There’s a really important part of freelancing that few people talk about:
Managing your time.
Not having a schedule doesn’t sound like too much of a problem though, does it? After all, you’ve got no boss looking over your shoulder or watching what time you show up at and checking your output; so, what does it matter if you’re a bit more relaxed with how you manage your time?
The thing is, being relaxed or disorganized with your freelance schedule compromises the amount of work you can get done. What’s more, if you’re the type of person who tends to leave things until the last minute – there’s a good chance that this lack of effective scheduling will also compromise the quality of the work you produce.
If you’re a freelancer, you’ll find that many of your fellow freelancers are very relaxed with their time management. If you want to stand out as being more professional, more hardworking, and more productive than the rest – getting an effective schedule in place is one of the very first places to start – or, if you’re already an established freelancer, it’s an amazing place to find a bit of extra productivity. Cover photo credit: JESHOOTS
Understand what works for you
Photo by Gregory Pappas
I have a designer friend who swears his best work is done between 11pm – 2am. Another of my friends gets up at 5am to code. For me, starting work late in the day would just make me anxious until I actually sat down to my keyboard.
Unless you have a client who insists you mirror their working hours, freelancing allows you to be as flexible as you wish – so use that to your advantage.
There’s actually some significant psychology behind whether you’re a ‘morning person’ or a ‘night owl’ – especially since our internal body clock has such an enormous impact on hormone levels, body temperature, alertness, intelligence and memory function.
Creating a schedule should always start with identifying when you’re most productive – or indeed, when you just can’t stay focused on anything. Identify which chunk of the day is best for work – and which is best for boxsets.
Identify your very best working hours
Photo by Brad Neathery
Now you’ve got a block of time dedicated to work at some stage during the day, it’s worth spending a couple of days understanding how your focus and productivity comes and goes during that time. Anyone who says they simply sit down and can work flat-out all day is either trying to impress you, or they’re outrageously unaware of what their actually day looks like.
If you have an 8-hour working window in your day, there will be times when your energy is highest. What’s more, there’s likely to be particular times when the phone doesn’t ring quite so much – or you can get away with not answering your email for a couple of hours.
These times are golden – and you should ideally block them off and use them to work through your most important tasks. Not totally sure which your most important tasks are? Take a glance at how to put together an Eisenhower Matrix to help you create some priorities.
Of course, there are times when you’re not quite on your A-game, and these are good times to reserve for slightly less-urgent tasks – things you need to do that perhaps don’t require as much creativity or technical ability. For me, these times are reserved for admin, sending invoices, checking emails, or finding and reading articles that’ll help me with upcoming projects.
Outline boundaries and schedule your communication
Although it might feel like the right or expected thing to do, having your email inbox open constantly or being alerted to every message or call that vibrates your cell phone can really throw your schedule to the dogs.
For the times that represent your most naturally productive slots through the day, consider switching your phone to airplane mode – or, at the very least, silence your notifications from all but your most important apps and contacts. Both Apple and Android phones have functions where you can set ‘Do Not Disturb’ – and, if you dig into the settings a little, you’ll be able to allow alerts from people you can’t afford to miss.
For the clients whose calls might go unanswered, it’s useful to let them know about your schedule. You might even want to add a line to your email signature that outlines when they can expect to get through on the phone or get a reply. Generally speaking, no one’s going to mind that you actually sit down and focus on your work for a few hours here and there – in fact, it can be a really strong indication that you’re a freelancer who’s got a solid work ethic – so don’t be afraid to let people know.
Be honest about schedule adjustments
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Working out what an effective schedule looks like for you will probably take a couple of days – maybe even a week. It’s not unusual to start out with fantastic intentions – only to find out that they go by the wayside when real-life kicks in.
There’s a real balance to be struck at this point. While your schedule does need to work around some life elements, don’t let unimportant interruptions derail your plans. Having a schedule is one thing – but sticking to it and getting the most out of it will take some discipline.
This is another area where having an Eisenhower Matrix will be helpful. When a distraction pops up, make a note of it – and honestly decide if it’s urgent and important enough to handle right now – or whether, going forward, it might be the kind of task that you put to one side – to be dealt with when you’re not at peak productivity.
Plan to have breaks
For some people, breaks are a non-negotiable – but, for others, they’re a luxury too far. The truth is, studies show that working flat-out with no breaks is actually counterintuitive, and can actually lead to burnout.
As such, plan to have lunch. Plan to step away from your desk or put your camera down a couple of times during your day. For most freelancers, time and money are closely linked, so it can be tempting to just power-through. If you can be firm with yourself and understand that you’ll benefit from a bit of brain down-time, the quality of your work either side of the break will more than make up for it.
Formalize it and plan around it
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When you’ve got a few days under your belt and you’ve adapted your schedule to work around real life, it’s useful to formalize it.
For me (a natural procrastinator who loses track of time very easily) I double down on this to make sure my patchy discipline gets all the help it can. As I look to my right, I’ve got an office whiteboard that’s got a weekly and daily schedule written in – and I have a little Google Assistant sat beside my screen that alerts me to move on to other tasks at various times through my day. People think I’m organized – the truth is actually very different – I just make sure that I’ve got a firm enough schedule to not give me any room to stray from what I should be doing!
Write your schedule down. Consider using alerts to prompt you to work on your different tasks through the day. Think about giving yourself start and finish times – and, see what happens when you stick to your new day. Although you might commonly hear that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, this isn’t strictly true – it usually actually takes much longer to turn your schedule into a habit – often around two months. Don’t be disheartened though, even if it’s a little forced to begin with, you’ll see quick improvements to your productivity.
A solid freelance schedule will set you apart from most other freelancers
We’ve all heard it; “Ah, it must be great being your own boss, working from home, getting up when you want!” – and yeah, freelancing can be all those things – if you want to be like 90% of other freelancers out there.
The truth is, freelancing can attract some lazy people: A lack of accountability in a role attracts people who don’t like accountability. When you start to treat freelancing like the business that it is, you’ll really start to come close to your full potential. You wouldn’t let an employee half-ass their way through the day when your income, client-happiness, and mental-wellbeing were all at stake – so, create a great schedule for freelancing, and apply the same rules to your own approach.