Nov 25 2010

Freelancing Tools: Key Ideas to Better Time Management

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The modern freelancer has a platter of tasks and responsibilities dumped onto their head every day. The masses assume the work-from-home lifestyle to be a refreshing break from the corporate office, though at times we see this is not the case. Freelancing shifts most power into the hands of designers and developers to create and work with whoever they want. It’s a big step towards running your own business and provides enormous potential in regards to income and professional experience.

Among the downfalls of this path can be poor time management and lack of any fixed schedule. After all, working from your home computer in pajamas every Monday can make temptations seem lucrative. Working for yourself and earning your own money is one of the most liberating acts available to us in modern society. In this post I’ll discuss a few ideas I’ve learned over my time freelancing to stay organized and on-task.

List Out Daily Objectives

Deviating from digital text to a form of pencil and paper seems ludicrous to some. There are so many benefits to storing your information digitally these days, why go back to handwritten tasks? A powerful question which shows just how advanced our society stands today.

Written word will always hold a concealed benevolence in that physical words can be easily manipulated, changed, updated or crossed out. I keep a small piece of paper near my desk and write out all tasks I hope to accomplish for the upcoming day and week. The physical activity of stepping away from the computer for some time to write actually helps clear my mind about what I need to do for that day. It allows for a small pause from our techno-enhanced world to reflect upon my personal goals and what I wish to achieve.

If you find task organization is easier via Internet tools such as Gmail’s Tasks pane then by all means go with your preferred method. Reviewing any set of tasks will boost motivation to complete them and hopefully keep you on track with your freelancing goals.

Keep the Motivation Flowing

Throughout the day it’s easy to break for some television or video games. Often it’s recommended to get away from the computer every few hours to rest your eyes and brain from the tasks at hand. Though it’s also important to understand the difference between resting and slacking off. You are ultimately the only judge upon your daily work. There will not be any managers or higher-ups to scold you for slacking. In the end you will just face a heavier workload or lose money, neither of which is a good scenario.

This is a good reason to keep your daily tasks list small. If you’re looking at 5 major projects listed in detail you’ll be inclined to procrastinate and put off such huge projects for a long time. If you’re stuck in this rut try breaking down larger tasks into small goals. Attempt to complete part of a project or work for a set 60 minutes before breaking.

It’s always good to hold a “bigger picture” in your head but it doesn’t benefit the day-to-day work mindset to be so focused on larger things. Understand that each work day is merely a means to an end towards a much greater goal, and Rome wasn’t built in a single day. Project scope is important to understand and the easiest way to keep motivation at it’s peak is to focus on your current conditions.

Set Realistic Timeframes

Unrealistic goals are the killer beast for many projects. This is another scenario where as a freelancer you won’t have anybody from above setting your goals here. Only you can understand how long a project will take and you have to the be the one quoting a timeline. If you find yourself putting things off until the last minute it may be smart to quote for an extra day or 2 of work. Granted it’s potentially smarter to get a head-start on the project and maybe finish early, but we don’t live in an ideal world.

Never plan for projects too soon to impress clients. This will generally backfire unless you know for certain you can complete their tasks within a shorter set of time. It’s often easier to give some padding and space between due dates. You’ll feel a lot more relaxed when approaching a task and will find focusing much easier.

Stress Hinders Productivity

I’ve read this many times and it’s constantly held true for my work. When I find myself in a place of deep stress or anxiety about a project the quality of my work suffers poorly. I can’t think of how many projects I’ve done under rushed terms and seen an amazing result pop out. This is almost counter-intuitive since the life of a freelancer is mostly hectic and stressful. Mindset plays a big role in this since how you work will project based on how you feel and analyze the situation.

Working freelance there will be times when you run into stress but don’t let anything get the best of you. It’s only work, after all. The world isn’t going to end if you can’t complete a 5:00PM deadline. Use such experiences as learning curves down the path to freelance enlightenment. Expand your knowledge for time management and figure out how to quote for projects in the future to allow for more time and less stress.

Creative Growth Period

Creativity doesn’t just stem from nothing. It takes a lot of mental processing power to churn out creative works of art in design, programming, writing, and all areas of business. The one place I don’t find my creativity soaring is front-face to a computer monitor.

I’m not saying I can’t be creative while I’m online or working on something. I do notice a much larger improvement in my mental capabilities if I take a short 30 minute break to go for a walk, or maybe cruise around downtown for a little while. Getting outside the house becomes somewhat of a luxury when you’re cooped in all day answering phone calls and replying to e-mails. Give some leeway in your schedule to allow for creative time.

As universal creators we all need a way to flush our mind from the activities of the day and replenish our creative fluids. Meditation, creative drawing, and other activities will also work well. A quick cat nap during the mid-afternoon has always worked wonders for me and replenished any lost energy. Find what suits you best and be sure to fit it in with your schedule.

Short vs. Long-Term Goals

Corporate lifestyles working for an office keep you focused on the day-to-day activities. This is great if you’re only working to collect a paycheck and couldn’t care less how the company advances. This attitude is the worst if you’re working as a freelancer and could spell a heavy downfall in your estate.

As designers we not only create digital works of art but must plan and sculpt our lives in a similar fashion. Always have a list of some larger goals you’d like to achieve. Whether it’s launching a new web application or taking a small vacation there has to be some type of incentive for you to get out of bed every day and work. Long-term goals will keep you feeling hopeful and, more importantly, deeply motivated to keep working.

