If you worked a standard office job before you started freelancing, time management was probably something you didn’t need to worry too much about. You probably had a project manager to take care of what needed to be done and when it needed to be done by.
Of course, now you’re a freelancer, you don’t have the luxury of outsourcing your time management – earning a living wage is reliant upon you managing your day effectively. Here’s a few tips which have helped me out in the past.
Set up a schedule and keep to it
It sounds obvious, but with the freedom and independence that a freelance career suggests, it can be easy to fall into a gung-ho mentality and not follow your schedule (or even set one up in the first place). This can only lead to failure – you’ll end wasting long stretches of time not sure what to do next, or even miss deadlines for your clients (sorry, ex-clients).
Do whatever works for you. Set up a list of scheduled tasks in your online calendar. Write them up on a physical calendar or wall planner. Pop them into a spreadsheet with columns for start and end time. Take advantage of project management software, such as Solo or Basecamp. However you do it, make sure you know what you need to accomplish each hour of the day.
It’s a good idea to devote a different chunk of the day (let’s say, 2 or 3 hours) to each of your clients across the week – that way, your focus isn’t diluted by switching from client to client in rapid succession through the day.
Charge the right price
Pricing your services is always tricky. It’s easy to undercut yourself – in which case you’ll end up working much longer than you should be just to break even!
Research the standard fee that freelancers in your industry charge, and compare that against your operating costs and your billable hours each year. The fee you eventually settle on should be reasonable, but also realistic for paying your wage.
Make the most of your intermissions
You’ve just finished a big project and sent it out for approval. What do you do while you’re waiting for the client’s thumbs-up to appear in your email inbox?
Here’s where keeping a list of smaller, 15 minute tasks can help – any brief lulls in your productivity can be used to knock these task off your list. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in those 15-20 minute bursts, as long as you give them your undivided attention.
Run errands/make appointments in the morning or evening
Now you’re a freelancer, you can pause work to take care of personal things whenever you like – no more tapping on the boss’s door and sheepishly asking if you can have the time off.
That doesn’t mean you should, though. Leaving your desk in the middle of a project can throw off your focus, making it difficult to get back into the swing of things when you get back.
Just like a regular job, it’s best to ‘book time off’ in your schedule in the morning or the evening. With the former, you haven’t started any tasks yet – with the latter, you’ve already done a body of work and likely won’t be doing any more until the next morning.
Take scheduled breaks
Never underestimate how important it is to take a break, refuel with a snack and consolidate your thoughts. You’ll burn out in a matter of days if you simply work through the day without slowing down.
Conversely, taking a break whenever you like will derail you from your tasks (and those breaks can turn into hours-long cat video marathons if you’re not too focused).
Give yourself a specific lunch break, with a definite start time and end time, and stick to it every day. Do the same with two shorter breaks; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It’s up to you how long these breaks are – I recommend anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour for your lunch break, and anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes for each mini-break.
Just make sure you never work through your breaks – under any circumstances. Those breaks are important for maintaining your overall productivity, so don’t sabotage yourself!
That’s all for today, but if you have any tips of your own for managing your time as a freelancer, please drop me a comment below!