billing and invoicing through Upwork).

- If I can add descriptive info or tags to the time logs as I track my time, even better.

- Any other Asana tools and integrations I may have overlooked or not be aware of, which could help with either 1) time tracking and/or 2) project management. I'm open to suggestions!

- These tools or systems should make it easy for me to get a quick, visual scan on my daily tasks across all clients, in addition to quick visual scans of individual client projects and tasks. (That's why I like Asana's Kanban-style board system. The simpler and more visual the interface, the better, as long as it's powerful enough to do what I need it to do.)

- If you think it would help my ADHD brain to check out some tutorials or guides for making better use of Asana and other project management/time tracking tools, please point me in the direction of your favorite ones!
posted by nightrecordings to Work & Money (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I recently started using Amazing Marvin, and although I'm not entirely sure that it can do everything you asked, I've found it the most usefully flexible of any todo system I've worked with, as well as the best at allowing for ADHD friendly strategies like color-coding, tags, rewards, timeblocking, etc.

It has both estimation fields and a way to plug in built-in timers to individual tasks and a bunch of options for smart lists (which could work for parts of your Kanban boards). Note that I have not used their timetracking features extensively, so your milage may vary in practice.
posted by kserra at 8:45 AM on May 31

You might be interested in Toggl for time tracking to supplement Asana.
posted by porpoise at 1:29 PM on May 31

It looks like Asana has the time estimate + time tracking you need in its higher paid tiers (the Business and Enterprise tiers). If that price tag doesn't work for you, Toggl has an integration with Asana, and offers a lot of functionality for free.
posted by ourobouros at 2:03 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Toggl is great. It might not do absolutely everything you want, but I think you could adapt it well to suit your needs. As a fellow ADHD-er, the fairly simple apps, reminders, automated activity tracking have made it reasonably painless to track my time. It organizes things by client, project, task description, then you can add tags to time entries. It's not expressly a project management tool, though they might have another product for that. It also has good CSV export which you could use to later analyze your time and activities for reporting if you need anything different from what they offer.
posted by lookoutbelow at 12:32 AM on June 1

I use the free version of Toggl simply to track my hours working on a bunch of different articles for a monthly newsletter I write for a client. I don’t think the free version lets you set a goal of total time and shows you how much is left. I have no idea what the paid version lets you do. I will say as someone with ADHD, it was easy for me to figure it out, and I’ve been using it for more than five years now, every single month, to track my hours. There are various report formats and stuff. It’s possible that instead of replacing Asana, you should use Toggl as a complement as others have suggested. Good luck on finding what you need, and congrats on landing this new client!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:42 AM on June 1

I'm a new freelancer, and I'm playing around with Moxie and so far it's mostly working for me. Very easy to do time tracking, input a budget and estimated hours associated with a client and/or a specific client project, and add your worked hours directly to invoices. I don't love the way it handles adding new tasks, but there's a data import feature I'm experimenting with right now where theoretically you can import a CSV of all your deliverables and assign them to a project. It definitely supports toggling between different views of "how many hours did I work this month on all clients" vs "how much did I work today on Client X".
posted by mostly vowels at 4:18 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]

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