While this article is entitled “Time Saving Tips for Freelancers”, it could just as easily be called “Sanity Tips for Freelancers”. If you’ve made the jump from a day job to freelancing, the most important thing you can learn to preserve your sanity and make this new life possible is how to save time.
To the uninitiated, the word “freelancer” conjures up images of getting up late, working when you want and having unlimited freedom, but the reality is far from what they imagine. Freelancers frequently work more than they did at their day jobs. Before I began freelancing, a freelancer friend once told me “Sure, there’s freedom in freelancing. I’m free to choose which 15 hours in a day I work.”
Use the following time saving tips to reclaim time lost to disorganization and inefficiency.
Flareapps.com small business tip #084Create a Distraction-free Work Space
If, as a freelancer, you rent an office space, creating a distraction free work space is easier, but if, like many freelancers, you work from home, the task is a little more challenging. If you have roommates or a partner, discuss interruptions. Make it clear that working from home doesn’t mean you are available for “drive-by chit chat”. Create your own space – somewhere you will work each day. That space could be dedicated home office or a desk in the corner of a room. This will be your work sanctum.
Avoid the Kitchen or Living Room if Possible
The convenience of a kitchen table or living room couch as your freelance work space is tempting but that convenience can also become a distraction. It may be too easy to take a break, flip on the TV, or get into a discussion if you share your home with others.
Convert a Second Bedroom or Den to an Office
If you can convert a second bedroom or den into an office, do it! A room dedicated mainly to work will help you stay in the work mindset. When you are in that space, you are at work! Dedicating a space to nothing but work is easier to organize, less distracting, and helps you stay focused. When you cross the threshold into your home office, you know why you are there and the space is more easily organized to accommodate your needs.
Choose a Quiet Room. Get a Small Desk
If you can’t create a dedicated office in your home, choose a room with the least distractions and set up a desk. A desk is another way to get into the work mindset. Let’s face it, even if you had a separate home office, you’d spend the bulk of your day at your desk. You may consider joining the “sit-stand” ranks and purchase an adjustable sit-stand desk or a height-adjustable laptop stand that allows you to stand at your desk at least some of the day.
Read about the benefits of sit-stand desks at JustStand.org.
Flareapps.com small business tip #085Schedule Your Day – Use a Time Management and List Apps
Scheduling your time, if possible, is a great way to save time. Doing work in bits and pieces with no organizational structure is a sure-fire way to waste time. Dedicate blocks of time to single tasks and use a scheduling or time management app to help you stay on track. Make use of list apps like Any.do or Wunderlist, and time-sheet apps like Timesheet by LLamaLab (free and premium version available) or Timesheet – Time Tracker (free) by Florian Rauscha.
Flareapps.com small business tip #086Use Cloud Software for Small Business
If you are managing your freelance business using desktop-only apps, consider moving of some of your work into the cloud. Cloud apps are efficient and give you the freedom of anytime, anywhere access. Here are just a few cloud apps that freelancers use to stay organized, save time and maximize freedom.
If you manage multiple projects simultaneously or projects that are complex and completed in stages, using a project management application can save you a lot of time. There is no one-size-fits-all project management app. You can even create your own using OneNote. One thing is certain, project management apps are a busy freelancers best friend.
Try these free project management apps
Bitrix24: free unlimited projects and tasks with up to 5GB storage space. Paid plans add storage space, time tracking, reports, backup and restore and other features.
Zoho Projects: one active project, 10MB storage, unlimited users for free.
Asana: free unlimited projects and tasks for up to 15 team members.
OneNote: yup, Microsoft’s OneNote (free) can be and is used for project management, particularly in one-person freelance operations, although small team collaboration is possible by sharing OneNote notebooks. OneNote can be organized into tabbed sections and each section can have multiple pages which appear as sidebar navigation. You can create tasks and lists and integrate with other Microsoft Office apps. Best of all, you can use the OneNote desktop app or access your Notebooks via OneNote online.
Accounting, Invoicing, Expense Tracking
Flare is online accounting software for freelancers and small businesses. It does much more than bookkeeping! You can create and send invoices and estimates, record bills and even connect to your bank to download transactions. Flare comes with some cool time saving tools such as auto-transaction categorization, bank reconciliation, and planning and monitoring tools like budgeting, financial reports and a financial dashboard.
