Freelancer’s Time Management Problems

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As sweet as the freedom is, starting a freelance job is usually overwhelming. All of a sudden you have to deal with all management stuff that was off your shoulders when you were in the office. And time flies by so quickly that you barely understand what you’ve managed to do. So here’s what you should be prepared for on the other side of your paradise life as a free independent craftsman of the modern epoch:

Hectic work schedule. When you don’t have routine schedule, too many factors bring in. You procrastinate, get urgent project out of the blue, mix your family time with work, and never can predict in the morning what you’ll have to do today and what hour you’ll go to sleep.

Distractions. Checking mail or social media newsfeed only takes a couple of minutes at a time but in the end of the day you’ll be surprised how far it sets you back. Your partner, kids or friends knowing about your flexible schedule may also distract you with some errands. Remember that every time you will need extra time to switch back to the work context.

Inaccurate task estimations. Even when freelancers have the privilege to set their own deadlines, they usually take into account rough time they need to complete the task (in the best case leaving some extra time for the force-majeure). However, they often forget about all management work they will have to do including prioritization, billing, and client communication (for parallel projects as well) that take significant time. This can put deadlines in danger and add you some stress.

Unbalanced workload. Often you can be showered with projects at one time and kick heels at the other. Fearing such instability, many freelancers end up taking every project they receive. But usually that will be acting on impulse and will only put you in more stress over the deadlines.

False estimation of hour rate. Your real hour rate includes much more beyond the project work: the management tasks, communications with clients, searching for new clients, maintaining your competitive performance by upgrading your skills, increasing your web presence and participating in industry contests. Unless you know how much time exactly you spend on each of these activities, what you get per hour is less than you think.

This list of problems doesn’t mean to stop you from taking a challenge. A well-defined problem is halfway to being solved. If you relate to any of the problems above, here are 8 starting steps that will help you better organize your time and reduce the level of stress.

Organize a comfortable workplace

The definition of the comfortable workplace is a place with as little distractions as possible. Psychologically it’s easier to focus when you have a special work corner in your apartment. Avoid working in the kitchen or in the bedroom where you’ll be distracted by smells, sounds, and other people coming by. If it’s hard to create a quiet individual work corner at your place, try going to co-working. Being surrounded with working people is motivating.

Needless to say your workplace should have good light, fresh air, and a comfortable chair.

Set up your daily routine

Following schedule is good in many ways. It helps you separate your personal time from your work. It saves you energy on planning every day anew. It reduces your stress level even if your work situation is unstable.

Plan your work periods for the time of the day when you’re the most productive and when you won’t be distracted by your family duties. Maybe you prefer to split it into two blocks but make sure each block is no less than 3-4 hours otherwise you’ll spend too much time getting into the work context. Also, plan all your large breaks such as dinner. And then, follow this schedule with no excuses. Simple.

Prioritizing and planning your workload

You need to start every working day with a clear and actionable to-do list. To prepare such list, you have to prioritize your projects according to their importance and deadlines and break large goals into tasks that take less than a day. Don’t forget to plan your strategic activities such as searching for new clients, updating your website, and applying for industry contests. It’s better to put such tasks first so you don’t have a temptation to put them off till tomorrow.

Track your work time

Get a simple time clock app and start tracking every activity that you do including non-billable strategic, management, and communication work. Weekly and monthly time reports will give you a real data on how your work time is distributed. This can give you important efficiency insights (especially regarding the tasks that you usually don’t count as “work”) and help you estimate your real hour rate.

Work in short periods

It’s well known that humans can fully focus on work for quite a short period of time (studies vary from 25 to 52 minutes). So regularly mixing work sessions with short breaks will give you the best results (try Pomodoro timer or any other technique with similar approach). Learning to consciously switch your attention will help you to be less distracted both at work and at leisure periods.

Dedicate special time for administrative work

After you track all your daily activities, it may turn out that it’s more efficient to collect all your weekly administrative work (scheduling meetings, billing clients, running reports, etc.) and dedicate for it a special weekday. If you do all small routine tasks at once, they won’t interrupt your creative process.

Automate and use templates

Optimize all repetitive processes as much as you can. For instance, you can create email templates for typical stages of communication such as introducing yourself, describing your work experience, asking for project requirements, asking to leave a review on your website, etc.

Integration between the time-tracking and billing software will help automatically generate invoices based on completed activities. If you use other professional tools, you may also look for a time-tracking integration or an add-in so the time you spend in Github or Illustrator is automatically logged in.

Maximize the use of the waiting periods

Depending on the nature of your work, your work cycles can be of different length. So it’s up to you to decide what’s the best way to use the time when you’re waiting for client’s feedback. If you do short tasks that are quickly reviewed (like SEO or website layout), you probably can juggle multiple projects at once. If you take large projects that require longer approval (building a brandbook or a mobile app from scratch), you can take several projects and include some extra time to the deadlines. Or, you can use this break for the administrative or strategic work for expanding your business.