As a freelancer, time management is one of the most important skills that you need to develop. If you aren’t properly managing your time — then you’re not going to earn as much money.
Are you spending an hour or two of social media every morning? This may not seem like a biggie — but is this your time-suck? You have to decide this. Could you have been working, networking, or strengthening your skills? Should you have been doing that?
I’ve been freelancing for a decade. Time management was something that I definitely struggled with over the years — and still do occasionally. What I’ve found, however, is that it takes a lot of discipline to effectively manage your time as a freelancer.
These eleven time management tips for freelancers have definitely helped me in the time management area. As a result — I’ve become a more productive and successful freelancer.
1. Rethink your to-do-lists.
I’m a big fan of to-do-lists. I would say that most productive people are. The thing is, if you aren’t using them correctly — they can become too frustrating and demotivating. If you have a to-do-list containing 30 vague items like “check email,” make phone calls,” and “write blog posts,” you’re not going to be very productive.
Reasonable, specific, and prioritized.
To-do-lists need to be reasonable, specific, and prioritized. Instead of 30 items listed in the way those above str — trim your list to under 10 items. Make them more detailed — and compelling — like: “email Jim,” return Sue’s phone call,” and “write two time management blog posts.”
How will you do your experiment?
You will need to experiment and find an approach that works best for you. Some people love the traditional checklist on paper or bullet journaling. Others rely on apps like Todoist or Trello. Some freelancers prefer adding the to-do-list to their calendar.
There’s one of my favorite techniques — the Eisenhower Matrix — which is a to-do list that’s divided into four quadrants: Do first, schedule, delegate, and don’t do.
If you want to improve your time management, then you need to see how you’re spending your days and how long it takes you to complete tasks.
You could go old school and carry around a notebook with you for a week. Jot down how long your morning commute takes, the time you spend wasting online, or the amount of time it takes to complete a task. You can use your phone’s stopwatch to assist you.
You have many choices — including staying just as you are.
However, there are hundreds of software and apps that can do this tracking and timing for you — through timers and time sheets. How long you spend on specific websites — Timely, for example, automatically tracks your time and then makes smart suggestions on where you can improve.
However — knowing — can help you decide.
The idea is that when you track your time you’ll be able to see how and where you’re wasting time. It will also give you a better idea on how long it takes to complete a task and when you’re most productive. Knowing this can help you create a schedule.
3. Make and stick to a schedule.
“Being self-employed means you can literally work whenever you want. Experience shows me it’s best to set specific work hours,” writes Choncé Maddox in a previous Calendar article. “If you don’t, you’ll run the risk of procrastinating, missing deadlines or becoming easily distracted and falling behind.”
Setting specific work hours.
Choncé also says that, “It’s important to set your work hours because you also want to know how much you can realistically accomplish in a workday.” She uses block scheduling and a to-do list to organize her tasks for the day. It’s a simple and effective way to help “get a full understanding of what my day is going to look like and what I’m going to be working on.”
“Once I get toward the end of my set work hours, I know it’s time to wind down and start wrapping up. This helps me transition into other areas of my life without feeling stressed out or ‘guilty’ for stepping away from my business.”
Here’s a rough example of what my daily schedule looks like:
6:00 – 7:00 A.M.: Stretch, breakfast, email, and RSS feed.
8:00 – 11:00: Research and outline articles.
11:00 – 12:00: Meet or touch base with clients.
12:00 – 1:00: Lunch, email, texts, social media, and RSS feed.
1:00 – 2:00: Exercise and take the dog for a walk.
2:00 – 5:00: Write articles for clients.
5:00 – 8:00: Dinner, finish client articles, and prepare for tomorrow.
Work during off-hours. I try to get my day started early, like everyone else. This way I’m not distracted by the other people in my home, emails, or texts. I’ve even gone into coffee shops after dinner because they’re not as crowded at that time.
4. Identify and eliminate distractions.
Distractions are arguably the biggest barrier between you and effective time management, as well as productivity. The common distractions are smartphones, social media, email, and messaging platforms.
The easiest fix of all — turn off notifications.
The easiest fix is to turn off any alerts or notifications on your phone or computer — both Android and iOS devices have “Do Not Disturb” features.
However, if you’re freelancer working from home, you may have to deal with distractions like the TV, your family or roommates, household chores, noisy neighbors, or not having the right tools or equipment.
Ever heard of earplugs or “Beats?”
Find which distractions are hameping your productivity and then find solutions. For example, you may want to start working at a coffee shop or coworking space since they eliminate most of the distractions listed above.
If that’s not an option, then have a dedicated work area that’s in a quiet location. Ideally, this is would be a spare room where you can close the door.
