Working as a freelancer, one of the biggest challenges you will face is how to manage your time properly. This isn’t like working a 9-5 job when you only have one boss to worry about. As a freelancer, you often have to juggle 4-5 clients at the same time and every one of them can be demanding, trust me. Well, unless you want to spend hours upon hours working and always feeling like you don’t have enough time to complete every project you have, it’s high time to learn a few things about time management.
Here are five important time management secrets that every freelancer needs to know in order to rule his or her time.
Stop Wasting Time with Clients that Will Get You Nowhere
Learn to say “no” from time to time when a new client knocks on your door. If the client seems too demanding, or the project could take a long time to complete and requires you to go through all kinds of hoops and obstacles, if the pay isn’t good enough, or if you already have enough clients at the moment, it’s better to refuse a contract than accept it and later figure out it’s just getting you nowhere.
The same, of course, goes for current clients, not just new ones. For example, if you have a client that is paying you considerable less than your other clients, get rid of them. Free your time for a client that can pay you more. Yes, a bit of loyalty to your old clients is okay, but only to a certain point. Treating your time as a valuable commodity doesn’t just mean setting a high per hour rate, but much more.
It’s very important to understand what the project is really about to know how long it will take you to complete it. As freelancers, we are all sometimes eager and excited to get new projects and clients, but don’t get overeager. Take a moment to talk with a potential client about the project he has in mind and understand what they exactly need and how you can make that happen. If the client is not able or unsure to tell you this, expect this project to take a lot of your time, without you knowing where it really went.
Plan Your Next Day
I firmly believe in planning your next day the evening before. This is why every night before I go to bed, I take a notebook and a pen and jot down what I plan to do the following day. Then, when I wake up, I already know what I need to do that day and it’s much easier for me to avoid getting distracted.
Your plan doesn’t have to be too strict. In fact, allow it to be flexible by all means. It’s just there to serve as a general guide for your day and help keep you on track. For example, I usually plan in blocks and it looks something like this:
- Early morning: Check and answer email, schedule Skype calls
- Late morning: Work on most urgent/important project
- Early afternoon: Work on less urgent/important projects
- Late afternoon: Finish any projects if there are any left, exercise, go for a walk…
- Early evening: Check email again, read, watch a game or a movie…
- Late evening: Wrap up this day and plan the next one.
Of course, expect that something will always come up and kind a shake your day, so don’t try to perfectly plan your day. You never know what might happen tomorrow, but this is as good as you can go.
Work When You are Most Productive
I like to start working around 8-9 in the morning as I feel I am most productive and can create the best content for clients around that time. You might pick a different time of day. Some people like to start their day very, very early. This can be a great idea if you’re living with someone or have kids. By being an early rises, you can sit down in quiet and focus on an important project, without being interrupted all the time.
Not everyone is an early riser. For instance, I can’t see myself out of bed at 5:00 am (I think my 7:30 am is quite enough). If you don’t belong in this group, that’s okay. You might be more productive around 12 or even later in the afternoon. Heck, you might be a regular night owl and are at your most productive at midnight.
The bottom line is that, while being a freelancer allows you to choose when you will work, it’s not about choosing when you “feel like working” that day, but picking the time of the day when your brain works the best.
Stop multitasking. Whoever told you that it is a good idea clearly knows nothing about time management. In fact, multitasking is the opposite of what productive people are doing. Our brains are just not used to multitasking and dividing time between two things at the same time. The end result is usually full of mistakes. Not to mention that it also runs your creative process completely.
When you try to shift from one task to another, it doesn’t go as smoothly as you might think it will. For instance, if you’re working on an article and stop to check your email or make a phone call, by the time you return to writing that article, your brain has already lost its train of thought and will now need extra time and energy to get back on track. So, stop multitasking, this is not an effective time management technique, far from it.
If you don’t believe me, ask someone who knows a bit more about how the human brain works. Here’s what Professor of Neuroscience at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT Earl Miller has to say about multitasking and why it’s not a good idea:
Our brains, however, delude us into thinking we can do more. To understand how this happens, it helps to think about how we physically see the world. Barring visual impairments, we perceive our surroundings via a video camera-like, wide-angle lens. Or at least that’s how it seems. In reality, our eyes are constantly darting around, 3-4 times per second, taking in our surroundings in snippets. The end looks like one image, but that’s just because our brains paper these individual pieces together to create a complete picture.
Get Help for Your Time Management
You don’t have to deal with time management all by yourself. In fact, there are a lot of tools that can help you with this. From a simple alarm clock to wake you up every morning, to a timer for your Pomodoro sessions, to apps like Toggl to track how much time you’ve worked on an article, to Trello for productivity, there are a lot of tools you can use to master your own time and use it better. If it can help you save just 5 more minutes of wondering around, trust me, it’s worth it.
Know of any other time management secrets that you’d like to share with fellow freelancers? Let us know in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to share this with anyone who says they “don’t have time” and if you like my blog, feel free to subscribe to it for more posts about freelancing.
Useful time management tip: Just 5 More Minutes Please…