Most of us were under the impression that becoming our own boss will give us more time to spend on what matters most. Becoming a freelancer will enable us to be more flexible – “freeing” ourselves from the rigidity of working on a 9-5 schedule. It’ll be up to us to set our own time, prioritize tasks in our own way.
It’s only later we realize that having control over your own time is only good if you know how to manage it properly. Instead of catering to one boss, you now have to cater to many clients. Juggling multiple clients means that you can’t afford to waste time. If you want better profitability, you have to make sure that you maximize your time at work. However, much to your dismay, there are numerous distractions around you (we’re looking at you, Facebook and Instagram!).
Fortunately, time management is something that can be learned. And you don’t even need to take a course on how to start a business to learn them. There are plenty of strategies and tips you can easily incorporate into your freelancing life, so you can stop wasting precious time.
More importantly, doing this will allow you to get all the “free” time that you dreamed of enjoying. So here are 10 time management tips for freelancers to boost your overall productivity during this trying time.
1. Fix up Your Workspace
When you’re a freelancer, you can literally work from anywhere. There’s no rule that dictates you need to be in an office setting. However, all that freedom can be your downfall.
Working from bed can be incredibly tempting. You’ll be cozy and comfortable while earning yourself some money. Who could blame you? Unfortunately, science does. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard, working on the bed makes it difficult for a person to get quality sleep. In addition, separating your “home” from “work” will help you boost your productivity instead of hampering it.
So, where should you work? It doesn’t have to be somewhere special. If you want to make the most out of your precious time, you’ll need to set up a place where you’ll be able to focus on work. A room with a sturdy table, a comfortable chair, and a reliable internet connection are all you’ll need. Make sure that there’s no television to distract you.
If there’s no separate room at home for you to work in, pick a corner that will serve as your “office.” Invest in good headphones, so you can block out the outside world while you’re working. Make sure that your work area has a lot of natural lighting during the day and dedicated lighting for working at night.
One last tip for your work area – keep it clean and clutter-free. A messy work area can be distracting and make you less productive.
2. Eliminate Distractions
Generally, when you make money online, then you’re almost always connected to the internet. As a result, you always have easy access to social media. And here’s one fun fact for you: social media is the number one productivity killer. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and even LinkedIn can make you lose time and focus.
The problem with freelancing is that there’s no one who will make you accountable when you procrastinate and check out what’s trending on social media. One solution to this dilemma is to turn off your phone. But for freelancers who receive calls from clients on their phones, this may not be an ideal solution. If you belong to this category, you can choose to turn off the internet access of your phone and put your notifications on silent. Or, you can get an app that will block access to your social media accounts for a set amount of time.
Your email is another source of distraction. While you will need to check your email for work, it’s important that you limit the number of times you look at your inbox. Check your inbox for client messages first thing in the morning, right after lunch, and near the end of your workday. Doing this allows you to answer any emergency messages as well as help you create a working to-do list for the next day. If you work with a team, make sure that the status of your messenger app is set to “do not disturb.” This ensures that your team won’t be distracting you with unnecessary messages while you’re busy working on a task.
Aside from all the online distractions, you need to contend with, you also need to make sure you don’t get distracted by noise. If you work at home and live with other people, you might find yourself distracted by TV noise or chatter. A pet can also be distracting. Noise from outside your homes such as traffic or construction can also cause you to lose focus.
For this reason, it is recommended that you choose an isolated room as your work area. It’s also important that you ask family members to refrain from disturbing you when you’re “at work.” If this is not possible, wear headphones that will keep background noise out. Listening to music that boosts productivity and helps you focus is an added bonus.
3. Create a Schedule
Having a flexible schedule is one of the reasons why people choose freelancing. But it’s also a reason why freelancers tend to procrastinate. You have all the time to finish the project and meet the deadline, so you can take a mini-break first to check what’s happening on Twitter or Reddit. Of course, you inevitably find yourself pressed for time, stressed to high heaven just to get the work done before the client’s deadline.
Freelancers can avoid this predicament by creating a schedule. Yes, you read that right. You need to make a schedule. Take note that it doesn’t need to follow a strict 8-4 or 9-5 routine. You can make your own hours. For example, you can decide to work a set 6 or 8 hours a day. But you need to be disciplined about following that rule. In addition to setting your hours, you need to follow a routine.
Your routine should include all the tasks you need to accomplish for that particular day in order of priority. Your schedule should reflect this to-do list. Make sure that you also put time for breaks within the day to avoid burning out. With a schedule and a routine to follow, it’ll be easier for you to keep yourself focused and in the zone during your work hours. More importantly, you are able to set aside time for family, friends, and even yourself.
