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Setting Priorities and Goals: The Freelancer’s Guide

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In so many ways, freelancing is a dream. You can set your own hours and your own prices and you don’t have the constant stress of trying to please a stuffy boss. Freedom is the name of the game…until you realize you still have bills to pay so you actually have to hold yourself accountable.

That’s easier said than done. How do you know where to spend your time and how to balance different tasks and priorities? How do you keep yourself on track so you’re not just treading water but moving forward? 

Setting priorities and goals is a skill like anything else, so it takes instruction and practice to get it right. Start with these top tips.

Define Your “Why” Before Setting Priorities

You became a freelancer for a reason, and now it’s time to get back to basics. Sure, freelancing has plenty of advantages, but what was the key idea that made you take the leap? 

Maybe you wanted the freedom of being self-employed. Maybe you wanted to spend less time working and more time with your loved ones. Maybe you wanted the power to grow your income or create a business empire.

Define the “why” for you: the top benefit you want to get from freelancing. Write it down and use this to keep the big picture in mind while you’re goal setting and prioritizing.

Work Backward in Goal Setting and Prioritizing

Most of us want our freelancing careers to keep building and thriving more each year. It’s great to have that ambition, but if you don’t know how to make it a reality, you’ll stay stuck. Instead, put your dreams into action by setting goals and priorities that will create the roadmap you want.

Start by thinking about where you want to be one year from now. Maybe you want to be making $100,000 per year by that time, which works out to $8,333 per month.

From there, work backward at various increments. Let’s say you’re currently making about $6,000 per month now, so each month you need to up your income by about $200 to hit that goal of $8,333 in one year. Set a goal to make $6,200 next month, then $6,400 the following month, and so on.

By working backward like this, you make those long-term goals more manageable and you have short-term goals that you know will lead to your long-term goal. You can even use this plan to set daily goals that add up to your monthly goal.

Use Percentages to Block Your Time

Why is setting priorities important? Because you aren’t just doing your “production work,” you’re managing a business. You need to make time for business housekeeping like invoicing and emailing on top of your production work and taking steps to grow your business. How do you fit it all in? 

Start by taking those three tasks and deciding how much time to devote to them each day, giving each one a percentage. Then, use that percentage to create a time-blocked schedule.

Let’s say you want to spend 70% of your time on production work, 20% on business growth like courting new clients, and 10% on business housekeeping. If you want to work an 8-hour day, this works out to about 5.75 hours in production work, 1.5 hours in business growth, and 45 minutes in housekeeping.

From there, create an actual schedule for each day. Maybe 8am – 8:15am is for housekeeping, then you spend three hours in production work before doing more housekeeping from 11:30 to 11:45, moving on to business growth after lunch from 12:45-2:15, and so on. This ensures that you’re truly making time for all the critical aspects of your business on a daily basis.

Schedule Regular Task-Prioritizing Sessions

To-do lists are my jam. I always have a task list to turn to so I can keep up with my projects and responsibilities for each client. The problem is that it can be overwhelming to look at that list and try to figure out which task to tackle next.

That’s why you need to plan time into your schedule to prioritize your to-do list. Once every week or so, take 15-30 minutes to go down the list and re-order it based on what needs to be done first. This might depend on your clients’ deadlines, your income goals, or other factors.

Setting priorities for your to-do list makes it easy to always know your next step. When you finish one task, you just move on to the next task on the list because you know it’s the next highest priority. No more analysis paralysis trying to figure out your next project.

Track. Adjust. Repeat.

This is a biggie. You don’t just need to set goals, you need a clear way to measure whether you’re meeting them. You may have heard of the acronym SMART for goal-setting: your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Think “bring in one new client this month” as opposed to “spend more time on new clients.”

Have a way to track your progress toward each goal, like a simple spreadsheet or reporting software. Add a task to your to-do list every week or every month (depending on your goal’s timeline) to check your progress and see if you’re on track. If you aren’t, develop a plan for what to do differently next time.

Mastering How to Set Goals and Priorities in Freelancing

Setting priorities and goals is one of the most challenging parts of freelancing because, in most jobs, our bosses set the goals for us. If you can master this skill, though, there will be no holding you back from the success of your dreams. All the tips above are things you can do today, right now, so hop to it!


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