If you took a poll of most freelancers and asked them to list the downside of freelancing you’d likely hear “I have no time”. I can tell you from personal experience freelancing that managing time, above all else, is the most challenging aspect of working for yourself. Days are filled with interruptions that steal your time. You may find yourself working very long hours, even weekends, just to meet deadlines and commitments that you couldn’t get to Monday to Friday.
If you recognize yourself in this description, you are not alone. The issue for many is time management…or a lack thereof. If you find yourself frustrated that you don’t have enough time. If you want to have more “me time” to recharge the batteries, and you want to feel like you’re on top of things, here are some time management tips for freelancers.
Flareapps.com small business tips #015Know How Many Hours You Work for All Clients
Knowing exactly how many hours your work in a month will form the basis of a realistic work schedule. As a freelancer, I knew how many clients I had but for the longest time didn’t know how many hours I needed, exactly, to dedicate to client work in a given day. Forcing myself to do the simple math worked wonders.
Each month has a different number of available work days. If you want to calculate the exact number of work days in a specific month, use this handy work days calculator. If you want an average, try 22 (assuming a 5-day work week).
If you have 120 hours of work this month and you need 1.5 hours per day for administrative tasks and another 1 hour for lunch and breaks, the math looks like this.
120 hours/22 + 1.5 admin hours + 1 hour for breaks = 7.95 hours per day. Just 5.45 of these hours are dedicated to client work in this example average work day.
When I first did the calculation, I found out I had waaaaaaay over-extended myself and grossly underestimated the hours I needed to commit to client work each day.
Once you know how many hours per day you need, you can start scheduling time as best you can.
Flareapps.com small business tips #016Guard Your Time Like a Junkyard Dog
As the saying goes “Time is money”. If you are freelancing long enough, you’ll find that time is your most precious commodity. During your work day if you are interrupted by low priority emails, phone calls (including the “Just have a quick question for you” calls), guarding your time becomes essential. Those calls and emails can add up quickly.
The trick is to become strict – in a nice way – with your time. Turn on auto-responders during intense work sessions and don’t feel the need to answer email right away. Answer the phone when a client calls but say you are busy and ask to call them back. Most calls are not emergencies and can often wait.
Don’t let clients get in the habit of calling and picking your brain or asking your opinion about an idea. Although a friendly relationship with a client is what you want as a freelancer, you have to set boundaries. If their questions are not vital to operations, a polite “May I call you later about this?” is all that’s needed. If it is important, then it’s important enough to schedule. Also remember that some consultations are work that you, ideally, should be paid for – “quick calls” can add up to a lot unbilled and valuable time.
Flareapps.com small business tips #017Prioritize Email Responses
Many freelancers begin their day by viewing and responding to email. I used to, but not anymore. The result is that I get more done in the morning.
You may find that you get much more accomplished in the morning if you postpone responses until you’ve done a solid hour of work. If you don’t, you may fall down the email rabbit hole. Before you know it, you’ve lost an hour or even more. It’s not necessary to answer email right away (unless it’s obviously an emergency) so postpone responses, do some work, and then answer those emails that require attention.
Some may find it helpful to implement a “no responses” day, perhaps Friday, where you turn on an auto-responder that tells people you are busy. Friday is often a good day for this because folks are winding down and less likely to start communications or enquiries about hiring your services. You can use the free time to attend to administrative tasks.
I’ve done this and the result was that after several weeks, I received fewer email messages from clients on Friday. After receiving auto-responses, they knew that Friday was a bad day to contact me. My auto-responder told them I could be contacted by phone in an emergency. This may not work for all freelancers, but give it a try…it freed up a lot of my Friday time.
Flareapps.com small business tips #018Use a List App
If you keep a lot of information in your head, sooner or later, something falls out 😉 Use a list app such as ToDoist, Any.do, or Wunderlist. Any.do and Wunderlist were the winners in this LifeHacker poll.
Flareapps.com small business tip #019Use a Paid or Free Project Management App
Try a project management application such as:
- Basecamp for Us AT $29/month (you don’t have to work in a team to use it)
- Freedcamp (very similar to Basecamp but free), or
- Bitrix24. Free for up to 12 users. I’ll look at Bitrix24 in detail in another post, but it is a great app with project management, tasks, calendars, Google Docs integration and too many other great features to list.
Flareapps.com small business tips #020Work Early. Stop Early
Because freelancers often have more flexible schedules and can set their own hours, starting work earlier in the day may increase productivity. I found in my freelancing life that if I was working by 6am, between 6am and 9am I could get a load of work done. By 9am others are at work and it’s usually after that time that people call or email. If you start early, give yourself permission to stop early, too!
Flareapps.com small business tips #021Time an Uninterrupted Work Interval – Pomodoro
Call this technique “Pomodoro” or call it “uninterrupted work time”. Whatever you call it, it works. The idea is to work without interruption for 25-minute intervals. Why 25 minutes? Because apparently frequent breaks improve mental agility. Read more about Pomodoro.
- Start a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work without interruption for that time.
- If a thought pops into your head jot it down and go right back to task.
- When the timer rings, take a few minute break. Put a checkmark on paper to track completed Pomodoros.
- Start another timed task.
- When you have completed 4 Pomodoros take a longer break (20 or 30 minutes is suggested).
Flareapps.com small business tips #022Use a Timesheet App to Track Project Hours
There are quite a few timesheet apps for both iPhone and Android devices. Check some out on Google Play (for Android) or check out this review of timesheet apps for iOS devices. Timesheet apps let you set up clients or projects, set your hourly rate per project, track and time tasks, and track mileage and expenses.
I have used Timesheet by LlamaLab (Android only unfortunately) which does all of the above. The app also has an export and email feature so you can send the project hours and price total to yourself or a client. Though this project manager isn’t an invoicing app, it was great for organizing client work.
We Can Save You Time…and Money, Too!
Now it’s time to end this article and add a shameless plug for our beloved Flare accounting app. Flare is more than just accounting software. With Flare’s small business budgeting, invoicing, estimates, automated bank reconciliation and financial performance metrics, you’ll save time and earn more money. Happy freelancing!