In the previous article, I discussed why freelancing is beneficial for your career. Today I want to dig deeper into the major problem that most freelance workers face – time management.
Time and task management is an essential part of our daily lives because, without proper plan and control, we would forget tasks, meetings, doctor appointments, and other day-to-day chores. However, when you are a freelancer, the whole time management thing gets more complicated than a few notifications.
As someone who loves planning, I enjoy my own schedule and the flexibility that a freelance career offers. Yet for many freelancers, time management can be a significant obstacle that leads to quitting their job. I believe that time management skills, like many other things in our lives, can be learned and implemented in a career. So, in this article, I collected five time management strategies that help me survive the hectic schedule.
5 Time Management Techniques for Freelancers
1. Assistance tools
You don’t have to be tech-savvy to use digital tools to alleviate your workload. There’s so many different digital assistance software that finding the right one gets more overwhelming than time management itself. Although many modern freelancers use as many as they can find, I think you shouldn’t excess it. Eventually, too many different apps will take a tool, and instead of focusing on your work, you will be managing those systems.
During a few years of my freelance writing career, I found tools that made my life and work more convenient.
I discovered Trello while I was still working at the company. The team was using it for task management. In the beginning, I didn’t appreciate Trello that much, but when I started my own business, it changed my life.
I mentioned my obsession with time planning, so Trello was a pleasant discovery. The tool lets you create boards for different projects. Inside those boards, you can create cards, put deadlines, make checklists, and add as many comments as you wish. The platform is flexible, easy to adjust to your niche and share with others. And the best thing – it’s free unless you want to use it for a bigger team.
When I started my career, I was mainly working with local clients, so when I had to send an invoice, I used an app popular among Lithuanian freelancers. However, it got tricky when I had to send invoices to clients from countries with different legal regulations and currencies.
Wave was my recent finding, and I can’t be more excited about it (yes, now things like a decent invoicing platform makes me happy). It does not only let you fill and send bills, but it also has a feature where you can collect receipts from business-related purchases, you can track your income and balance. Again, it’s for free, which makes those first steps as a freelancer easier.
Yes, the good old notebook. I never start my day without opening my notes, nor do I end it without planning the next day. I love to write down my schedule because it gives me a better grip on tasks, and it’s easier to edit. Why I chose a paper alternative instead of a digital? I hate tons of notifications, and as mentioned, I don’t like managing ten different apps just to put everything in order.
A notebook is also an excellent tool when you have a sudden idea or some task that came from nowhere. You can write it down and forget it because as much as you say you will remember, you won’t. So, why clutter your mind when you can concentrate on your work.
These time management tools aren’t the only ones I use, but these I use the most, and they helped me a lot during the most erratic times.
2. Plan small and plan big
Usually, when you have a business idea or some great concepts in your head, your main goal is to execute them. What I find difficult about that is lack of motivation. What do I mean? When you plan what you want to achieve in one year, you don’t want to wait one year, you want to see at least some results immediately. However, when the target is big and takes time to attain, your motivation falls, and shortly after you drop the whole thing.
I suggest planning your planning. I know it sounds like I’m really crazy about planning, but hear me out. For example, your one-year goal is to earn 6 grand per month, it’s hardly possible to achieve such number in one month, yet simpler in 12. You divide it into months and set a smaller goal at the end of each month. Again, even a smaller objective won’t happen in a day, so you plan daily goals that will lead to a monthly aim, which leads to the grand one-year goal.
Pending tasks and goals give you anxiety, but if you complete at least one or two per day, you will change unpleasant feelings to positive ones. Don’t believe me? A recent study found that finished tasks release dopamine, the hormone that makes us feel happy and excited. So, instead of blaming yourself for quitting another project, implement smaller steps.
3. Have a SMART goal
Yes, I know, everyone talks about how to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based) goals, but there’s a lot of potential behind this idea. In my experience, SMART targets work better with the second point of planning small and big. When you set specific and easy to measure objectives, then you can divide it into smaller pieces, and distribute them to a monthly and daily schedule.
Moreover, it gives you a better grasp where you are at the moment, how far from attaining that goal. If you noticed that in two months you haven’t moved further, then it’s time to make some adjustments. Perhaps, the timeline is too short, or it’s impossible to achieve it now because of a busy workload. Don’t judge yourself, but find realistic targets that work for you.
4. Minimize distractions
It’s hypocritical of me to talk about removing distractions, as I’m the one who’s always triggered by every new notification, and have to check Facebook after each paragraph, but I’m learning. With this learning, I want to encourage everyone to get a grip on your time and stop wasting it. I’m aware of how difficult it gets, especially when you and your friends have an interesting discussion, or you want to check for the 89-time whether your crush saw your message. But don’t do it, your work is more important.
Do you know that even a small distraction as turning your gaze to check a notification or chatting with a colleague can take up to 25 minutes to get back to the task? If you work on an hourly rate, count how much money does it cost.
However, I don’t say to go extreme like turning off everything from 9 till 5. What’s working for me is when I have to finish a task, I turn off sound and wifi on my phone, and avoid using social media on my computer. When I’m finished, I check it and then take on another assignment.
My most fierce enemy is Facebook because I also use it to communicate with some clients. To fight it, I installed a browser extension called StayFocusd. You can add websites, and it will start tracking how long do you spend on those, and block the access after exceeding the time limit.
5. Take care of yourself
Learning new skills, such as time management, requires dedication. You won’t stop all the distractions in one day, nor you will find the best tools. Time management has to become a habit. Therefore, you have to declutter your head from unnecessary stuff and make space for healthy thinking. Be mindful and learn how to control your thoughts because unwanted thoughts cause procrastination and chaos.
Before starting work, meditate, read your favorite blogs, and prepare. It has to become a ritual, only then your brain will adjust and eventually begin to follow with a schedule. What I also find helpful, is physical activity and supplements. When seasons are changing, or you have frantic deadlines, take some vitamins, they will boost your productivity, sleep, and concentration. Of course, check in with your doctor before.
How can these time-management strategies keep you motivated depends only on whether you stick to them. As any other skill time management requires routine. Although routine is something many freelancers try to run away from, it can be helpful to excel in your career. Step by step, you will begin noticing that from now on, you can’t live or work without proper planning. So, don’t quit, perhaps you only need to master one more skill.