You should also invest in noise-cancelling headphones and dedicate one day a week to household chores so that they don’t take your focus away from work.
5. Break larger projects down.
You just received a large project assignment from a client. Your first instinct is to look at the entire project as a whole. As a result, you get overwhelmed and procrastinate because you don’t know where you’re going to start.
Break down large work projects — just as you would any project.
Instead, break that project down into smaller tasks. For example, when I’ve had to write an eBook, I focus on one chapter at a time. I start by researching and outlining only that chapter that I’m working on. After it’s been outlined, I focus only on writing that chapter.
A place to start and makes the project seem much more manageable.
Here’s another tip I’ve learned along the way –break your day into blocks. This is a productivity hack known as the Rule of 52 and 17.
So when I’m writing a big project, I block out two hours of writing into my calendar with a 17-minute break in-between where I go for a block, meditate, or clean the dishes real quick. This keeps me focused on what I’m currently working-on, while also preventing distractions from disrupting my flow.
6. Limit your client base.
When you’re just starting out as a freelancer you have no reservations in accepting each and every gig that comes your way. It’s not a bad idea when you need the cash and building a portfolio.
Eventually, however, you’re going to start working with more high-profile clients. Because they’re paying you decent money, they’ll demand more of your time. In this case, you may no longer be able to handle those smaller jobs.
You take the next advice — when you have the luxury to do so — and not before you are covering your bills. Until bills are paid — shut your mouth and hustle.
Additionally, you may also want to fire specific clients — even if they pay well. I know that may sound ridiculous, there are just some clients who demand constant revisions because they’re perfectionists or don’t know what they want. This prevents you from getting other work completed, which means you may have to part ways with them.
7. Just say “no!”
Your best friend texts you asking if you want to go to lunch. A client emails you asking if you can start working on a project ASAP. Your gut reaction may be to say “yes” to either situation. This means you’re getting pulled away from the work at hand.
I know that you don’t want to offend anyone, but sometimes you just have to say “no.” If you’re swamped, then you need to let the client know that you have a full plate today and can’t start on their project until next week. If you’re in the “zone,” then plan to have lunch with your friend on another day where you have some more flexibility.
8. Work in batches.
“Batching is a form of productivity where you arrange tasks in set groups,” writes best-selling author Amanda Abella. “In other words, you block off time on the calendar for similar tasks.”
For me, when I go to write — I do all of my research and outline for the day’s articles in the morning. I then write all of my article — then edit and format them. This way I’m not switching between tasks or bouncing between tabs.
When it’s time to write, I can just crank an article out, instead of researching, writing, and editing it at the same time.
This doesn’t mean that you literally turn you work into a game. It means using game principles in your process to motivate you and make work more fun.
This gamification can be accomplished by:
A reward system. You completed a project ahead of the deadline, so you reward yourself by going out with your friends.
A point system. You receive points for completing tasks, such as earning one point for cleaning out your inbox.
A timer. You have a specific amount of time to complete a task.
Find out which one of these suggestions beats with your heart. You will have to figure this out — if you succeed at freelancing.
Compete with a fellow freelancer. Set up a challenge to see who can complete a task or project faster.
Chart your progress. I’ve tracked how many words I can write in a day. It’s amazing how many more words I can write now compared to when I started. And, it motivates me to do even better.
10. Outsource and automate.
As a freelancer, I’ve had to learn many new skills over the years in order to market and manage my business. Whenever I have to balance my books or market my services, I’m taking time away from work.
Learn when it is time to outsource and automate the extra tasks.
For example, I recently had to launch an email marketing campaign for a client. Even though I know how to, I found someone on Fiverr to get it started for me. This way I could focus just on creating a content calendar and composing articles for the client.
Once set up, the campaign used automation to respond to clients, such as receiving a welcome email when signing-up for the newsletter or receiving a confirmation of a sale.
11. End-of-day reviews.
“Before finishing up work tonight, review your calendar and reprioritize your meetings, appointments and planned work for the next day. Look to see if you can reschedule non-priority meetings to the following day if you need to,” suggests Jason Womack, author of: Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More
You should also look into the following week of your calendar to see “if you can collapse two meetings into one by meeting with two people at the same time.”
Don’t forget to locate “and schedule 30 – to 60 – minute chunks of a time (perhaps even multiple times per day) during which you can close your door or turn off your email or phone. You can take these chunks of time if you must focus on a single project or priority without being interrupted.”
Jason Womack adds that he has found his clients like this technique and have reported that they “become more aware of the changes they can make for a more productive, engaging day.”