This will make me sound like an absolute weirdo but here it goes: I’m a time management fanatic. I love making lists, schedules, and timelines. Crossing things off those lists is even better – seeing what you’ve accomplished in one place is so satisfying!
So, suffice it to say that I’ve tried just about every time management technique and tool that’s out there. After experimenting with all these time management tools, though, I keep coming back to one simple favorite: a cloud-based task tracker.
Why a Task Manager is My Go-To Time Management Tool
I’m a firm believer in the fact that “more complicated” doesn’t mean “better.” That’s why task trackers are always my favorites among any time management apps out there. In fact, there are several ways I use them and reasons I love them for everything from one-off articles to large multi-page projects.
Creating a Project Plan
Some projects could last weeks or months. In those cases, how do you gauge your pace, continuously knowing whether you’re on track to finish on time? The task tracker is my handy-dandy project management tool for those cases.
Right when a project launches, I break it up into individual tasks, usually items that take an hour or two each. Then, I assign one or several items each day. While setting this up at the beginning, I can see how much I need to do each day in order to hit that final deadline.
Keeping Projects Organized
Each freelancer’s business structure is different, but it’s safe to say that most of us balance several clients and projects at the same time. It’s not easy to keep it all organized and separated.
With a well-crafted task planner, you can add tags for each task. I use those tags to designate which client or projects each task applies to. This way, I can filter my tasks and see what I’ve completed or what items I have remaining for each client.
Here’s another effective time management tip: this feature is especially handing while preparing invoices. You can see all items with a particular client’s tag in one place rather than sifting through your task list from the month to pick out that client’s billable projects.
Adding Time Estimates
Truth be told, my task tracker is just part of my time management process. When I plot out tasks, I add a time estimate for each one. From there, I create a time-blocked schedule each day.
For instance, I might have four pieces to write, each estimated for an hour. I might plan the first piece for 9-10, the second from 10-11, and so on. It’s also easy to use strategies like the Pomodoro technique, which alternates 25-minute working periods with five-minute breaks.
Along the way, you can use a time tracker too to accurately track your time spent on each task. If you bill based on time, this offers a record of your billable time. Plus, it helps you see if you’re following your schedule well or if those time management skills need a tune-up.
Keep Notes Together
I’ll often have client notes about specific tasks. If everything’s in one document, it’s easy to miss those specifics when the time comes. Instead, I use my task tracker to attach notes to any task that has them.
For instance, if you’re a web developer, your client might have particular parameters or ideas for their homepage, others for their contact page, and so on. With attached notes in your task management system, all the details are right there when you start on that task. This is also a good time management technique because you save time by not rooting through pages of notes each day to find anything applicable to your current task.
Track Each Deliverable’s Place in the Pipeline
With some of my deliverables, there might be a complex pipeline. For instance, a piece may need to go to an editor for review before I can send it to the final client for approval. Then, when it’s approved, I send it to their webmaster to publish it.
A task manager lets me tag each task with its status in that pipeline. That way, I can see at a glance who I’m waiting on and whether it’s time to follow up. It helps me manage time more efficiently over the course of time because I’m not constantly checking each task’s status to make sure nothing falls through any cracks.
Collaborate with Multiple Team Members
Collaborating with remote team members isn’t easy, especially when those collaborators are other freelancers in different time zones.
A great task tracker, though, lets me tag tasks with the collaborator who’s been assigned to them. This way, I can always see what’s in progress and when each item will be done.
Don’t you love when ideas come through at the least convenient times? It always happens when I’m on the train or in line at my grocery store. I could try repeating it constantly until I reach my computer, or I could use my task tracker’s mobile app instead.
The mobile app lets me add the idea directly to my to-do list. I don’t have to jot it down in a note-taking app and try to remember later that it’s there.
When it comes down to it, learning to manage your time is one of the most critical skills for any freelancer because keeping track of projects is all on your shoulders. My trick is choosing the best tools and time management software to get the job done, and I always come back to my simple yet powerful task tracker.