The phrase time is money has never been more true than it is for freelancers. Most of us get paid by the project, not the hour, and we’re not getting paid for a lot of the behind-the-scene tasks that go into running a freelance business. Time is a limited resource, so we have to manage it carefully.
While there are enough time management strategies, tips, and tools available to make your head spin, there are a few universal rules to increase productivity that anyone can, and should, start implementing right away. After all, as a freelancer, time is your most valuable resource; you need to treat it as such.
It is essential to set goals, not just for your business, but for your life. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish — both personally and professionally — in a year? In five years? What does having a perfect life look like to you? Knowing what you want, and the steps needed to get there, is like having a roadmap for your life; you know where you are headed, and you can start planning the trip.
Plan Your Day
It is essential to spend some time, either first thing in the morning or the night before, to plan out what you will be doing, and when. Without a plan, you can wind up wasting a good chunk of time on nonessential tasks. Plan out what needs to be done, and when you’re going to it.
Know when to work
Whether it’s the wee hours in the morning or the middle of the night, everyone has a certain time of day when they’re most productive. This should be your sacred work time. Know when this time is and reserve it for your most important work. All other tasks and appointments should be scheduled around this time.
Block chunks of time for similar tasks
When planning your day, schedule similar tasks together. Have a set chunk of time for checking emails and interacting on social media. Group business and personal phone calls together in one time chunk. It takes time for your brain to switch gears each time you switch tasks; your productivity will increase when you spend larger chunks of time focusing on similar activities.
Another benefit of scheduling chunks of time for tasks is that it gives a deadline for completing those tasks. Parkinson’s Law states that the time it takes to complete a task will grow to fill the time that is available. Imposing a deadline for tasks ensures that they are completed in a timely manner.
Schedule extra time for interruptions
There are always going to be interruptions to your work day. It’s inevitable. A neighbor that stops by, a friend that calls for a chat, a kid that gets sick at school, a dishwasher that sprays water all over the floor. These things happen; we need to be prepared for them. Schedule a free 30 minutes every few hours. If you need these time chunks to play catch up after being interrupted, they’re available. If you don’t, then you are ahead of your day!
Working from home poses all sorts of distractions — the phone, the laundry, the dog. While not all distractions can be avoided, there are a few things you can try to keep them at a minimum.
Let others know when your work time is
The easiest way to keep friends, family, and neighbors from interrupting your work time is to let them know when your work time is. Most people will respect that you are working and won’t interrupt you.
Turn off your phone
Phone calls are a terrible distraction. Even with voice mail and caller ID, I still struggle to resist checking the phone every time it rings. Turning off the ringer is a simple, effective solution, if it is possible for you. Personally, I only do this when my children are at home. It’s a great thing in the summer, but just not feasible during the school year.
Turn off your alerts
Whether it’s the ding of an incoming e-mail or the banner that lets you know someone commented on your Facebook post, computer alerts are more distracting than the phone. Turn off your alerts during your sacred work time! Even if e-mail is your primary method of communicating with your clients, you don’t have to respond immediately. Schedule a chunk of time, a few times a day, for responding to e-mails and interacting on social media.
Remember to Recharge
While it’s certainly true that as freelancers the more we work the more we earn, we can’t forget that we’ll be able to get more done if we take care of ourselves. Eat properly. Exercise. Get a good night’s sleep. Take breaks. Get out and have fun. If you’re finding it hard to remember to devote time to yourself, schedule it into your calendar as an appointment! Always remember that you didn’t become a freelancer to be held hostage in your home office.