Ever feel like your time is not your own? When you are your business, you will learn very quickly that trading time and effort for money can easily get out of hand. This is made even more difficult by the fact that there are just so many distractions today clamoring for our attention. Given that the day will never expand past 24 hours, how can you reclaim your time and attention so that you can do the work you need to, yet have enough space and energy to focus on the things that matter the most?
Below, I share a collection of my favorite time management tips and lessons that I’ve learned from over 10 years of doing freelance work. These aren’t about quick “hacks.” Technology is rapidly changing, and apps will come and go, but these time management tips are… well, timeless. They are designed to help you change your attitude towards time management, the value that you create for others, and your priorities in life.
24 Time Management Tips for Freelancers Who Enjoy Life
Step 1: Creating the Foundation:
1. Know your goals, and organize them by their value and priority. Good time management starts right here. Why are you working in the first place and what do you hope to accomplish? Are you looking for a full time income, or to earn some money on the side? How do you see your working time fitting into your life outside of work? Do you have other goals, such as making a impact or helping others? Make a list of the top three to five most essential goals you are trying to reach.
2. Be prepared to test things out… repeatedly. While there are many different programs and systems out there to help you manage your time, such as Getting Things Done (GTD) or FranklinCovey, settling on the one system (or combination of systems) that will work the best for you and your particular situation will take some testing and tweaking. Don’t just jump into a program because it’s popular. Spend a couple weeks with it. See how you feel, measure how productive you actually are, and then decide whether or not to continue with the program.
Another note… even if you’ve settled on one system, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set a little time aside to try out other methods later on order to build on and improve what you are already doing.
3. Decide what “tools” you’ll need. Consider how you work and retain information. What platforms sit at the focal point of your productivity and work flow?Many famous over-achievers, such as Richard Branson, are known to write things down in a physical notebook. But for the more tech-oriented person (or the freelancer who works online) settling on the right technology and platforms can make a big difference to how you use you time.
Step 2: Getting to Know Yourself and Your Work Habits:
4. Analyze your work habits. Spend a few days tracking how you spend your time and how much work you actually accomplish during that time. Also, pay attention to how motivated you feel along the way. Notice if you are just keeping yourself busy or if you are truly doing the things that either create real value or are completing tasks that only you can do.
5. Get to know your natural rhythm and work with it. When are you most productive, and how long can you focus on the given task? Knowing this information and acting on it can help you maximize the time that you are putting into your business. To find out this information about yourself, you could take a look at Qualified Mind. On this free site you can conduct self-experiments to determine the periods of your peak mental performance.
6. Determine minimum time for essential tasks. Although I mentioned time tracking above, the goal over here is to find out how much time you need to budget for your most essential daily and weekly tasks. Egg Timer is a simple online countdown timer. You key in the amount of time you want it to track, and it will count down in the background. When the time is up, you’ll hear an alarm. If you want something a bit more sophisticated, try an app like Toggl.
Step 3: Maximizing Your Time and Other Resources:
7. Make an action plan for each day. Take a few minutes to create a to-do list of your top priorities for each day before the day gets started. You’ll save many minutes each day when you have a prioritized task list and plan a project before you start working on it. Make time to plan your projects and tasks each day, either in the evening the day before or in the morning before you start work.
8. Break complex tasks into small pieces. Get into the habit of breaking big projects down into small, manageable steps, and set milestones or mini goals along the way.
9. Get the “hard” work done as early in the day as you can. As Brian Tracy put it, “Eat that frog!” Don’t procrastinate; instead get the most difficult or unpleasant tasks out of the way as quickly as you can. Pushing these tasks off only increases anxiety, making you less productive throughout the day and week, and often, the more something gets pushed off, the bigger the job it becomes.
10. Practice clearing your mind. Seriously consider learning how to meditate. Recent research suggests that regular meditation can help people focus their attention and sustain it. And, you don’t have to get into the lotus position to benefit from meditation. A few minutes a day (10 to 20 minutes), can do wonders for your ability to focus and perform even the most strenuous or mundane tasks and even where there is a lot of distraction.
11. Batch similar tasks together. Complete related activities within the same time slot. In other words, all email-related tasks, all phone calls, or web conferences can be done at the same time even if the tasks are for different elements of your business.
12. Work in short bursts. Several studies have found that working over-time for short periods, such as two or three weeks, can and does help to boost productivity. But, work levels start to fall in incremental levels, as this over time becomes chronic. The take away here is that when you are working on your business, you should try to organize the work or project load in such a way that you are not steaming ahead the whole week or even throughout the day. There should be deliberate peaks and valleys in your work cycle.
13. Shut out distractions. This may mean changing your location, shutting off your phone, or working when the kids aren’t around- whatever it takes to help keep your eye on the ball.
14. Take productive breaks. Though this may seem counter-intuitive at first glance, make sure that you have plenty of break time worked into your schedule, and have them be actual breaks, instead of answering business calls or emails. This can include short “power naps,” walks outside, stretching, a little yoga, or just some down time listening to music.
15. Say “no.” Get into the habit of refusing work or responsibilities that drain your time, energy, and other resources without giving you enough of a payback. Much of the stuff coming your way may be requests from other people to meet their agendas. You don’t have to say yes. Plus, the more you get in the habit of saying “no,” the more people will pay for you to say “yes.” This is the kind of client you want.
16. Work during odd hours. Either get up early, or if you’re a real night owl, take a nap during the day and stay up really late at night to work. You are looking for a block of time that is quiet and energizing.
17. Set a time. Any activity or conversation that’s important to your success should have a time assigned to it.
18. Focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is very overrated and harmful to our physical and emotional health. Besides, we are much less productive. Bottom line: don’t do it! It’s better to give each essential task your full, undivided attention.
19. Leave buffer time in-between. Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each task. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one. It also allows for a little flexibility if an unexpected delay crops up.
20. Create artificial urgency. Set a deadline for every project that you’ll be forced to keep. For example, a while back, Derek Halperin of Social Triggers, mentioned that he publicized a webinar he hadn’t yet finished to thousands of people. He had to force himself to get it done since he didn’t want to compromise his credibility.
21. Reward yourself. Completed a difficult project or task? Give yourself a reward for doing it! If you constantly pair doing good work on time with the pleasure of receiving a desirable reward, then you will actually program your brain to look forward to the work itself.
Step 4: Getting Others Involved:
22. Ask people to hold you accountable. As a freelancer, it’s natural to go about everything on your own. But, you’ll have much to gain be enlisting others to help keep you accountable and focused on your goals. These people could be friends, peers, mentors, or hired coaches. They can be in front of you or online, from a mastermind group or a common online community.
23. Ask for feedback from people working similar jobs. This is an effective way to learn how well specific time management tips and techniques may work. In this case, it’s best to ask those who have been working as a freelancer for a while (i.e. over two years) and are thus more likely to have sustainable systems in place that you may be able to emulate.
24. Learn how to delegate. If someone else can do a given task for less time and money than you can, then delegate it. Consider all the tasks you complete each day, and decide which ones you should not be working on- either because it takes up too much time or there are others who can do it better than you.
In short, the best time management tips are those that make you get in touch with yourself, your work habits, and your needs. It means recognizing the value of your time and the role it plays in your life. It means realizing that time management hacks will only go so far. A real appreciation for your time and effort is what will give you the most mileage.