There’s an old Chinese saying that says, “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” For both freelancers and businesses, standing still means losing money. It's the reason why moving forward is essential. But it's equally important to move forward by doing the right things at the right time and by moving in the right direction. It all connects to the ability to plan and control your time: in other words, time management.
Properly managing your time or the time of your employees greatly impacts the ability to accomplish goals. In fact, establishing goals is part of the time management process. Unclear goals and faulty priorities may eat up time you don’t have. Time management is not just about allocating duration to tasks, but also about monitoring where time actually goes. Read along to find out more about its benefits, as well as steps that help you work more efficiently.
Benefits of Time Management
Too many freelancers put time management skills in the “nice-to-have” column rather than the “must-have” column. They tell themselves they’ll get around to it when they have time...which they of course never do because they don’t manage their time well. There are several key benefits to learning time management strategies that should send it to the top of your priority list.
Completing Tasks on Time
When you plan effectively and you start exercising conscious control of your time, the concept of deadlines shifts. It goes from a stress point to a productivity or efficiency point. Whether you are a freelancer, you’re an independent contractor, or you’re managing a business, you surely understand the importance of deadlines. Research conducted on their effectiveness showed that human brains are wired in such a way that when tasks are placed in time-sensitive boxes, a higher level of attention is directed and these tasks are completed on time.
Improved Work Quality
Managing time correctly involves not only completing tasks within the set deadlines but also allocating time and prioritizing the right way. Take into account the complexity of the different tasks and the goals you’ve set. Allocating more time to difficult tasks, setting realistic deadlines, and setting aside non-essential tasks will allow you to deliver better results. However, lack of punctuality and procrastination are dangerous signs of poor time management. Consider all aspects when setting deadlines and allocating your time.
A Better Personal Life
It’s no secret that successful time management results in working more effectively. This automatically translates to spending fewer if any hours on overtime. No more working weekends or other extra efforts necessary to get things done. Managing time correctly opens the door to better separating work from your personal life. It also helps to enjoy the latter so much more.
Tips to Master Time Management
Now that I have you excited about all the benefits of time management, how can you make it happen? Each person needs to find their own strategies that fit best with their workflows, but here are some top tips you can try.
Schedule and Break Down Each Deadline ASAP
The chances are that your client work comes in the form of large projects rather than short, one-off tasks. When that happens, you need a clear idea of what you need to get done and when. In fact, I’d suggest that you break down the to-do list before you accept the project.
As soon as the client proposes the project, take it and break it down into a to-do list of smaller tasks. Then, divide up those tasks across each day and see how long you can expect the project to take. Make sure to leave room for other client projects that may pop up.
With a large project, it can be impossible to know if a client’s long-term deadline is practical. When you break it down and schedule it out, it becomes far clearer whether you can work with their deadline or whether you need to suggest a longer timeline.
When you’ve agreed to the project, this strategy also helps you stay on track so you can know that if you stick to this schedule, you’ll finish the project on time.
Time-blocking is the top technique I use for balancing all my freelance clients and their needs and let me tell you, it’s a game-changer. I maintain a planner where I keep track of what I need to do each day. At the end of every workday, I look at my tasks and meetings for the following day and write out a distinct, detailed schedule for the following day.
For instance, I might plan to catch up on emails from 8-8:15, then work on one blog from 8:15-10, then a different article from 10-11:15, and so on. This has a few great benefits.
First, it takes the guesswork out of the day. I don’t have to stop between tasks to figure out what my next priority needs to be in order to meet my deadlines – all I have to do is follow the plan.
Second, it shows me exactly what I’ll get done in the course of the day if I stay on track, making it easy to see how I’m progressing toward my week-long or month-long goals.
Third, it helps me focus. It’s easy to start working on something, lose track of time, and end up spending far longer on it than you should. With a start and end time decided, I have a goal to work toward so I don’t leave myself open to those time-sucking black holes.
Plan Your Day Accordingly
We all have distractions and struggles, especially in the COVID-19 era. That’s left most freelancers asking, “How can I manage my time when my kids are distance-learning or while my spouse is working at home?”
As you’re working out your schedule for the day, think about what parts of the day tend to be the most productive or the most distraction-heavy. Plan the most thought-intensive tasks for the time of the day when you’re typically the most productive.
For instance, you might find that you’re more productive in the morning. Or, perhaps you have kids at home during the morning but your partner is available to watch them in the afternoon, so schedule the brain-heavy tasks for the afternoon.
Set S.M.A.R.T Goals
If you don’t know what S.M.A.R.T goals are, you’ll be glad to get to know them. S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound.
For each new project you have, or even for your own business goals, set S.M.A.R.T goals to help you stay on track. Make sure you have a specific metric for success so you know when you have achieved them. These can be short-term or long-term goals as long as they help you stay focused on the ultimate goal - to enjoy your life as a freelancer!
Get Rid of Distractions
Focus is your number one ally when it comes to mastering time management. By channeling your attention toward your work and the tasks at hand, you’ll be able to complete them much faster and deliver higher quality.
This could take some strategizing. Maybe you can’t work in the same room as the TV because you’re tempted to turn it on, or perhaps you need to set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” so you don’t get distracted by the family group chat. Regardless, pay attention to what your top distractions are and find ways to cut them out.
Make Use of Technology
There are plenty of options when it comes to time management software and there is a good reason why all project managers love this bit of technology. It makes planning and time allocation easier while also enabling the verification and revision process.
Everyone has their preferences, so the name of the game is experimentation. Play around with different project management tools and see which one is the best fit for your needs and your workflow.
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 had 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.
Try a Time-Tracking Tool
Developing excellent time management habits starts with knowing where you’re spending your time, and a time-tracking tool makes that easy. If you charge by the hour, a time-tracker is even more important because it gives you a distinct record of your time and takes the manual tracking out of your hands.
It also helps to use this time-tracker for non-billable business management tasks like invoicing, emails, and so on. This way, you’ll be able to see where all your time is going so you can see which tasks to automate.
If you are worried about forgetting to start and stop timers, you could also try an automatic Mac time tracker app like Timing that works without timers.
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 while 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 emails, wasting tons of time yet still ending 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.
Learn to Say “No”
You may have heard the saying that the best way to organize too much stuff is to have less stuff. The same is true in your schedule: the best way to balance an over-full schedule is to have fewer tasks to do. After all, there comes the point when the best time management in the world can’t cram more work into fewer hours.
This is why you need to be able to say “no.” Turn down projects that aren’t as productive or profitable or those that don’t align with your current goals for your business. No one knows your schedule better than you do, so you need to be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t fit in.
Use Your 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 media or use it as an “end of a session” break, when 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.
Making Your Time Work Better for You
Effective time management is important for you to have the freedom you desire as a freelancer. Without processes in place and hard work put in, you won’t get that work-life balance that freelancing is supposed to offer.
But with good time management, you will flourish! Not only will you feel more productive, but you will also achieve better results for your clients, your business, and your overall life!