4. Manage your Workload
It’s easy to become overloaded with work when you’re a freelancer. You juggle multiple projects which have different tasks and timelines that you’ll need to keep an eye on. Getting overworked and overwhelmed isn’t going to help you maximize your time effectively. In fact, it’s going to decrease your productivity.
To help you manage your workload, you will need to prioritize your work and use a task management app like Trello and Todoist to keep yourself on track. This type of software can also help you break down difficult tasks into smaller ones which makes them even more achievable. As a result, the tasks don’t seem as insurmountable and prevents you from procrastinating.
Here’s a pro tip: work in short bursts. Use the Pomodoro technique or something similar. The idea is that you do nothing but work for a set period of time (in this case, 25 minutes) and then take a 5-minute break which you can use to brew tea or stretch. This allows you to be more focused on your task and helps you manage your distractions. It also decreases mental fatigue and maintains your motivation. More importantly, you stay in control of your time.
5. Learn to Say “No”
One of the most important lessons you need to learn is how to say “no” to clients, both current and potential. You can easily find yourself becoming a people-pleaser in order to ensure that you always have a payday coming in. However, too much work can easily overwhelm you, causing you to lose focus and productivity. The quality of your work will also suffer.
Set boundaries for yourself. Don’t let work carve into your free time. You became a freelancer in order to be in control of your life. Don’t let yourself be talked into a project just because they’ll pay you. Not all projects will be worth it. Prioritize work that will benefit your portfolio.
6. Track Your Time
Time is money. This is especially true when you’re a freelancer. The hours you work need to result in time paid. But how will you know how much to bill a client for work done if you don’t have an idea of how much time you spend on your tasks? Tracking your time will help you create an accurate budget as well as future project estimations. But that’s not all it can do for you.
When you track your time, you’re able to visualize how long each task takes. With this information, creating a to-do list is easier and so is sticking to your schedule. Moreover, tracking your time will help you evaluate your productivity. From there, you’ll be able to see how much time you actually spend working and if you’re wasting time on trivial things or distractions during your workday.
7. Don’t Multitask
Handling multiple projects is the life of a freelancer. But that doesn’t mean you literally switch from one project to another within the same workday. Switching gears is not easy. In fact, it’s a little like multitasking which is not good for productivity. Orienting yourself to a second project will waste precious time you could have spent finishing up the first one.
Instead of working on various projects within one day, make sure you schedule your deadlines far apart. This gives you time to work on one project, finish it (or at least meet a milestone), and then the rest of your time can be spent working on a new one. This way, your focus is not divided AND your productivity doesn’t suffer.
8. Stay Organized
We already know that clutter can have a negative impact on productivity and focus. So, organizing your workspace is essential to ensuring that you won’t easily get distracted from your work. But there’s another way for you to stay organized during the day. And by that, we mean your files – hard copies and soft copies. The former is easy enough to handle if you’ve got a filing cabinet. But you should also make sure that the files on your computer are all in order and easy to find.
Creating folders to keep all your documents – your login information, expenses, and client notes – organized will save you from wasting time searching for the information you need like what your client asked you to change on the project last week.
9. Treat Freelancing as a Job
You probably think this is too obvious. But many freelancers have made the mistake of letting their work bleed into the rest of their lives. Because you work from home (or at least take your work everywhere with you), it’s easy to continue your work well after your business hours just to keep a client happy. But doing so can affect your family time as well as your free time.
Too much work can lead to too much stress. And stress, as we all know, can affect your productivity. If you treat freelancing as a job, then the clock should stop ticking as soon as your business hours end. It’s one thing to create a schedule. The more important task is to stick with it.
10. Take Days Off
As we’ve already mentioned, sticking to your work schedule will do wonders for your productivity which means your time is always maximized, not one second wasted. However, free time is not just limited to staying off work after hours or on weekends. If you want to be effective in managing your time, you need to make sure that you get to rest and recharge from time to time.
It’s essential to have a work-life balance so that your creativity is not diminished. Not to mention your cognitive abilities. You opted to become a freelancer in order to free yourself up to live life the way you want.
So, here’s one of the essential time management tips for freelancers: take the time to play. Take a work-free day or two, maybe more, on a regular basis. Of course, this needs to be planned ahead of time. You’ll want to save for your vacation. You’ll also want to make sure that your client meetings, deadlines, etc. won’t be in conflict with your downtime.