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3 ways to manage your time as a freelancer
With no manager peering over from the other side of the office, it’s up to you to organize your time as a freelancer, and 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 take a brief look at three of the most popular time management techniques, 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 design or writing freelance contract.
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).
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 my 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. I often find myself modifying the timings based on how well I’m working and how difficult the current project is.
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 (the kitchen is on fire)
- Important but not urgent (your actual work and everything key to it)
- Not important and urgent (a friend calls on the phone)
- Neither important nor urgent (Facebook… unless you work at Facebook).
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, and you may need to adapt it to suit your needs. However, I’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.
3. Getting things done
Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done method often crops up in discussions of time management systems 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.
The bits of GTD that I’ve picked up have been helpful for me, particularly in enabling me 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 — I think I’ll have to invest in the book to properly start getting things done.