There’s something to be said for a 9-5 in terms of time management. Now, before you start emptying water jugs and throwing toner cartridges at me, hear me out.
In an office full of cubicles, memos, and staff meetings, someone else is ultimately in charge of your time. There’s a schedule for breaks and time off, and the amount of time you spend on social media is surely being policed in one way or another.
None of this is ideal; I understand that. But it does take a good load of the responsibility off of your shoulders.
As a freelancer, you get to set the alarm clock for whatever time you want in the morning. You’re in charge of your vacations, and you are the one who decides when it’s lunchtime.
But on top of that, you are also the person who has to set and meet deadlines instead of watching half a day’s worth of cat videos.
Okay, so you want to watch 75 minutes of cats nonchalantly batting cups of coffee off of countertops?
No problem, I do too, but cat videos are much more enjoyable at the end of the day with a chilly beer and the sweet feeling of having your to-do list wiped out.
How do you stay on top of your work day when there’s no one telling you what to do?
It’ll definitely take some practice, but hopefully, some of these 11 time management tips for freelancers will help you form a plan.
11 Insanely Useful Smart Time-management Hacks
1. Just say yes (to routine).
While you may feel like a freelance maverick with an appetite for life and an unquenchable thirst for the unknown, the truth is that you should probably establish a daily routine for yourself. Once your body and mind adjust to the familiarity of a routine, it’ll be easier to settle into “focus mode” when you sit down at your workspace.
After a few weeks of waking up and starting work at the same time each day, both your body and mind will be ready to settle into your projects.
2. Start each day with a list.
Lists are important. They’re a great way to give your workday some structure, and an even better way to score some quick motivation. Each time you cross a task off of your list, you’ll feel the satisfaction of getting real work done, as well as get a visual reminder of how close you are to the end of your day.
You’ve got to make sure your lists are realistic, though. Acknowledge what you’re genuinely capable of, and stick to that. Moving items to the next day’s to-do list can be extremely deflating, and it is a good way to start your workday on the wrong foot.
Set goals that will help you move forward in your work without causing unnecessary burnout.
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3. Move the big boulders right away.
There’s no better time to tackle your most labor/brain-intensive items than after you’ve had a hot shower, a hot breakfast, and a hot cup of coffee.
Intimidating projects are significantly less daunting when you’re feeling fresh and ready to take on the day. If it’s 2:00 pm and you haven’t taken care of those giant tasks, your exhausted brain will tell you to take care of it the next day… when you’re not so tired.
That’s what we call a never-ending cycle.
4. Rip off unpleasantries like a Band-Aid.
Every freelancer reaches a time when they have to make an uncomfortable phone call or send an awkward email to a client or business partner. Compared to the six or so hours of your workday, those nasty tasks may just take a few minutes, but it can feel easier to avoid and freak out about them all day.
Stress can absolutely affect the quality of your work, so you might as well just do a few jumping jacks, knock back a shot of… espresso, and tackle those problems as soon as you can.
5. Attend to thy sleep.
Sleep is one of the most important productivity tools you’ll ever need. When you’re well-rested, the alarm clock isn’t quite as piercing, and you’ll be better able to focus and create throughout the day.
It might mean that you have to forego an extra late-night show on Netflix, but that extra sleep will go a long way for the work you do the next morning.
Similarly, try not to work when you’re exhausted. The work you put out when you’re desperately trying to keep your eyelids open will almost always need to be overhauled the next day.
Why not spare your keyboard from drool damage, and cut down on editing time by going to bed and picking up where you left off in the morning?
6. Drive away from distractions.
I don’t know about you, but this one is the kicker for me. Between listicles about 80s cartoon revivals and articles on avoiding procrastination, the internet is the arch nemesis to my productivity.
My favorite of all the time management hacks out there is treating social media as a reward. Submitted an article? Sweet. Time to watch the new Star Wars trailer again. Smashed a deadline in 45 minutes flat? Cat videos it is. If you deliberately schedule breaks throughout your day, you’ll be less likely to experience a 2:00 pm burnout.
15 minutes of unnecessary distraction can sometimes be the difference between you getting your deadlines turned in on time and having to sheepishly ask your client for an extension.
When it’s time to roll up your sleeves and finish a task, take a few moments to put your phone on silent, turn off any other notifications, and close the email tab in your browser. Find a good instrumental playlist on your favorite streaming service, and hunker down.
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7. Carve out time for correspondence.
One of the easiest ways to get off-track is to get sucked into your inbox. Emails will forever be demanding your attention; stopping your work to attend to each email that comes in will result in you not crossing anything off of your to-do list.
Set aside specific chunks of your workday to deal with email, and leave your work time email-free. You’ll find your inbox more organized and your deadlines closer to being done.
8. Take care of yourself.
Get enough sleep, exercise a few times a week, get some fresh air, eat healthy food, meditate about the meaning of life, talk to your plants, or sing a song to your fish… whatever it takes to nurture your body, mind, and emotional health is important and necessary.
If you are suffering, your work will, too.
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9. Time management with tech? We say yes!
There are countless apps and websites out there designed to help you streamline your day.
Sites like Rescuetime, Toggl, TimemyLife helps you track the time you spend on different tasks, and programs like Freedom actually restrict your social media and web-browsing capabilities during designated time periods.
The key to time management as a freelancer is awareness, and if you can add some tools to your belt that keep you on track and aware, you should definitely do that.
There’s no shame in admitting you don’t have the willpower to avoid all of those mug-swatting kitties. There’s an app for that, you know?
10. Break a huge project into bite-sized pieces.
Another big hurdle for me is getting over the intimidation of large projects. I’ve been known to mentally paralyze myself over big projects for weeks, simply because the size of them seems so difficult to tackle.
The best way to overcome this is to break the project into manageable chunks you feel confident in accomplishing. You wouldn’t try to fit an entire pizza in your mouth, would you? I’m hoping you’d divvy it up into reasonable slices… nobody wants to choke on something they love… especially pizza.
The same goes for big projects.
My favorite way to do this is by using the Pomodoro Technique. By the time you’ve completed a few of these tasks, the entire projects will seem to shrink in size, and you’ll be able to finish it out like a champ.
11. Just say no (when you need to).
Man, making money is awesome, right? And when someone approaches you wanting to pay you more money for a new project? Even more awesome, right!?
Well, when it’s three hours before a deadline and you haven’t made a dent in that same project, it’s not going to feel quite so awesome. All of the productivity hacks in the world aren’t going to be able to save you if you’ve taken on too much work.
It can be easy to get sucked into the “super busy = super important” mentality. The reality of “super busy” is that it often means “too busy”, and too busy usually results in missed deadlines and bad word-of-mouth. That’s not good for anyone.
Respect your business, respect your time, and be aware of your capabilities so that you can say no when you need to.
Assess your needs and find what works.
You left the cubicle life so that you could be in charge of your time. That’s a big decision and a hard move to make, so it’s important not to squander any precious time.
There are millions of time management tips for freelancers out there, and not every one of them is going to be right for you. Finding the productivity hacks that work for your business involves a lot of honest self-reflection.
- What kinds of things are your distraction Kryptonite?
- What activities inspire you and enrich your life?
- Which tools can help you eliminate those distractions or help you get organized?
- How can you take better care of yourself so you can bring your A-game every day?
And most importantly, what’s it going to take for you to be able to watch those cat videos guilt-free?
Answer a few of these questions and share your own productivity hacks in the comments below. I’d love to know how you stay motivated!
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