The 5 step guide to better time management for freelancers
As a freelancer working from home it’s easy for a day to go by and feel like you didn’t get enough work done. With no manager peering over from the other side of the office, it’s up to you to manage your time tracking, invoice templates, quotation templates, and more. There are a whole host of tricks, methods and habits to pick from — run a quick Web search and you’ll turn up dozens of useful ideas.
Here we’ll talk about 5 steps you can take to improve your time management and accomplish much more throughout the day. We'll also take a brief look at three of the most popular techniques which can be used to improve time management for freelancers, explaining how they work and why they might be suitable for you, knowing that some freelancers are even committing on following some of those techniques directly on their contract templates.
1. Practice tested techniques
There are some well-tested time management techniques available to increase your productivity. Two very popular ones are the Pomodoro technique and the Eisenhower Method.
1.1. The Pomodoro technique
Credited to entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo — who has since written a best-selling book about it — the Pomodoro technique breaks working time down into strict segments separated by short breaks.
The usual routine is 25 minutes of solid work followed by five minutes of downtime. For every four slots of work, you take a longer break, around 15-30 minutes. The technique also relies strongly on planning (working out the tasks to be completed in advance) and logging your progress (giving you a feeling of accomplishment).
This technique is effective because it forces you to put all your energy into those 25 minutes of work. There is no time for distractions and every minute counts towards accomplishing your next task. You will be surprised with how much you get done each hour.
Cirillo first used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to enforce the Pomodoro technique when he was a student, and the official timer still looks the same today. From our experience, the Pomodoro technique is one of the most effective: it cuts out distractions and aids focus, but it can feel a little too rigid at times. You might often find yourself modifying the timings based on how well you're working and how difficult the current project is.
1.2. The Eisenhower method
As you’ve probably guessed, the Eisenhower method is named after US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and splits up all tasks into four quadrants:
- Important and urgent (do) - the kitchen is on fire, or your client’s website has crashed and needs immediate fixing.
- Important but not urgent (decide) - your actual work and everything key to it, or your client’s website is due by the end of the month.
- Not important and urgent (delegate) - a friend calls on the phone, or replying to a comment on your latest blog post.
- Neither important nor urgent (ignore) - Facebook… unless you work at Facebook, or seeing what your friends are up to on social media.
Dwight Eisenhower once said: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”.
You may be prioritizing your tasks incorrectly based on what you think is important and urgent, while devaluing the tasks that should have a higher priority.
- Important and urgent tasks should be completed right away, according to the order of urgency.
- Important but not urgent tasks should have a start date and completion date. The majority of your tasks will fall into this category.
- Unimportant but urgent tasks can be delegated to other freelancers to save you time and allow you to focus on your most important tasks.
- Not important or urgent tasks should be ignored completely so you can better use the time in your day.
Anything labelled important is done first and in person: put out the fire in the kitchen, then get on with your work. Urgent but unimportant tasks are delegated or dealt with quickly, while everything in the final quadrant is ignored (or at least minimized as much as possible).
It’s a technique that works best for Presidents, but can also be applied when looking to refine time management for freelancers. However, you may need to adapt it to suit your needs. We’ve found it very useful at times — with so much to deal with as a freelancer besides the actual work itself, it is handy to be able to categorize all of the incoming jobs and get them into some kind of order of priority. For your own use you may need to relabel the boxes or divide them up further, and last but not least, consider time blocking for each to-do.
1.3. Getting things done
Dave Allen’s getting things done method often crops up in discussions of time management for freelancers and you’ll find it’s heavily referenced on the Web. Allen suggests focusing on the small day-to-day tasks first, then building up to the bigger picture: create a record of everything that needs to be done, then break this up into small actionable work items that you can focus on. There are six “horizons of focus”, which compare to a plane taking off.
Every bit of GTD that you pick up can prove very helpful, particularly in enabling you to focus on one job at a time rather than worrying about the overall picture every few hours. However, it does require a fair amount of preparation, review and planning to do effectively — you might have to invest in the book to properly start getting things done.
2. Minimize distractions and focus your mind
Working hard doesn’t mean much if you’re only using half of your attention. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit can be huge time wasters throughout the day.
