Time management is perhaps the biggest obstacle that most freelancers face in their day-to-day lives. The truth is, there is no secret formula that will make you productive with a snap of a finger, it is all up to you. But it doesn’t hurt to think about how and why your productivity suffers and finding ways to improve on those things.
- Freelancers and time management
- Double your productivity: time management tips for freelancers
- Productivity’s biggest enemies
Freelancers and time management
Working as a freelancer can be really hard, especially if you’re a beginner. In addition to developing and growing your business, you’re also looking for new customers, managing them, providing your services, dealing with invoices, building your brand, updating your social media networks, etc.
As the famous saying goes, ‘with great power, comes great responsibility.’ The dogma of freelancing summarizes what it’s all about – freelancers have a higher control over their time, but are also fully responsible for being productive, which is reflected in their next month’s paycheck.
Double your productivity: time management tips for freelancers
Learning how to manage your time and work efficiently is incredibly beneficial and will allow you to enjoy the advantages of a freelancer career. The following tips have been proven to be highly effective for many freelancers and can help you improve your productivity and improve your time management:
#1 Get organized
Getting organized is the first step to improving your time management skills as freelancers. A lot of your ideas can disappear even before you start reflecting on them. They tend to get lost in chunks of papers and emails. The simplest way to avoid this is by having a place where you put all your notes. Evernote is a good option as it offers intuitive software for numerous platforms (mobile, web, PC, Mac).
If you want something simpler, try Google Keep, which is integrated with other Google services. There are many different tools available out there so be sure to find the one best suited for your business.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to organize your workspace as well. Create focus by reducing distractions. If your desktop, folders, cloud drives or physical desk looks like a big pile of… stuff, it’s going to take you a long time to locate the things you need, especially if you’re in an emergency.
Organize your files, documents and bookmarks by type, project, function or some other measure. Use sub-folders if necessary. Even keeping your stationery supplies in a dedicated holder or drawer will help.
#2 Plan and prioritize your tasks
Knowing what you have coming up for the week can make a lot of difference when it comes to time management. For freelancers, A simple to-do list is the first step towards establishing that routine.
You can also use the Eisenhower matrix which will help you prioritize your duties. Make a list of all the tasks you have to perform and define the level of importance and urgency for each of them. Once you have the list, add the tasks to the appropriate quadrant of the matrix:
Tasks in Quadrant I:
These tasks are very important, urgent and need to be done as soon as possible. This space is dedicated to tasks that are often unexpected or whose deadlines are very close.
Tasks in Quadrant II:
These tasks are important as well but not as urgent as the one in the first quadrant. You can therefore plan and think about them with no pressure on you. As you can imagine, most of your tasks will be located in Quadrant II.
Tasks in Quadrant III:
These tasks are urgent but not important. The rule for this quadrant is: delegate if you can. This quadrant will include all of the tasks that keep you from reaching your goals. For a lot of freelancers, delegating is not always easy as they normally work on their own. If you can’t delegate these tasks, try to finish them as soon as possible and go back to quadrants I and II.
Tasks in Quadrant IV:
These tasks are neither important nor urgent. In other words: they are a waste of time. Common activities that belong in this quadrant are checking your social networks or browsing the internet. Forget about them!
Working with this matrix will help you structure your working day and will allow you to invest your time more efficiently in tasks that really need it.
#3 Stick to a schedule
Separating work and relaxation is key to living a balanced life. If you’re constantly working after your work hours are done, you are in ‘work mode’ 24X7. Even when you’re taking a break, it won’t be as relaxing as it should be. Therefore, it’s important to set a regular schedule for yourself.
Take the time to plan out your hours, days, week or month (depending on your needs) with a clear to-do-list for all your tasks. Try to put the most important tasks at the top of the list to ensure that they get done.
It’s also important that you figure out how and when you work best to organize your tasks accordingly. If you are not a morning person, don’t do your creative writing or other brain-intensive tasks the moment you wake up– wait until your brain is fully awake and ready!
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#4 Focus on one task at a time
Usually when we’re working on something, we suddenly remember something else that needs our attention. This is why we recommend you to always have a piece of paper and a pen next to you so that you can write down everything that comes to your mind. Finish what you are doing and and as soon as you’re done with it, start working on the next one.
#5 Get rid of digital distractions
Social networks, WhatsApp, Skype, e-mails… all of these technologies are distractions that need to be eliminated (quadrants III and IV from the Eisenhower matrix). Turn off all chats and notifications from social media networks and, if possible, your email as well.
