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Article | 19 Jul 2016

How to be a successful time management ninja

Posted in Freelancer, Motivation & inspiration, Learning,

The freelance life has its perks.  The freedom to work when and where you please. Being your own boss, controlling your workload and your work relationships, picking and choosing the right projects for you. But, a successful freelance career doesn’t just happen.

It takes dedication and organisation to make it work, so you can truly attain the work-life balance you’ve dreamed of. Unlike full-time employees, as a freelancer, you’re on your own. Nobody to call on for support if you’re overloaded, or to whom you can delegate that pesky admin. You have to manage everything.

What’s more, you’re likely to be juggling numerous projects, clients and ways of working, not to mention finding new business – like the swan gliding along the water, while you furiously paddle underneath!

In short, it can require ninja-like organisational and time-management skills to pull it off.

Of course, as part of The Work Crowd community, you already have a way to find projects, manage milestones and someone to invoice and chase payment on your behalf! But, if you still feel like you’re getting out of your depth, or losing control of the to-do list, here are a few handy tips to keep you on track.

• Overestimate Why do things always take longer than you think they’re going to? Why can’t you write that article in half an hour?! This is the foundation of your managing your time – being realistic about how long things will take. That means predicting how long you’ll need in an ideal world (i.e. never!) and adding on a nice healthy buffer. Chances are the client will ask at least one more question than you expected, or part of the project will be more complex than you anticipated. So, factor it all in. That way, you’ll be sure to deliver quality work, on time, while not selling yourself short.

• Schedule your tasks While it might feel like you’re being super productive, multi-tasking is generally not the best route to productivity. So, rather than jumping from one job to another, try to block time for certain jobs or clients. That way you can put all your focus on each activity before moving on to the next.

Start by setting out a rough schedule at the beginning of every week, regarding what you can get done when, and then break that down further on a day-to-day basis. This approach will also help you manage clients’ expectations about when work will be delivered.

• Block the distractions Recent research found that the average worker is distracted every three minutes, with emails, smartphones and social media making our heads spin. How often are you in the middle of a task, when the phone beeps or an email comes in, which takes you away from what you’re doing? Over the course of the day, these little interruptions can add up to a big chunk of time.

To keep your brain where it should be, try scheduling in a couple of slots each day when you can check your messages and emails, but otherwise keep them switched off. That way both your email responses, and your bigger tasks both receive your utmost attention.

• Have a break Regular breaks are also important to help manage your concentration, as your brain will naturally start to wander after a couple of hours at the computer. Some people use time-management methods such as the Pomodoro Technique, whereby your time is broken down into 25-minute intense work blocks, followed by short breaks to maintain concentration. So, if you’re struggling to stay focused, this could help.

• Track your time Timesheets are nobody’s favourite activity, but understanding where your hours are going is crucial to maximising your productivity, and your earnings. Noting down how long you’re spending on all your clients, projects and other tasks each week, means you can analyse for any inefficiencies, as well as discrepancies between what you’ve costed, and what you’ve actually delivered. If you’re constantly over-servicing a certain client, this also gives you leverage to increase what you charge further down the line.

For a more sophisticated option, there are now tools available, such as RescueTime and Toggl, that will automatically track how you are spending your time on your computer. So if you’ve accidentally been sucked into Facebook for half an hour, it will tell you!

• Learn how to say ‘no’ As a freelancer, it can be tempting to say ‘yes’ to every project that comes your way, particularly when you’re starting out. But this strategy can quickly backfire if you end up spending your whole time working on projects you’re not interested in, that don’t pay enough, or aren’t taking you in the right direction. This is when you need to get well-acquainted with the ‘n’ word!

Once you’ve been freelancing for a while, you’ll have a good idea of what kinds of work you like to take on, and those projects that leave you cold (or under-funded!) So be strict on yourself, and if it doesn’t match up, politely decline.

On the flip-side, try to ensure you have always have a bit of time spare, in case your perfect project comes along. Easier said than done admittedly, but this will avoid the frustration of having to turn down the client of your dreams!

• Outsource your non-core jobs There are some tasks, which are, to not put too fine a point on it, a waste of your time. Whether it’s organising your tax return, or cleaning the house, it doesn’t maximise your skills, and it doesn’t make you money. So pay somebody else to do it. It will free your brain, energy and diary to focus on what you do best!

For some pointers – and great offers - on handling all those life necessities, check out The Work Crowd benefits, including Housekeep, for cleaning services, Gousto, to make preparing meals easy-peasy, and Laundrapp, to take care of your laundry.

• Set boundaries You didn’t go freelance to work into the evenings and weekends, so make sure you commit to clocking off at a reasonable time. Just because your clients are working through the weekend doesn’t mean you have to. So be firm about your hours and if you’re not comfortable fielding emails and calls after those times, then don’t. Only by leaving time for your friends, family and yourself, can you really do your best job at work. Keep that in mind.