Three Time-Management Tips for Freelancers: How to Take Control of Your Time

By Website Editor on Thursday, December 8, 2016

Seasons greetings, readers!  In the throes of the holiday season, you, like many of us, may be scrambling to manage your time. This guest blog post is courtesy of Mary Nolan, freelancer, CWIP member and owner of GrammarPanda.com. Here she shares some useful time management skills with us. Thanks, Mary!   

At CWIP's Freelancing: The Nuts and Bolts event, we learned a lot of important information about getting started in the world of freelancing. As a freelancer, whether you are working on a project for a client, building a website for your business, or improving your social media presence, you need to know how you are spending your time, even if you don't charge by the hour.

Here are a few time management tips to consider:

1. Know yourself.
Knowing your limitations can prevent you from setting yourself up for failure when it comes to managing your time.

  • When do you work best? I'm the most productive and energized in the morning, but if I do need to work on a late-night project, I know to pace myself.

Getting up earlier to work on projects is better for me. If you know you can complete tasks at night without succumbing to a mental fog, waking up later is fine so you don't burn out.

  • How do you work best? If you're multitasking or going back and forth between tasks, you need to stop. Work on one task at a time and devote all of your concentration to that task. Multitasking won't save you time and is only going to slow you down in the end.

Blocking out distractions is key to focusing on completing your tasks. If listening to music spurs your creativity, you can find compilations online that promote concentration. If noise inhibits your progress, you need to block it out or find another place to work.

Remember to stay motivated. As you check tasks off your list, you'll feel more productive and determined to complete the project. You can also give yourself small rewards throughout the day or over the course of the project. I have a tea and treats break everyday at 4 p.m. where I walk away from my computer and enjoy teatime for 20 minutes. Whatever your reward, make sure you leave your office area for a while to go appreciate it.

  • Where do you work best? When you have a home office, sometimes it's hard to keep motivated and on task. Test out somewhere like a coffee house or a library even if you only go there once a week. Determine if a break from your home office helps your productivity.

2. Create a schedule.
You need to create and stick to a realistic daily schedule as you would if you were working a 9 to 5 job. What you don't need is to be bogged down by trying to meet a 40-hour workweek. Focus on making the hours you work productive. After learning how to make your time count without overloading your week, it will be easier for you to increase your workload over time.

  • What are the details of your project? This is where time frames and deadlines can fall apart. Before working on a project, make sure you ask your client what the project entails and if he/she expects any add-ons. For example, if you are writing content for a website and there are sections you think need to be written (mission statement, blog posts), you need to point them out and adjust your time and billing accordingly. There are times when despite all the up-front questions, your client will still pile on more work. Be direct and let the client know the additional rate and how much time this extra task will take to finish.
  • What is #1? While working at an agency, important tasks shifted depending on which account manager I spoke with--each wanted his/her task completed ASAP. As a freelancer, you must evaluate and prioritize tasks based on deadlines and the amount of work required for each project.
  • How much is too much? When you have put a lot of time into a task and you aren't coming up with the answer you need (a tagline, a design fix), it's time to take a break. Go for a walk, hit the gym, or grab a snack. After taking a short break, you can come back not only refreshed, but with multiple solutions.

3. Keep track.
Time tracking can help you compare how long you actually take to complete a task or project versus the time you estimated it would take. Tracking your time can also ensure that your billing/invoicing is accurate.

  • Where is your time going? Most time tracking software will include reporting. Use these reports to analyze how much time you are spending on certain tasks. Add notes to your time tracking indicating what made a task easier or more challenging. Reviewing these notes can help streamline future projects as you figure out what works to move the project forward and what impedes the project from completion.

Take time for yourself. Don't be so overwhelmed by work that you power through lunchtime and breaks. Schedule your breaks so you have time away from the project to relax and think about something else.

Remember, it can help to try different methods for time management, but most importantly, you need to determine what holds you back (noise, environment, time of day) and what motivates you to keep going (breaks, treats, working somewhere new).

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