As a freelancer, you can often work from home, in a shared co-operative office space, or on your hotel balcony as you travel the world. It may seem like the dream job, which in many ways it is, but unless you have good time and task management techniques at your disposal, half the day can suddenly disappear. To stay on schedule, it’s therefore key to understand how to manage your time as a freelancer.
Managing your time as a freelancer is all about understanding how long it takes you to complete different tasks, and effectively planning your schedule ahead of time. Keeping to deadlines is key, as not only can the work pile up fast, but you may also end up with disappointed clients too.
Our 5 great time management tips for freelancers are:
- Take short but frequent breaks
- Set yourself regular working hours
- Prioritize your tasks
- Hire an assistant
- Maintain a tidy workspace
Working as a freelancer can give you financial independence, the ability to set your own schedule and turn your passion into a sustainable professional life. Once you’ve decided to become your own boss, good time management will immediately become an essential aspect of your daily life. So, getting it right is absolutely critical to succeed in the long run. Below, we go through exactly how to manage your time as a freelancer.
Why Is Time Management Important for a Freelancer?
Time management is important for a freelancer because without it, your workload can very quickly become unsustainable. While you are working as a freelancer, you may have many different clients at any one time and several dozen tasks to get done each week, so you need good time management skills.
Struggling to properly schedule and maximize the utility of the time at your disposal will prevent you from being a successful freelancer. So, poor time management can be disastrous for your career and can often mean the difference between sinking and swimming in the competitive freelancing ecosystem.
Being Realistic Is Vital
When you’re planning your week, it’s crucial that you are realistic when allocating time for the different tasks that you have on your schedule. For example, it might be tempting to think that you can get a task done in 2 hours when in reality it’s more likely to take 4 hours. This type of underestimate can easily stack up through the week and leave you hopelessly late. You can then end up rushing and doing a poor job to make the rapidly approaching deadline.
Realistic estimates should give you plenty of time to complete each task to the best of your ability. It will also help you to avoid all-night work sessions to catch up on your workload. Giving yourself enough time to complete your tasks will improve the quality of your output and also reduce your own stress and anxiety levels.
Keep a log of how long it takes you to do different aspects of your work. Refer to this and update it when planning your week, and you’ll build up a good understanding of how to properly and reliably plan your weeks.
Always Give Yourself a Little Leeway
It’s a good rule of thumb to set aside at least 20% more time than you expect a task will take you. This way, if you run into any unexpected problems, it won’t derail your whole schedule. It also means that if you complete all your tasks without cutting into your leeway you’ll have the extra scope to deal with administrative loose ends, give your workspace a quick tidy, or take an extra 15-minute break before getting on to the next job.
Overall, good time management will improve the quality of your work, make your work life less stressful, and keep your clients happy. When these factors are combined you’ll be far more likely to build a sustainable career as a freelancer without burning out or losing sight of the reasons you wanted to be your own boss in the first place.
Taking Care of Admin Is Key
Something that is often overlooked, even by experienced freelancers, is the need to set aside specific times each week for administrative tasks. The admin side of your work is probably the most boring part of freelancing, but it’s essential to get done so that you can focus on what you do best the rest of the time.
A good way to manage the administrative aspects of your freelancing career is to set aside one afternoon each week. You can make the time more enjoyable by listening to music or the radio while you work your way through the necessary tasks.
Administration may involve contacting clients (both new and existing), saving and arranging files, staying on top of your financial records, and anything else that is associated with your freelancing work but that you don’t do during your normal work day.
5 Time Management Tips for Freelancers
1. Take Short but Frequent Breaks
Many freelancers fall into the trap of working for long stints without taking a break because they think it will increase their output. In fact, the truth is that taking short breaks more regularly is far more efficient than working for continuous long periods of time.
There’s no fixed rule when it comes to taking breaks. However, one method that is popular among freelancers is to work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. This method is known as the Pomodoro technique and was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s to optimize productivity and focus, even when multitasking was required.
Of course, you should experiment with what works for you. Everyone’s body clock and concentration levels are slightly different. So, try a few different variations of this method until you find the perfect balance for you.
2. Set Yourself Regular Working Hours
You’d be surprised how few freelancers actually set themselves fixed working times and then stick to them! However, your productivity will significantly increase if you allot a set timetable each week for your work.
You can choose to work regular 9-5 office hours or you could work from 12-7pm if that suits you better. Whatever you choose, it’s best to stick to the hours you’ve set. This is because your body and brain work better when you have a relatively fixed routine.
One of the great advantages of being a freelancer is that you can find the hours that work best for you and then take advantage of them. For instance, some freelancers are far more productive at night, so they might work from 5pm until midnight. Others may work best in the early morning from 4am until noon.
Having set working days and hours will also make it easier for you to plan for your free time with friends and family. This is essential to not overlook when planning your schedule as a freelancer.
After you’ve set your hours just make sure that you remember to tell your clients when you are available to work and when they can contact you. Otherwise, they might become frustrated if you don’t immediately reply to an important email because they didn’t realize it was your day off, or that you only check your emails at a certain time each day.
3. Prioritize Your Tasks
You should start working on the tasks that have the earliest deadlines first. If you have a large job that’s due to be completed in two days, you should put all the other tasks aside until you’ve got it done.