The internet offers us a number of programs and software that can help us in our freelance journey. For example, for some freelancers, writing and managing invoices is a very complicated task. There are lots of billing programs (like Billomat) that are especially designed for freelancers, which helps to automate this process. With this software you can not only create invoices but also send offers, control your expenditures, and manage your customers and products.
You can also use scripts and macros to automate tasks for you. If you’re a spreadsheet jockey, you most likely perform very similar tasks very often and if so, macros are your friend. If you know how to code, you can create very powerful macros to automate all kinds of tasks, but even if you have zero experience coding, you can record macros within the sheet itself.
#7 Learn to say no
At the beginning of your freelancing career, you will invest a lot of time trying to find clients, but at some point you have to decide whether to accept a project or not. Sometimes, even if you don’t want to, you will have to say “no”.
Every project involves time and sometimes, taking on a new one can impact the quality of the work you already have.
#8 Be realistic
It’s important to understand that you will not be able to accept all the projects that come your way. Some projects need to be turned down so that you can accept the more interesting ones. Experts recommend having a fourth of your regular schedule free so that you can have some wiggle room and be prepared for any unexpected twists of life.
#9 Take breaks often
In order to keep our productivity going, we have to disconnect from time to time. Our brain needs breaks to work better. As a self-employed worker, you probably work alone from home and can’t enjoy lunch with your colleagues as a way to unwind. But this is no excuse! You need to take time off anyway. Go for a 10-minutes-walk or read a book . Whatever you choose, make sure you take those breaks.
Productivity’s biggest enemies
Shown below are some of the worst enemies of productivity that most of us know all too well and some suggestions on how to act against them:
#1 Lack of information
A lot of freelancers state that what wastes their time the most is lack of information. Thankfully, it has never been as easy to search for information than it is today. But that raises the issue of where one should look. Depending on what info you’re looking for, there are a couple of solutions available: For example, If you want to know anything about freelancing, from SEO and marketing to new niches and ways to find the best clients, blogs like our own are invaluable.
If you’re looking for general information, or information on certain products, you can hit up social media.
#2 Refusing to delegate
Freelancers are especially prone to this. You build up your own business and are used to handling every single thing by yourself. But as you take on bigger projects and grow, you will notice it gets increasingly difficult to keep doing so in a more productive manner. Don’t be afraid to hire someone who can help you out. Whether it is for actual work, only an element of it or something like accounting, taking a load off your shoulders will allow you to concentrate better on the big picture.
#3 Fear of failure
Fear of failure can be crippling and horrible. What if they don’t like your application or the work you do? The difference between not doing something because you are afraid and doing it even though you are afraid is that the latter has a chance of success. Yes, things won’t always work out perfectly. But mistakes are something we can learn from and are what allow us to get better at our jobs.
#4 Client meetings, emails and cellphone use
In terms of time management, whether it is meetings, emails or cellphones, most freelancers struggle with business communication and feel like it is a gigantic waste of their time. However, there are two ways to combat this – one is the medium way, the other, the more radical way.
We talked about these strategies while reviewing Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. It’s basically a method for turning off distractions and working in an extremely focused state. Newport suggests several methods for dealing with those pesky notifications and calls:
The radical, monastery approach
This includes detaching yourself from all distractions, completely. A day or even a week off without a cellphone, email and social media can be very productive, but not necessarily realistic for a lot of freelancers.
The lighter, bi-modal approach
Again, this method is all about turning off everything, but just for a few hours a day. An easy way to accomplish this is by setting physical boundaries, like going to the library. When you change a location with the sole intention to work there and not be distracted by anything, your brain will learn and switch to a different state every time you go to that location.
#5 Wrong priorities
Setting the right priorities is vital to being productive, especially if you are handling different IT-projects at the same time. You must think about what is really important and what isn’t. It can be very tempting to do all those little things that are not necessary, but make you feel productive. Make a list with priorities, from most to least important, and put it on your desk. Assigning a corresponding amount of time to them can help you focus on what really matters.
Distractions is a broad term, and everyone has their own personal things that slow their work down. Your kids, your pets, the countless fun, quirky and informative sites on the internet and more. Distractions are not a bad thing per se, but there is a time and a place for everything.
The easiest way to avoid them is to have a strict schedule that tells you when distractions are OK and when you should focus on your work. Stuff like the Pomodoro technique, where you take a five minute break for every 25 minutes you work can be helpful to many people. Try it out, it might be just the thing for you!
Also, do not hesitate to check out the multiple apps available online to manage your productivity as a freelancer – many of them are free to use and can make your life easier.
How do you stay productive as a freelancer? We’d love to know in the comments down below!