Productivity

6 Time-Management Tips to Help Freelancers be Productive To The Max

Your time is yours to control. Don't waste it.

Digital clock with the minutes flipping away very quickly

It’s no secret: one of the most awesome perks of being a freelancer is that you have the freedom to work at your own time and schedule.

No more having to listen to a boss. Now, you’re in charge. Whoo!

But such flexibility can be also a curse if you can’t manage your time effectively.

Because as a freelancer, your time is money.

If you spend too little time on work, you may have to do rush work in order to meet your deadlines. You’ll also have less time to take on new projects.

All this means more stress for you, especially if it affects your ability to bring in the dough.

Here are 6 time-management tips to help you max out your work productivity, and stay on top of your freelance projects.

1. Stick to a fixed routine

Set fixed work hours and days for yourself, where you will get down to business instead of playing Fortnite or having a Netflix marathon.

If you’re unsure how much time to allocate to work every day, following the traditional “Monday to Friday, 9 to 5” office-hour schedule is a good starting guide.

Also, choose a place to work from and “report” there for work whenever you’re supposed to.

The idea here is to mentally prep yourself that when you sit down at a certain place, it’s time for you to work instead of slacking off.

Your work location could be a special workstation at home, or a hot desk at a co-working space.

And unless you’re a freelance mattress tester or something, you generally should NOT be working from your bed.

Your bed is meant for sleeping in, and if you work in your bed you might find yourself taking unnecessary naps.

Remember that freelancing is first and foremost a job. And so, you’ll have to treat it like one.

2. Set timelines and deadlines for yourself

After deciding how much time you’ll spend on work every day, decide how you’re going to spend such time at work.

To do so, evaluate:

  • What projects are you currently handling?
  • Which stage(s) are these projects at?
  • How much time will you need to complete your deliverables?
  • When are these deliverables due?

If your clients haven’t specified deadlines, set reasonable ones for yourself.

From the deadlines, work backwards to see when you should get started on fulfilling those deliverables.

Be generous with your estimates on the time you’ll need to complete your work. Include buffer time in case things screw up and you need time to fix them.

Then, make sure you get started on your deliverables when you’re supposed to, instead of procrastinating. You can use a task management app like Todoist to keep track of your tasks.

By setting such timelines and deadlines for yourself, you’ll help yourself get them done ahead of time.

You don’t want panic like a headless chicken at midnight because you’re only 20% done with a deliverable that is due, say, tomorrow morning.

3. DON’T multitask

Multi-tasking is a myth.

You think you’re getting more done within a day. However, the likely reality is that you switch between tasks and get very little done for each.

And the quality of work you do for each task may not be that great. This is because before your mind can really warm up for a particular task, you’re already jumping to another one.

You can also end up multi-tasking when you rush to respond to notifications that come in while you’re working on something.

I’m talking about you, Facebook. Or new emails. (More on eliminating such distractions in the next point.)

You go “Ooh, what’s this? Let me check it out real quick.” But after you’ve done so (without spending too much time, hopefully), you may have lost your train of thought for your previous task.

As a result, you’ll need to spend time:

  1. Remembering what you were supposed to be doing
  2. Getting back “into the zone” to continue where you left off

So resist the urge to multitask. Instead, after deciding that you’ll spend X hours on one task, spend X hours on that task and avoid switching to other tasks halfway.

This will help you really focus on the task at hand, and do your best work for it during the allocated time.

4. Eliminate all work distractions

If you want to be productive, you’ll have to get rid of all the annoying distractions that take time away from your work.

For me, one of the things that really affect my concentration is noise.

If noisy drilling work is going on near me for example, my productivity goes down the toilet.

To resolve the problem, I try to temporarily move somewhere else to work.

Social media is another productivity killer. And emails and texts. Avoid getting sucked into them while you work.

For example, do you really need to check your inbox every half an hour? Checking in the morning and just before you knock off for the day might be good enough. The Boomerang for Gmail app also allows you to pause your Gmail inbox and delay receipt of new emails for later.

Also, try disconnecting your phone from the Internet for a couple of hours. It’ll help you focus, and save your phone’s battery life too.

And for the times where your discipline falters, use apps which block you from accessing certain sites for a fixed period of time. For example, check out Focus if you’re a Mac user.

5. Track how you spend your time

As you go about your day, try keeping a record of how much time you spend on various activities. This will help you evaluate how you’re spending your time and make adjustments as necessary.

For example, if you find that you’re spending too much time on scrolling social media every day, you’ll know that you have to cut down on that.

Or, if you realise that completing a particular task for clients often takes longer than estimated, this will help you decide whether to raise your rates to cover the cost of your time.

That said, taking detailed notes on exactly how you spend your time can be quite tedious. Ironically, it could also take away too much time from your work. This is especially if you’re doing this on a daily basis!

Therefore instead of fastidiously tracking your time every day, you can schedule such “time tracking audits” to take place every few months or so, for up to a week each time.

Tracking how you spend your time may take some effort, but the payoff could be worth it.

6. Learn when and how to say no

The previous 5 tips have been about optimising your available work time. But they won’t be as effective if you have little available work time to optimise in the first place.

Namely, if you find that you don’t have enough time to do things, it could be because you’ve simply overloaded your schedule by saying “yes” to everything.

This applies to both work and non-work commitments. For example, do you really need to accept every single evening hangout invite, especially when you have a major deadline looming?

Or agree to take on a job for a friend trying to haggle for a major discount off your usual rates?

Saying “no” can be scary, but it isn’t going to cause the world to end. Often, the asker may just go find someone else to ask.

Also if you’re feeling guilty about turning down a request, resist the urge to provide a long explanation for doing so.

Chances are the asker doesn’t need one, and you’re really monologuing to lessen your guilty feelings more than for anything else.

Your Time is Yours to Control

I’ll be honest: reading these tips is a lot easier than actually carrying them out.

It’ll take a lot of discipline, and practice.

Given that it takes about 2 months to form new habits, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not as productive you would like to be at the start.

Have patience with yourself, and remember that as your own boss, it’s up to you to decide how you want to spend your time.

Don’t spend it on things that ultimately don’t advance your personal or professional lives by very much – if at all.

All the best!

Do you have any other tips to help freelancers manage their time? Leave a comment!

Tan Siew Ann
I’m a freelance writer for some of the most amazing software businesses in the world. On this blog, I share tips on how you, too, can run a sustainable and meaningful freelance business. Let’s forge your freedom. 💪

6 Comments

  1. I am really weak in managing time, your writing was a goldmine for me. I hope, that will help me a lot in managing my time properly, thanks a lot.

  2. Very nice one mam for control myself in time management. See now a days the whole world addict to social media so we should make a schedule how much we will spend to social media it will helps to know how much time we waste in routine life

  3. Great tips Siew Ann – one thing I struggle with is that being aware of social media trends is part of the suite of skills I provide. So sometimes it can be hard to know when to switch off from it. I’ve also noticed that many client shave no idea how much time social media takes up. any advice on how to set some parameters?

    1. Hi Tara, I’ve found it helpful to set some ground rules for myself — such as not looking at my phone until I’ve had breakfast. Some people find it useful to put their phone in a different room from where they are so it’s not within easy reach. Using apps to keep track of how much time you spend on various apps can also “shock” you into spending less time on social media.

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