Collaborative Document Sharing
Google Drive is free cloud storage that comes with Google Docs (a cloud-based word processor), Google Sheets (cloud-based spreadsheets), Google Slides (cloud-based presentations), and Google Forms. You can create and share documents online for free. Google Docs can help you stay organized, save desktop storage space, and increase efficiency – all great time-savers for freelance workers.
Flareapps.com small business tip #087Say “No” to Unscheduled Meetings
Learn to say “No” to unscheduled meetings. It’s common to receive phone calls from clients who “just want to talk to you about something for a minute”. Often, those “minutes” are several minutes and they add up. These unscheduled meetings can derail work, throw you off of your schedule, and make you lose track of what you were doing. To avoid this, get into the habit of saying “Let’s schedule a meeting about this”. Clients won’t mind.
Flareapps.com small business tip #088Use Email the Smart Way
Managing email is time consuming. Here are a few ways to save some time.
Use spam filters
Filter out junk or delete it. If you subscribe to lists (or are subscribed automatically when you create an online account), unsubscribe from those you rarely read. Cleaning up spam and reducing unnecessary emails will help you keep your inbox organized and clutter free.
In the morning, don’t start replying to email until you’ve organized it. For each email, take one of these actions: delete, move, forward, reply. Delete spam or email that you don’t need to read or archive; move email that you will read but that don’t require a reply; forward email to others, categorize those that you must reply to with a flag or label. You can go as far as starting a draft of each email that requires a reply. That way, those you must reply to that day are waiting in your drafts folder at the ready.
Flareapps.com small business tip #089Get a Faster Computer
A slow desktop or laptop can really suck your time. If your computer is sluggish, find out why. My personal experience with this issue taught me something about ignoring computer performance problems. I had a 32-bit Windows desktop built in 2012 and when I first got it, it was pretty fast and all I needed. After upgrading to a new version of Windows, my system became very slow and frequently crashed. I maxed out RAM, maintained the system and took it in for a virus check, system diagnostics and clean-up, but nothing seemed to resolve the slowness problem. Some programs took forever to open, some hung, and running a couple of apps simultaneously slowed me down even more. I put off upgrading because I perceived it as a pain. After griping and groaning for a year, I couldn’t take it anymore. I upgraded to a 64-bit system, which allowed more RAM, went with a dedicated graphics card rather than shared graphics card and bought the fastest processor I could reasonably afford, spending a little more than I might have in the past. The result? Amazing performance boost! While it’s hard to say how fast my new system is, it feels several times faster. Programs open quickly and I can run multiple applications simultaneously without bogging my system down. The difference was definitely night and day. Bottom line: I get more done more quickly.
Flareapps.com small business tip #090Use Shortcuts
Learning operating system and software keyboard shortcuts can save a lot of time. Instead of hunting for menu items to perform tasks you use repeatedly, learn keyboard shortcuts. Quick tip: the contextual menu is your best friend. On Windows, right click an object, on Mac right click or Control > click an object.
Flareapps.com small business tip #091Organize Bookmarks
If you are bookmarking websites into your browser’s main bookmarks menu, use folders and tags instead. Bookmarks can quickly get out of control. Using folders can increase efficiency. Read How to Organize Bookmarks with a Little Elbow Grease.
Flareapps.com small business tip #092Organize Files and Folders
Like bookmarks, your computer files need some sort of organizational structure. If your desktop is a clutter of files or if you seem to spend a lot of time hunting for files, you may have a file organization problem. The trick is to use folders and structure them in way that works for you. While there is no “right way”, any organizational system is better than no organizational system. For inspiration and ideas, read Zen and the Art of File and Folder Organization.
Flareapps.com small business tip #093Subcontract, Partner, Outsource
Freelancers can also free up time by sub-contracting, partnering and outsourcing. Sub-contract to skilled newbies looking to build a portfolio of work. They’ll be cheaper than seasoned freelancers so you can save time and still earn a little money. Partner with other freelancers and create a referral fee arrangement. Outsource to Fiverr, Xplace, Guru, and Upwork, or Freelancer. While you need to be careful outsourcing to offshore workers (English will be a second language), if you do your homework, you can find capable virtual assistants that can do everything from writing and editing to Web marketing and graphic design. If you don’t have an issue with outsourcing to offshore freelancers, you can save time and make money.