Managing my time as a freelancer is something that took me far too long to take seriously. I’d often have a super productive day where I conquered loads of tasks, followed by a day of mixed priorities that left me feeling drained and no further forward.
Enter my list of freelance time management tips!
- Organize your to-do lists
- Map out your goals
- Create a routine tailored to your life
- Consider tracking your time
- Take regular breaks
- Remove distractions
- Schedule time for admin tasks
- Learn when enough is enough (and when to say no)
- Use time management tools
In this article, I’ll go through each of these tips in detail to hopefully help you start getting more done with your time! Stick around to the end where I’ll list a few of my favorite time management tools for freelancers too.
9 Freelancing Time Management Tips
1. Organize Your To-Do Lists
The foundation of time management (at least in my opinion) lies in well-organized to-do lists. The key is not just to list tasks but to categorize and prioritize them. Start by breaking down your projects into smaller, manageable tasks. This approach makes large projects less overwhelming and helps when it comes to tracking your progress.
Each task should be actionable and specific: instead of writing ‘work on website’ specify the exact aspect, like ‘design homepage layout.’
Once you’ve listed your tasks, prioritize them. A simple method is to categorize tasks into:
- Can wait
Urgent tasks are those with impending deadlines or high importance to clients. Important tasks are those that contribute significantly to your long-term goals, like building your portfolio or learning a new skill. Lastly, tasks that can wait are neither urgent nor particularly beneficial in the long run but still need done eventually.
This categorization helps you focus on what’s crucial at the moment, and it reduces the stress associated with an overloaded to-do list. There are lots of ways to create to-do lists. I use a mix of good old Post-It notes and my phone’s reminders app, and then I use Notion as my freelance dashboard.
This is where tasks go that need completed anywhere within a few days to by the end of the year. It allows me to keep it all in one place, but organized in an efficient manner (and it’s free!). Check out my guide for more on how to use Notion as a freelancer.
2. Map Out Your Goals
Mapping out your goals allows you to clearly understand what you want to actually achieve with your time. Start by identifying both your short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals could include completing specific projects (which you prioritized in the first tip) or reaching a monthly income target. Long-term goals might include expanding your client base or mastering a new skill relevant to your industry.
Once you define your goals, break them down into smaller, achievable milestones. This step is crucial because it transforms lofty ambitions (which you need) into a series of manageable tasks.
For example, if one of your long-term goals is to get more clients, set a milestone to reach out to a certain number of potential clients each week. This method not only makes the goal more tangible but also provides a clear path forward. In other words, it’s far more likely that you’ll actually do it!
3. Create A Routine Tailored To Your Life
Creating a routine that aligns with your personal and professional life is vital. Flexibility is one of the main attractions to the freelance lifestyle, but this can also lead to disorganization if you don’t manage things properly.
Start by identifying the times of day when you are most productive. Are you an early bird who thrives in the morning, or are you more of a night owl, finding your creative stride in the evening? Try to tailor your work schedule around these peak productivity periods.
You also need to factor in your personal life. As a freelancer, you might have the flexibility to run errands or attend appointments during traditional work hours, but you should schedule these just as meticulously as work tasks to stop them encroaching on your productive time.
Your routine should be flexible of course, but don’t make it too flexible or it stops being a routine!
4. Consider Tracking Your Time
I say ‘consider’ here rather than just saying track your time because:
A. Not every freelancer wants or needs to track their time (I don’t)
B. If you don’t need to for clients, I really only recommend doing it as a way to learn how long it takes you to do certain things
Note: I know some clients might pay you by the hour and request you track your time for that (which you should of course do). What I’m talking about here is tracking your time to understand where you could spend less of it and what tasks should get more of your attention.
Time tracking is about more than just recording the hours you work. It’s also about understanding how you spend your time and identifying areas for improvement. Start by selecting a time tracking method that suits your workflow, whether it’s a simple spreadsheet or a sophisticated time tracking app (more on that later).
You might discover that certain activities, such as email correspondence or social media management, are eating into your productive hours. With this insight, you can explore ways to streamline these tasks, perhaps by setting specific times for checking emails or using tools to automate social media posts. This level of awareness is crucial in refining your work process and becoming more efficient.
