One of the best things about working in the freelance economy is being your own boss, setting your own schedule, and generally controlling your workday. Ironically, these are also some of the most challenging parts of working in the freelance economy.
Proper time management is important in any line of work. However, in a traditional job you can often count on a manager or supervisor to assign tasks, check on progress, and generally keep you on track. If you’re the type of person who needs help staying focused, this is helpful.
Even if you generally don’t need oversight, it is still helpful to have structure. There are implied consequences for slacking off at work such as being removed from a project, suspension, or even termination. As a freelancer, the consequences are there but there is no such structure in place.
No Safety Net With Freelancing
It may sound cliche, but as a freelancer you are in control of your own destiny. This means the onus is on you to stay on track, complete projects, and meet deadlines in a timely fashion. There is no manager or supervisor to keep you on track, no underlings to blame, no “my alarm didn’t go off” excuses.
This is why time management tips for freelancers are important. If you’re stepping into this world for the first time, the freedom can be both a blessing and a curse. Consider these ideas for help staying on track in the world of freelancing.
Consider the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro method of time management breaks down work into manageable intervals, usually 25 minutes each. In between each 25-minute span, you pause for a short break of 3-5 minutes. In this way, a given hour would include roughly 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of break / refresh time.
The idea behind the technique is that you will be more productive if you focus on your tasks for a set period of time and take brief, regular breaks. In this way, you don’t wind up staring blankly at a computer screen for hours on end only to find that you’ve spaced out or strayed off task.
It also helps to pause from work to walk around, clear your mind, grab a drink, use the bathroom, etc. There have been several times where I’ve felt stuck while working on an article and found myself staring at a sentence wondering “where do I go from here?”
In those cases, taking a pause from actively working helps to refocus my mind. Free from obsessively staring at that sentence, I’ll grab a drink, sit on the couch for a moment, check out some sports scores, etc. In the background, my mind resets. When I sit back down at my desk a few minutes later, it’s like revisiting the problem with fresh eyes.
There are several apps and browser extensions available that mimic or replicate the technique, however a smartphone timer will work just as well.
Create and Maintain a Schedule
Being organized might not be your strong suit, but it’s a skill you’re going to have to learn if you want to be a successful freelancer. Deadlines will creep up before you know it and last minute panic is usually not the mindset you want to put forth your best work.
To be perfectly clear, a good rule for freelancing (and life) is this: everything takes longer than you think it will and you never have as much time as you think you do.
If you play fast and loose with your schedule, believing you “have plenty of time to get to it,” you will wind up in trouble. That deadline might be a week away, but trust me: a week goes by in the blink of an eye.
You will want to organize your work into manageable projects and designate time each day or week to working on them. A spreadsheet can work well for this purpose while a calendar or appointment app on your phone can set reminders for due dates.
Trust me, learn how to plan and schedule early. It will come in handy later on.
Block Out Distractions
This freelancing thing is pretty cool, right? I can work in my pajamas while sitting on the couch watching television and listening to music. Even the kitchen is right over there so I can grab a Coke whenever I want. Man, freelancing is awesome.
Make no mistake, freelance work is just that. WORK. Part of being an effective freelancer is treating it that way. This means designating a work space. For most freelancers, especially when starting out, this might be a kitchen table or desk. As you grow your freelancing business you may consider a shared office or building out a home office.
The important part is treating your work space the same way you would if you were employed elsewhere. If your desk has candy wrappers strewn about and unopened mail piling up, you aren’t doing it right. Imagine you had a boss. What would they say about your work area?
This also means NOT working on the couch while watching television. Listening to music may or may not help some people, but generally is not the best idea either. Treat your freelance career like a genuine business because that’s what it is. Eliminate distractions.