Time management is an essential skill for any freelancer looking to make a living without relying on meager tips. One job is rarely enough to make ends meet. Independent contractors will often find themselves juggling upwards of three jobs at once. They’re all important, and their deadlines are looming.
What do you do?
1) Set up a project schedule.
You know what your conflicts and your deadlines are, you’d better prepare to meet them head on. Grab a calendar. Write down your schedule. Figure out which elements need to be completed to deliver your project. Estimate how much time each will take and see where they fit in your schedule .
Pen and paper will work fine for this, but there are also a number of tech solutions that will help you to manage your time and projects. Personally, I use OmniPlan (http://www.omnigroup.com/products/omniplan/). OmniPlan is available for Mac and iPad and retails for $199.99.
The software is great. You can input your personal schedule along with flexible hours and times that you absolutely cannot do work, add project elements with estimated difficulty, give them conditions for what must be completed before moving on to the next steps, and then the program will level all of these factors into a clear, effective schedule for you or your team.
2) Cut out distractions
Yes, Facebook is there, but you don’t need to use it every ten minutes.
We all have our vices, and depending on your field, some are more accessible than others. But remember, THEY WILL ONLY SLOW YOU DOWN!
Facebook addict? Turn off your WiFi while coding. Like blasting music while you work? Try turning it off for an hour and see if your output increases.
I for one get easily distracted by my girlfriend. Not anything that she is doing, but the temptation to set aside the computer to spend time with her wins 80% of the time. If you need to set up firmer boundaries with people while you work, do so. (Just be polite!)
Work can be a drag, but if you learn to cut out the distractions, you’ll have that much more time for fun later.
3) Shortcuts, shortcuts, shortcuts!
In the tech world, there are thousands of keyboard shortcuts. Take five minutes to look up your program’s shortcuts in Google or under the Preferences tab. There are also programs that allow you to do batch edits to large quantities of files, such as BBedit for web documents and Photoshop’s Batch Edit tool for images.
For people not in tech, this still applies to you. Do anything you can to speed up production without undermining quality. Determine what tasks are boring and repetitive and see if there is some way you can do them more efficiently!
4) Off hours are work hours
It’s 11 PM. You’re getting ready for bed when you’re startled by a text.
“Need email blast designed for 10 AM launch!!!”
You can complain, or you can deal with it. I just hope you’re charging by the hour.
This is a reality freelancers will need to face time and time again. Do not become enamored with weekends or nights off. If there’s a deadline, you have to meet it, or you risk your professional reputation by brushing it off. There’s no reason you can’t spend those 3 hours of downtime finishing that project you have looming instead of just looking at cats on Reddit.
Sometimes, it truly is impossible to do everything you set out to. Despite your best efforts, there’s no time left to finish three competing projects and you don’t know what to do.
First off, breath.
Then, prioritize. Which contracts are most sensitive? Where might there be room for a delay and what can be done to ensure that your clients are happy and the work still gets done?
Communicate with your employers. Let them know the situation. Most times, they should be willing to work with you. If not, they just became priority #1.
Feel free to add your time management tips for your fellow freelancers in the comments below!