You know the expression, “time is money?” Once you’ve been freelancing for a while, you’ll understand that better than almost any other kind of worker.
You might even start thinking of your expenses in terms of how much work you had to do to come up with the cash. Look at a bill, and your brain will automatically translate the total amount due into the number of hours you worked to pay the balance.
For this reason, time management is obviously very important for freelancers. Waste your precious working hours, and you might as well throw money right out the window.
Top 5 Time Management Tips for Freelancers
Whether you're just getting started on the freelance path, or you need a reminder of how to make your workday productive, these time management tips will help.
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 your schedule, you’re likely to be working during the day, when your clients are at the office. If you're not around to answer the phone when they call, you might 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 the zone when you need to be—and easier to disengage when it's time to enjoy the rest of your life.
It also makes it easier to earn a living as a full-time freelancer.
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. Work to live, don't live to work, and all that.)
When deadlines loom, you'll have to put in extra hours to get things done. Make sure there are enough hours in the day by having a regular stopping time. You should also give yourself a work-free day or two on a regular basis – and take a vacation, even though 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 follow through 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 proceed 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.
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 draw boundaries. 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.