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How Freelancers Can Better Manage Their Time: 5 Key Tips

Dec 27, 2020
(updated: Dec 1, 2022)
Max 5 min read

“Time is money” is a bit of an overused expression, but it takes on a very literal meaning to freelancers. Skills like writing or graphic design are what enable us to create our businesses, and while it’s important to focus on continually improving those skills, time management might actually be the biggest game-changer when it comes to business growth.

Here’s a simple example. Harry and Amanda are both freelance writers. They both charge the same rate – 10 cents per word. They’ve also both written the same amount of content this week – 10,000 words. That’s $1,000 each. And you might think they made the same amount of money. But it wasn’t even close. Let’s talk about why.

Amanda’s a time management pro. The total time she spent writing this week was about 20 hours. Harry, however, often procrastinates and gets distracted by social media. His work week came out to about 40 hours. So even though Harry and Amanda both took home 1000 bucks, Amanda made $50/hour and Harry made $25/hour. See? Big difference.

So how can you be more like Amanda? Let’s talk about different ways to manage your time more effectively.

Our Top 5 Time Management Tips

Whether you’re just getting started as a freelancer or you’re a veteran who’s hit a bit of a productivity wall, these tips and tricks should make your next workday more efficient.

Make To-Do Lists

Multiple studies have shown that we perform better when we write down what we need to do. Psychologist David Cohen provides three reasons why the human brain loves to-do lists. They:

1. Reduce general life anxiety

2. Provide structure

3. Serve as proof of achievement

Some of this is psychological, like the pure joy we get out of crossing off something we’ve accomplished. But a big part of to-do lists is organization. When we create one, we create a plan. And then we follow that plan. As freelancers, we’re our own boss, meaning that there’s no one around telling us what to do. By building out these plans, we give ourselves the organization that other people get naturally from a more standard workspace or a boss.

But make sure you stick to making practical to-do lists. Writing down 20 things you want to get done that day – when you know you’ll only hit five max – might instead make you feel as though you’ve accomplished very little. An awesome tool to check out is the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s a great way to prioritize tasks from most important to least important. Check out the explanation here.

Use Time Tracking Software

You won’t be able to manage your time well if you don’t know where you’re spending it. Time tracking software takes this burden off of your plate. It’s especially helpful if you tend to charge clients by the hour because it provides you a record of how you spent your time and takes the manual part out of the equation.

Take Mindful Breaks

Humans need breaks. We aren’t built to be “always on”. In fact, our attention spans have been decreasing steadily over the past 15 years. Good time management also means placing necessary breaks into your working day schedule.

Go for a walk. Listen to music. Watch TV. Surf Instagram. Any type of break is okay – what’s important is to avoid mixing break and work together. Set time aside to enjoy life without thinking about freelancing. You’ll be more productive while you do work, and you’ll also get to enjoy time away from it without focusing on deliverables.

Eliminate Distractions

Put the phone away when you can. Don’t work in the same space as a family member if you easily get caught up in conversation. Working from home has its perks – the freedom, lack of commute, and others –but your house can sometimes be distraction central.

I’ve personally found that I associate different areas in my house with different things. The living room and kitchen are for leisure. My bedroom desk and dining room table can be used for work. Learning to separate work and leisure spaces are more important for minimizing distractions, especially for freelancers working from home full-time.

Stop Multitasking

Although we often think that multitasking is an efficient way to get a bunch of work done, it’s often the opposite case. It’s been proven to reduce productivity, add stress, kill creativity, and stunt your ability to concentrate. Not directions you want to go when it comes to project management.

Instead, focus on one task at a time. Go back to that to-do list, choose the item you’ll spend the next hour on, and block out the remainder of that list. Once you finish, cross it off, take a break, and get to item number two. Not only will you be more efficient; you’ll reduce your levels of stress and be a happier freelancer.

The Secret of Time Management Techniques

It’s important to keep in mind that different things work for different people. These are our recommendations, but what works for me might not work best for you. Pick and choose what best fits your style of work. Continually evaluate and adapt when you find techniques that work and don’t work. It’s a constant journey of learning and improving!

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