When your focus shifts solely on goals in the long term you may never find motivation to attack your current problems. There is a gentle balance which freelancers must abide by. This balance stems from holding a knowledge about long-term goals and achievements but keeping primary focus on daily activities. In this sense you won’t get lost in a daydream reality and can really focus in at the heart of what you wish to accomplish. Goals based out long term also tend to change as time passes, so it’s much smarter to have a general idea of what you’re trying to accomplish while attending to current matters in the present.

Day is Day and Night is Night

Freelancers are all very passionate and driven individuals. This would make sense having the guts to quit a steady job and earn money based on how much work can be reeled in. Because of this we will often develop the idea that working harder and longer will process more orders and more money. This simply isn’t the case and could be detrimental to not only your business but your well-being. Although you may want to stay up all night developing for your latest client it’s smarter to fix yourself into a schedule for work.

Each day completed is always one step closer to the final goal. With this knowledge you should feel proud to get through each day reflecting back on your accomplishments. It’s also true that our creativity and energy will be drained after staring at a screen for 6+ hours a day. Give yourself some mental down time to forget about project works. I can promise when you wake up tomorrow all of it will still be waiting for your attendance.

Set High and Low Task Priorities

If it helps, you can organize sets of tasks and give each one in your list a priority. This could be based on importance of the client, due date, or even general interest in the project. It doesn’t matter how you order these but tasks with a set priority roster have a much higher chance of being completed.

This problem is common amongst freelancers who build up a huge to-do list but can’t seem to attack any single problem. Seeing such a huge list can be overwhelming and the entire process seems almost hopeless by the end of the day. I’ve found that having priorities gives me a way to just get started and disregard all my other thoughts. Once you can sit down and attend to a project without applying too much analysis on the problem you may notice after an hour or two you’ve already completed a large chunk of your task(s).

Shape Up Your Schedule

Find a way to live your life that works best for you. This is one of the main reasons I see people quitting their desk jobs and entering the profession of freelancing. Yet barely anybody takes advantage of this amazing resource to its fullest extent. Once every day is entirely yours to do with what you will, it seems like almost too much to take in. Try out a few different schedules for your work habits to see what fits best. Maybe you are most productive in the early morning so that is the best time for you to work.

Those of us who over-analyze everything will tend to enjoy this feature. Figuring out a new schedule to fall into can be fun and also enjoyable as you traverse the landscapes of your lifestyle. Mix things up a bit and see how it can affect your workflow and mentality towards freelancing. Maybe you can accomplish all your weeks’ tasks in only 3 or 4 days of work. If this is the case why not shorten your working week? Or maybe you’d rather work all 7 days for only a few hours. If this benefits you best then who is to say it’s a “wrong” way to live?

Conclusion

Truly the best place to answer these questions is from deep within yourself. You could poll 100 freelancers on their best practices and ideologies behind time management and there’s no guarantee any of them would fit into your mold. Take these ideas in stride and apply them into your daily life.

Over time you’ll realize what works and what doesn’t for your particular schedule. For further ideas check out past articles on freelancing and time management. Professional freelancing can be extremely rewarding if you enjoy working for yourself and building unique products. These are some of the most powerful time management tips I’ve learned over the years and have served me well. If you have other ideas or constructive suggestions feel free to share them in the comments below.

About the Author
Jake Rocheleau is an abstract web designer and Internet entrepreneur. He writes about new-age design trends and social media exposure in a large web 2.0 landscape. You can find him extensively throughout Google and follow his updates on Twitter @jakerocheleau.

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About the Author

Comments and Discussions
  • Vivek Parmar, 25 November 2010

    listing out daily objectives, setting realistic time frames, shaping up schedule, and finally keeping motivation flow is must for everyone to work effective and better.
    setting up realistic time frame is must if you’re a good freelancer

  • Chris Jamero, 26 November 2010

    This clear things up for me as I have a desk job and when I get back home some freelancing work. Maybe after determining and setting everything up and ready for processing I would add up self-discipline.

  • Surajit Kayal, 27 November 2010

    Nice know-hows for a wanabe!

  • Jessica @ Jessiker Bakes, 27 November 2010

    nice! useful not just for designers but other freelance professions :)

  • Kate Umnova, 28 November 2010

    Great article! Goaded me into doing self-organization! ))

  • Curtis Scott, 29 November 2010

    Day is Day and Night is Night section was dead on, great post!

  • Derek Ralston, 29 November 2010

    Useful post… Found it from Guy Kawasaki’s tweet. I like how your approach is not “one size fits all”, but more of “experiment and see what works.” Do you have any tips on work location, and how much working away from home helps? Have you tried a co-working location or spending part of your time at the library/Bookstore/Starbucks? Not sure if this will make me more productive, but may make me more sane (=

  • Catalina, 30 November 2010

    Hey,

    Although it is more appealing to people to use time management apps, from to-do lists to more complex project management oriented apps for freelancers, subscribing to the idea that time management is in your own hands is a great step forward. Thinking about improving your everyday schedule to become more organized and productive, becoming a great observer of your own mundane habits, work and non-work related, that is pretty much all you need to really focus on.

  • Cgbaran, 05 January 2011

    Great article thanks

  • Andy, 12 March 2011

    Looks like I’m gonna experiment with some new hours of work this week, thanks heaps!

  • Johny, 02 October 2011

    Very beneficial article:) NICE!

  • Ashley Sperry, 25 January 2012

    This was just what I needed to get back on the right track. I appreciate your sharing your insights with us on how to be the most productive yet making it flexible for each individual. Thanks so much!

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