Of course, with good forward planning and effective time management, you should never find yourself struggling to arrange your tasks in order of importance. Instead, at the beginning of the week, you just need to plan ahead to fit them all into your schedule in the appropriate order.
One way that makes it easier to manage your tasks is to buy a whiteboard. You can then write your tasks in priority order on the board with dry markers and, if your priorities change, you can quickly rearrange the jobs on the board. Then, as you complete them, you can tick them off or write ‘Complete beside them.
Using a clear visual representation of the tasks you have scheduled will also help you to stay focused and motivated as you see yourself progressing through the jobs you had planned for the week.
4. Hire an Assistant
If your freelancing career is going from strength to strength and you find that you really can’t keep up with the demand for your work, then you might want to consider hiring an assistant to help you out.
You could hire a Virtual Assistant to manage your diary, contact clients, proofread your work, make payments, and handle other tasks. This will free your time up to focus on the tasks that you specialize in, thereby making the most of every hour that you work.
Hiring an assistant is more practical in some fields of freelancing than in others. Photographers, for instance, regularly hire an assistant to edit their photos so they can concentrate on taking the photos that their clients are actually paying for. Freelance writers on the other hand may not have as much use for an assistant.
Before you hire an assistant you need to do some careful calculations to ensure that it will pay off. However, if your client base and workload is expanding more quickly than you can keep up with, then it might be the right choice for you. If one assistant isn’t enough, you can even set up an agency to handle your growing client base!
You can find remote workers to help you meet your deadlines on several online platforms, including Fiverr and Upwork.
5. Maintain a Tidy Workspace
Having a pleasant, uncluttered and comfortable workspace will massively improve your productivity and keep you focused on the tasks at hand. Each day, after you’ve finished your work, you should take a few minutes to tidy your work space and remove any clutter.
You should also try to make the space somewhere that you enjoy spending time in. For example, if you’re working from home, set up a special area that you use for work and decorate it with houseplants or inspirational pictures and quotes. This will help to keep you motivated and working hard even when the going gets tough.
Another way to keep yourself feeling fresh and inspired is to change your working space throughout the week. You could work from home for a few days and then work on your laptop in a local cafe for a day, just to get a change of scene.
Remember, as a freelancer you’re in charge. Make the most of the opportunities that it affords you while keeping your productivity at peak levels.
The 3 Best Time Management Tools for Freelancers
1. Google Calendar
This is a fantastic all-round time management tool that you can use at home to stay on top of tasks. The app is free to download and can help you to schedule meetings, deadlines, and events.
You can block days for specific purposes, such as administration, or set aside certain hours for priority jobs. You can also integrate the app with other tools to expand its functionality. Overall, if you were going to choose one free tool to improve your time management, it should be the Google Calendar app.
You can download the Google Calendar app on the Google Play Store or the App Store.
Clockify is tailor-made for freelancers. It allows you to create timesheets that track the number of hours that you’ve worked on various projects for different clients. The software also gives you a great bird’s eye view of your time management and even produces charts and graphs so you can compare how much time you’re spending on different projects and clients.
Clockify has a free and paid version, but the free version has all the functionality that you should ever need as a freelancer.
This time management software has a beautiful interface that makes creating to-do lists super simple. You can also add guests to your Asana account so you can check with clients for their approval before you plan your schedule. You can even make mood boards to help clients visualize your plans for a project.
Asana beats most of the competition when it comes to time management for teams working remotely. You can share your scheduling with your colleagues and even connect the Asana software to your Google Calendar to synchronize your personal timetables.
For each job that you schedule on Asana, you can divide it into sub-tasks that either you or your colleagues can complete. You can also integrate Asana with Clockify so you can get an overview of your time management with charts and graphs you can share with your co-workers.
There is a paid version, but for most freelancers the free option will cover all your needs.
Bonus Time Management Tip for Freelancers – Take a Day Off!
This might sound counterintuitive, but taking enough time off is just as important to your overall time management strategy as working productively in a streamlined manner.
It’s not uncommon for freelancers to work every day for months on end. But the inevitable result of this is a dropping off in the quality of their work and an eventual burnout. You can also end up getting sick more easily if you run yourself down too much. So, scheduling days off is essential, even if it’s just one day a week.
Imagine if you had a boss at a job that expected you to work seven days a week for month after month – you probably wouldn’t be impressed! To live a healthy and fulfilling life, you need to maintain your relationships and continue to do the things you love to do. So, be a good boss to yourself and don’t be afraid of booking yourself a day or two off each week.
Time Management Is Essential for Freelancers
Working as a freelancer can be exhilarating and rewarding, both personally and in terms of your career and finances. However, if you’re working in the wrong field or industry, it can be lonely, tiring and frustrating.
Therefore, if you’re considering taking the leap, or are already working in a freelance capacity, it’s vital to do something that you genuinely enjoy. Planning your schedule, putting in the extra hours, and even doing the admin side of things will be a pleasure as you grow in confidence, skills and ability.
Effective time management will not only boost your productivity, output, and the quality of your work, but it’s essential for maintaining a sustainable freelancing career. You can use good forward planning and lifestyle choices as well as freely available time management software to help you achieve your full potential as a freelancer in any field of work.