Time Management Tips for Freelancers

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For freelancers, time really is money. With the possible exception of food service workers who toil for tips, no one who works for a living sees a closer association between the hours they spend and the money they earn. For this reason, it's essential for freelancers to have a good sense of how to manage their time.

Top 5 Time Management Tips for Freelancers

If you're just getting started on the freelance path, or you need a reminder of how to make your time work for you, these time management tips are for you.

1. Make a schedule.

Freelancers often have a flexible schedule. One of the most common mistakes new freelancers make is taking advantage of that flexibility, and using it as an excuse to procrastinate. The best way to avoid painting yourself into a corner, time-wise, is to set a schedule and stick to it.

The dirty little secret of freelancing is that much of the time, it's a 9 to 5 job – or 10 to 6, or 8 to 4. Whatever the precise hours, they're likely to be during the day, when your clients are working. If you're not around to answer the phone when they call, you're likely to find yourself out of a gig, or passed over for the next assignment that comes along.

But, even if you're working on a project basis, and can make your own hours, it's in your best interests to make them regular. Planning to work at specific, regular times makes it easier to get in zone when you need to be – and easier to disengage when it's time to enjoy the rest of your life.

2. Take days off.

And speaking of enjoying the rest of your life, while you're planning out your time, don't forget to leave some for not-working, as well.

Taking time for yourself isn't just fun and games; it's an essential part of work-life balance. In order to be truly productive, you need time to rest and recharge your batteries. All work and no play means diminished creativity, increased stress, even cognitive impairment. (Plus, it's just no fun. You know the expression: work to live, don't live to work.)

When deadlines loom, you'll have to burn the midnight oil to get things done. Make sure there's enough midnight oil left to burn by giving yourself a work-free day or two on a regular basis – and take a vacation, even if it means planning ahead and being careful about finances.

3. Write it down.

Feel like you're spinning your wheels, and not getting much done? Try a time diary. For a set period of time, say a day or a week, write down everything you do and when you do it. (Think of it like a food diary, but with time and activities instead of calories and nutrition.)

At the end of the allotted time, it should become clear if you're wasting hours on social media or just failing to bill appropriately for time spent on a project. Either way, you can adapt accordingly.

4. Remember that you're in charge of your time.

The downside of being a super-productive and reliable freelancer in a world where most people frankly don't do what they say is that clients come to rely on you. What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, as long as you remember that you're not an employee, and they're, quite literally, not the boss of you.

As a freelancer, your responsibility is to do what you say you're going to do, to the best of your ability, to help your client achieve their goals. You do this in exchange for money. No matter how much you like the work or the client, don't forget that essential fact. Your loyalty should be to yourself and your business. All your other choices about which clients to take – and keep – should extend from there.

Does that mean you can't help a client out in an emergency? Just the opposite. It's always a good idea to accommodate client requests when you're able. It builds the relationship and inspires trust and confidence. Plus, it's just the decent thing to do.

But, if at any point, you start to feel like your client has fallen into the habit of telling, not asking you, to do more work, start gently establishing boundaries ASAP. It's not helpful to anyone if you both get confused about the way things work. Which brings us to...

5. Say no.

Finally, the most important skill any working person possesses, whether they work for a company or for themselves, is the ability to gracefully draw the line. Don't be afraid to turn down a job you don't have time to do, push back against added work that doesn't interest you or add to your portfolio, or negotiate for more time or money, if you need, want, and deserve it.

One of the greatest benefits to the freelance lifestyle is that no one can tell you what to do – at least not the way a manager can tell an employee. Don't squander it by forgetting that you're your own boss.