It may be tempting to check out the latest news or see what your friends are up to while you are working, but it will hurt your overall productivity. Try using a browser extension like WasteNoTime to block specific websites while you are working.
You can specify daily time quotas for such websites or completely lock down all distracting websites during work hours. You can use the data collected from the extension to see a report of how much time you spend on different websites each day, week, or month.
Another way to eliminate distractions from your mind is to write all of your thoughts and things you need to do onto a piece of paper. Writing by hand is better for learning and memory and is more therapeutic than typing, and it will allow you to clear your mind of any distracting thoughts.
If you don’t like writing by hand and use Gmail as your main email platform then consider using Google Tasks, which is built into the sidebar of Gmail in the latest update. The “Tasks” sidebar allows you to enter tasks you need to do, start dates, end dates, and separate tasks in categories.
This tool is very helpful if you always have your Gmail open and want to add new ‘to-do’ items to a list after receiving an email.
Now that you have all of those distractions out of the way you should work on improving your focus. The most effective way to do so is to practice meditation and mindfulness.
Practicing regular meditation allows you to clear your mind of all thoughts and focus on the one task you are doing, which makes it a great time management technique for freelancers. There are many other benefits of meditation, including improving your memory and creative thinking skills.
Mindfulness is when you stay completely focused on the present moment and what you are doing. You can practice mindfulness at any time, like when you are washing dishes. Focus on the heat of the water, the texture of the dish you are washing, and the sound of the scrubbing. Exercising all of your senses allows you to stay in the present better.
If you stick to daily meditation and mindfulness you should see significant brain changes within 8 weeks.
3. Have three clear tasks to accomplish each day
It can be easy to look at your to-do list and get overwhelmed by all that you need to do. Deciding on which of your tasks should take priority for the day can be difficult at times, but a good approach for better time management for freelancers is to go with three main tasks.
Your three tasks could be ‘write that new blog article’, ‘reach out to 10 local businesses in my area’, and ‘complete 10 more seconds of my motion graphic design’. Choosing just three tasks will help you feel less overwhelmed and more focused throughout the day.
At the beginning of each day, or before the next day, decide which three tasks would make you satisfied if you finished them by the end of the day.
In the case that you finish your there daily tasks before the end of your work day, spend the rest of the day working on growing your business.
As a freelancer it can be hard to find time to grow your business since you are constantly focusing on client needs. Use the free time after completing your three tasks to strategize, create plans, and market your business.
4. Stay organized
Being disorganized is a big time waster. It’s a headache to be constantly searching for login information, notes, expenses, and files. Use an app or Google Drive to keep track of all your information and notes. Use project management tools for freelancers to keep track of your progress.
Google Drive has many fans since it is free and comes with lots of storage. You can create a folder for timesheets, another folder for client strategies and logins, one for blog posts, and whatever folders you need to stay organized.
As long as you spend a little bit of time organizing things it will save you lots of time and frustration in the future. You don’t want to waste time searching through old emails to find login information or to remember what a client asked you to change on their website last month.
5. Don’t take on every project or client that comes your way
Spreading yourself thin or taking on projects that are too time consuming can hurt your time management as a freelancer. Sometimes a project is outside of your usual scope of work and you aren’t certain about how to complete it. And sometimes a client is asking for too much for too little money.
You need to value your time and expertise and know what you’re worth. Calculate your freelance rate and don’t undervalue yourself.
You’ll manage your time much better with a higher rate because time is money. If you aren’t completing a client’s task properly when charging a high rate then they will probably drop you and find someone else to do it.
You also don’t need to spend as much time from your day on clients when you have a good rate. It allows you to focus more of your time on growing your business since you don’t need to take on as many clients to pay the bills.
It can help to find a niche customer base to focus on as well. If you do website design for example, you may wish to target only chiropractors or real estate agents. This way you know just how to deal with the client and how to build a high-converting website in their industry.
Bringing in new clients is easier if you can show them you’ve done good work for someone working in the same industry as them.
Managing your time with these 5 steps will help you feel less stressed and also get a lot more done throughout the day. For even more spare time, manage your freelance business with Bonsai's all-in-one suite - sign up for your free trial today.