Time Management for Freelancers

 In Business

As an extremely busy month draws to a close, I’m finally able to take a breath and reflect a back on how I’ve progressed toward my goals.

  • I’ve been working on client projects that include illustration, art for mobile games, web design, and print design, and many of them are about to wrap up.
  • I helped roll out Octobercup, a fun month-long illustration collab that Pretty Picture Club did in conjunction with our friend Wijtze Valkema of Drip For Drip.
  • I came up with an illustration series called Halloween Hell Train, which I drew and shared on Twitter and Instagram throughout the month.
  • I launched, promoted, and successfully funded my first Kickstarter campaign.
  • Somehow I still managed to keep up with all my household chores and parental duties (driving my daughter to school, swim lessons, and so on).

Taking inventory of your accomplishments – both short-term and long-term – is a great way to help keep on track and remind yourself that you are making progress, despite how it sometimes feels in the midst of it.

I’ve had friends ask, “how do you manage so many things at once without going crazy?” So this seems like a great opportunity to share some of my time management tips to help other freelancers who struggle with juggling many things at once.

Plan your day in modular blocks of time.

If I have multiple things I’m working on, I will block out chunks of the day to work on each one. It’s tempting to not plan your day, and jump between writing emails, illustrating, and other tasks, but it’s inefficient and makes it harder to focus.

I usually open my day by catching up on emails and updating my task list on Trello. Then I make 1 to 2-hour blocks of time to work on individual projects or tasks. It can be painful to purposely avert focus from some projects in favor of others, but ultimately I find that my work product is improved and I get things done quicker.

Try to go dark on social media as often as you can bear.

Each morning when I’m getting up to speed on emails, I also usually make any Twitter/Instagram posts I have planned and get up-to-date on my feeds. After that point, I close out of those tabs in my browser and only check a few times throughout the rest of the day. I’m not always perfect at this, but social media can be such a massive distraction, especially from tasks that require extreme focus. The longer you can pry yourself away, the better.

Stay aware of milestones and deadlines for all your tasks.

All it takes is 3 or 4 jobs on your docket before time management can become overwhelming. When I have jobs that are larger in scope, or ones with distant deadlines, to avoid procrastinating I usually set milestones for myself (if the job doesn’t already have specific due dates built-in). Week-to-week I always assess which milestones are impending on each project, and allocate time accordingly.

At the end of each work day, take a quick mental inventory of where you started, where you ended up, and what still remains to be done. Break more daunting projects into bite-sized pieces and they’re not so bad.

Consider auditing your own routine.

If you’ve been freelancing a while, you probably have a general workday routine. Take a step back and think about that routine. Where do you waste time needlessly? Do you perform redundant tasks you could automate, simplify, or outsource? How often are distractions keeping you from working? Reassess where you can trim the fat, because over the span of the year, even small time wasters can really add up.

Know (and take advantage of) your own work tendencies.

I am the most focused and productive in the morning. To capitalize on this, I almost always schedule more important or difficult work in that timeframe. By afternoon my efficiency is reduced, so I like to do more bite-sized or simpler tasks in that window. Know when you do your best work and plan around it. There’s nothing worse than feeling drained and unfocused mid-afternoon and the only thing left on your to-do list is that one huge task you’ve been putting off.

Reward yourself.

I’m not a big fan of the “hustle” culture that hangs like a cloud over the freelancing and entrepreneurial world. Working 20 hour days all week every week isn’t something to be proud of – it means there are massive inefficiencies in how you conduct your business.

Managing time is important so you can be productive, but at the end of the day you’re only human. Be sure you’re also blocking out time to shut off your brain. Whether that’s a dedicated window each day for lunch or watching TV, or something else, just do it! If you don’t have downtime in some capacity, you’ll just burn out and you won’t be making your best work.

You probably noticed I didn’t suggest anything granular for time management, like the Pomodoro method or time tracking apps. In my opinion, these just create more stress and problems than they’re worth. I like to keep things broad and flexible, so I have just enough structure to keep on track without minutiae getting in my way.

No matter how well you keep organized and manage your time, there will still ALWAYS be times where you feel overwhelmed and stressed. Those are great times to reflect on your processes and your standing as a freelancer, which may include solutions like accepting less work, charging higher rates, or subcontracting work.

Where do you struggle with time management the most? Do you have a cool strategy I didn’t even touch on? Let me know!

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