The freedom that comes with working on your own terms can be so exciting that freelancers get carried away until they take on so many clients and can no longer manage their time.
However, time management is a skill and it can be learned. In this post, I’ll be highlighting 10 smart time management tips that successful freelancers across several niches have employed to keep both their sanity and income up.
Time management tips for successful freelancers
To ensure you aren’t overwhelmed by workload and have time for other areas of your life, you must:
1. Say NO to multitasking
Contrary to popular belief, a study has shown that trying to do more than one task at a time reduces your efficiency. This is because your mind doesn’t get to give enough attention to either of the tasks.
This opens you up to mistakes and demands that you spend more time (instead of saving) correcting what you missed.
Aside from mistakes, when you try to do several tasks at the same time, your mind constantly goes back to what you have done before to retrace your steps and flow in the sequence of what you were doing.
These seemingly minor setbacks can accumulate into several hours when you continue to do it day by day.
Like Cal Newport explained in the productivity cult classic, Deep Work, when you focus on just one task at a time, you give it your best and save time that can be used for other productive activities or rest.
2. Maximize a to-do list and checklist
I’ve noticed in my few years as a freelancer that one impediment to my productivity is mental fatigue.
This will be especially true for you if you are into creative-type freelancing where the success of your work is largely dependent on the state of your mind. So you would want to keep your mind unclogged as much as possible.
Having a to-do list for all your activities for the day is one way to achieve this.
Rather than inducing stress on yourself by keeping a mental log of what you need to do next, what you might have forgotten, and so on, you can allow a paper to do that for you.
As a result, your efficiency increases and more time is saved.
Having a to-do list also makes it easier to implement the next tip we will be considering.
3. Dedicate a huge chunk of time to each activity
Similar to multitasking, it is easy to fall into the temptation of allotting short time frames for several activities so you can touch all the items on your agenda before the day is over.
But this reduces your efficiency as well.
You will be more productive when you allot about three hours for a piece of writing and reach a milestone for the day than to spend an hour each on writing, researching the next topic, responding to emails, and pitching new clients.
Every time you revisit each activity you unavoidably have to go back to what you have done before to find your ground.
But now that you have a to-do list, you can rest assured that each of your four activities will still be attended to because they have been scheduled.
4. Maximize productivity tools
New technologies keep opening new avenues to enhance the quality of life we live and time management isn’t left out. As a freelancer, you can use a tool like Notion to organize your workflow, structure projects, and outline tasks.
Notion also becomes invaluable when you work with a team. You can simply create one template and add all your team members on board.
Other such tools include Todoist, best for drafting a to-do list and Trello, for project management like managing assignment progress, attaching files to specific projects, and collaborating with team members.
Another commonly overlooked productivity tool is Google Drive, where you can simply save all your files, and clients or team members can easily access them without you sharing each file with them individually. This combines the saving and sharing of files with just a single click.
These tools will not make you a better freelancer but will save you time spent on repetitive tasks.
5. Outsource gigs to proven freelancers
Outsourcing is something you will need to master as you continue to advance in your career as a freelancer. This is because as you get better the number of gigs you receive continues to increase. And you can be tempted to take on all of them by yourself.
But when you do this, you become overwhelmed and do not have time for other areas of your life, which in turn reduces the quality of service you provide to your clients.
Or, on the other hand, you quickly rush through all the gigs and provide low-quality service. Either way, your desire for more money becomes the reason you lose money because clients will leave once they notice your quality has dropped.
However, you can save yourself by simply hiring other freelancers who have proven to provide the same quality of service to get the job done while you cross-check what they have done, make a few adjustments, and submit.
This extra cost of hiring freelancers saves you time, increases your success, and protects your reputation with clients.
6. Say the difficult “NO”
There are times when accepting some gigs and outsourcing them to other freelancers might not be the best decision.
For example, as a voice-over artist where the client wants your voice specifically or a video editor and you can’t find someone who understands the scope and style of editing the client wants as much as you do.
At such times, you are better off simply turning down clients politely and explaining to them how you wouldn’t want to disappoint them.
This may be a painful decision considering that you could be making more money if you outsourced, but just as we have covered in the previous tip, losing this money is the best way to secure future monies.
7. Automate several business processes
We will all agree that the bulk of what we do daily as freelancers are routines. From sending pitches to clients, and responding to emails, to the process of completing the client’s job.
A good amount of time will be saved if you can simply automate some processes or develop an easy-to-follow template.
For instance, if you write product reviews for clients, you can have a research template of what to cover in every topic, the sites to visit for data and stats, and so on.
You can also have email templates to send to clients depending on what stage they are in the working journey with you.
With this, rather than starting from scratch over and over, you can simply tweak each template to suit specific clients and add some personalization.
8. Set your desk in your favor
An unorganized desk or one full of distractions will steal valuable time. If you work from home, you can take away all your home stuff from your workspace and even your mobile phone if you don’t use it for work.
One notification from Instagram can take you through a rabbit hole of content consumption and end up wasting valuable time in the process.
Also, you should set your desk so that there are fewer hurdles to actually starting the work. A freelance content creator, for instance, can have her camera and ring light always set on the desk so that she only has to hit record to start working.
This will save her from the discouragement that might come if she has to start arranging each gear every time.
9. Track your time
For freelancers, time tracking is frequently disregarded, especially for creatives. It’s simple to be caught working on one thing all day long until it’s finished, even if that means staying up until you see the sunrise the next morning.
If you want to master time management as a successful freelancer, think about investing in a time monitoring tool or even just utilizing the stopwatch on your phone.
This is important because you can then determine if you are genuinely devoting too much time to a task for which you might not be receiving much compensation or if you’re just taking too long to do a task.
10. Take time to rest and recharge
We started the first tip by pointing out that your productivity is highly dependent on your state mind. A clogged mind reduces efficiency and wastes time.
There’s no better way to keep your mind always at its optimal state than to acknowledge when you are tired and take a rest.
Trying to work your life out to meet a target or deadline will bore you and you might later dislike the job entirely if you continuously do it without rest.
Take periodic breaks and vacations to reconnect with the real world, nature, friends, and family and get yourself back in shape. This will help you keep up with the other tips we have mentioned.
If you don’t get smart with time management as a freelancer, you will soon find yourself working in another nine-to-five job, only that you are in charge of the paycheck.
This deprives you of the freedom freelancing was supposed to give. Employ these ten time management tips to ensure you continually remain in charge of your game.