As a new freelancer, a schedule with so much open time can be daunting. You are now the sole person in charge of your responsibilities and the only thing standing between yourself and either dazzling success or utter financial ruin.
Sounds a little scary, right?
Even seasoned freelancers can struggle making the most of their days as their responsibilities and client lists grow. If you’re trying to figure out how to manage your time, a little pre-planning and focus can go a long way.
These tips can help any freelancer, from novice to expert, become more focused and efficient when building and managing their business.
Start by tracking your time.
If you’re figuring out how to manage your time, you first need an idea of how you’re using your time. Spend a week or so tracking your efforts without making any changes to your normal scope of activities.
You’ll be able to be more realistic in your future time planning because you’ll know what you actually need to make your day/week work, as opposed to creating an overly optimistic plan, then feeling frustrated when it doesn’t fit your actual life or work style.
Set aside 15 minutes to set goals.
When you start your work day, it can be easy taking the path of least resistance, diving straight into email and responding to messages. However, this approach might not be the best way to manage your time.
Instead of letting the most recently mentioned items dictate your schedule, spend a few minutes at the beginning of your day setting goals and organizing your efforts. You can use an action priority matrix for this, or can just start with something as simple as putting exclamation marks on your to do sheet or dividing items into priority tasks and non-priority tasks.
Your task list doesn’t have to be on paper, either. A digital task list can make it easier to sort items, add dates and more, so you can manage it over time and across locations, adding notes and context.
Use phone calls for important tasks.
Taking time away from your computer specifically to make a phone call can feel counterintuitive. After all, it pulls you away from the work at hand and can take several minutes where sending an email may only take a few seconds.
However, if you have a complex issue to deal with, or one with nuance, email chains can quickly spiral out of control. You can frustratingly keep going back and forth in email - which isn’t a great way to manage your time - and still end up with no resolution.
Picking up the phone for a couple of minutes can make it easier to be clear and get to the point in your conversation. And, it can reduce the potential for misinterpretation. If it is helpful, follow up with a recap email afterward so you have documentation of the issues discussed.
Stay focused on the task at hand for set periods of time.
Human brains aren’t truly capable of multi-tasking. You may think you’re handling several things at once, but in reality, your brain is just switching back and forth between topics.
This approach can reduce your efficiency and can actually cause both tasks to take longer than if you handled one at a time. As a freelancer, you have to wear many hats, so it makes sense to proactively plan out your week and block time for specific roles.
For example, if you have business development follow-ups to do, handle them all in one sitting. The same goes for creating social media posts to promote yourself or for managing your website.
When you focus on the task at hand, you’ll be able to finish it more quickly and with greater focus. You can sketch out time frames throughout your week that make sense and can even use a time tracker to keep you focused as you go through each time block.
Use social media time wisely.
Many freelancers use social media groups as resources for questions, feedback and business development.
These groups can provide great value. However, spending too much time hopping on and off social media during the day can be distracting and can waste your valuable working hours.
Knowing your weaknesses is important when it comes to social media so you can figure out how to manage your time appropriately. Social media prospecting and networking can be a valuable business activity, but only if it stays focused and doesn’t sprawl into infinite scrolling.
Create a time block for social or use it as an “end of a session” break, where you take a few minutes to review your group postings before heading to lunch or for a workout. You’ll avoid using it as a distraction or interruption during your work, and you won’t end up spending too long on it because you’ll know you have somewhere else you need to be.
Set time for routine tasks.
Many people plan out their days optimistically with a 100% focus on their critical responsibilities for the day. However, this approach can be harmful because it doesn’t factor in all those little responsibilities a freelancer must handle on their own.
When sketching out your day, week or month, allot time for processes like writing proposals, handling financials, invoicing, following up on leads and prospecting. Some freelancers dedicate a certain day of the week to handling internal business, as opposed to scattering their efforts throughout the week.
When you’re planning how you’ll manage your time, give yourself some grace.
It’s a learning process and as a freelancer, things are always going to pop up that can throw you off schedule. The key to success is building a schedule that allows for flexibility where needed, while at the same time giving proper priority to the things that will help your business grow and succeed.