Plus, tracking your time has the added benefit of making it easier to understand what you’re worth. By knowing exactly how long tasks take, you can provide more precise quotes for future projects and ensure you’re billing clients accurately for your work. So, you can save time and make more money!
5. Take Regular Breaks
While it might seem counterintuitive, integrating breaks into your workday can significantly boost your productivity and creativity. Start by planning short breaks throughout your day. The popular Pomodoro Technique, which involves working for 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break, is a great method to ensure you’re stepping away from work at regular intervals. These brief pauses can help refresh your mind and prevent burnout.
During your breaks, engage in activities that are completely unrelated to work. This could be a quick walk, a short meditation session, or just sitting quietly with a cup of tea. The idea is to step away from your work environment physically and mentally. These moments of detachment give your brain a rest—something we should all probably do a bit more often.
6. Remove Distractions
Removing distractions is key for maintaining your focus and productivity. The challenge is identifying and minimizing these distractions, which can range from digital notifications to household chores (for me, like many other freelancers, the biggest distractions are my phone and my emails).
Start by creating a dedicated workspace, if possible, separate from your living or relaxation areas. This physical separation helps in establishing a mental boundary between work and leisure, reducing the temptation to engage in non-work-related activities.
Note: I know all too well that this isn’t always possible. Having worked out of my bedroom for many years, I had to focus on minimizing the other distractions, like my phone or notifications on my computer.
Digital distractions, especially social media and email notifications, can be particularly disruptive. Consider using tools or settings that limit notifications while you’re working or allocate specific times to check your emails and social media. For example, you might choose to check emails only at the beginning, middle, and end of your workday.
7. Schedule Time For Admin Tasks
Admin tasks, such as invoicing, responding to emails, and sorting through your to-do lists I discussed earlier, are essential. But they can easily consume a disproportionate amount of your workday if you’re not careful!
Start by allocating a fixed time each day or week exclusively for these tasks (I typically do it on a Sunday). For example, you might reserve the first hour of your Monday morning for administrative duties, ensuring they’re taken care of without affecting your prime working hours. This can also start your week off with a small win!
I really recommend sticking to a routine with this. Not only will it help free up time during the week, but it’ll also ensure that these important tasks are always completed. That’s a stress reliever in itself!
8. Learn When Enough Is Enough (And When To Say No)
It’s tempting to take on every project that comes your way, especially in the early stages of your freelance career. But overcommitment can lead to burnout and reduce the quality of your work. You need to be realistic about how much work you can handle without compromising on quality or your personal life.
Recognizing the right projects to accept is just as important as knowing which ones to decline. Don’t just evaluate potential projects based on their financial value. Also consider how they align with your long-term goals, interests, and work-life balance. If a project doesn’t fit well with your skills, values, or schedule, it’s often better to politely decline, rather than take it on and be stressed or otherwise unhappy about it.
But knowing when enough is enough also just applies to knowing when you’ve done enough for the day/week/month. This goes back to my earlier tip about taking breaks—you need to learn when it’s time to take one!
9. Use Time Management Tools
Freelance time management tools range from simple to-do list apps to comprehensive project management software, each offering unique features to help you manage your time and tasks more effectively. Some freelancers might benefit from a basic digital calendar for scheduling, while others may require a more robust tool that integrates task management, time tracking, and client communication.
To wrap up, let’s take a quick look at some of my favorite tools for managing your time as a freelancer.
3 Great Time Management Tools For Freelancers
Bonsai is a complete suite of freelancing tools, ranging from invoice and contract generation to client management. But they also have some handy time management tools. Namely their time tracker, which is suitable for tracking your time for clients and for your own internal use. There’s also a handy task project management interface, and much more, and there are both free and paid account options.
2. Reminders App
There’s no specific app I recommend here, just whichever one you have on your phone, tablet, or computer. I have an iPhone, so I have my app on my phone synced to my Mac. I use it for setting reminders for time-sensitive tasks, and also for taking notes when I don’t have pen and paper handy. It’s super simple, but also super effective!
Finally, I recommend checking out Notion for general task management and staying on top of things. There are lots of freelance templates out there that cater to all sorts of different needs, including time trackers and project management. It’s a huge tool though, and it can be a little overwhelming. But the functionality can make it a fantastic tool for freelancers!