The freedom of being a freelancer can seem enticing at first. The ability to choose your working hours, create your schedule, decide on the type of clients and projects you want to work with, and the chance to have more autonomy.
Saying farewell to the traditional nine-to-five workday brings a tremendous opportunity to improve your work-life balance. However, it poses further challenges if you are someone that struggles to manage your time correctly or follow a well-planned schedule.
Jumping onto too many projects, overloading your agenda, and losing track of project deadlines can be a shortcut to burnout. The same can be said about working too few or too many hours per week, or even longer days, and stretching your working hours into the weekend or designated off days.
Research studies suggest that the optimum working hours per week is anywhere between 35 hours and 50 hours per week. Productivity declines after 50 hours per week and falls even sharper after 55 hours. Moreover, not having one full rest day per week could also lead to decreased hourly output on average.
Constantly working, due to a lack of proper time management, or taking on too many projects all at once is not only damaging to your productivity but poses further long-term health risks.
The World Health Organization (WHO) found that employees working more than 55 hours per week increase their risk of a stroke by 35%, even more severely; this increases a person’s risk of dying from heart disease by a further 17%.
As a new freelancer, it’s your responsibility to take control of your schedule and time management, not only for the benefit of being more productive but also for your health and well-being.
Taking control of your schedule
Being a newly established freelancer comes with a lot of challenges. Looking for new clients, finishing projects with tight deadlines, meeting client expectations, keeping track of all your finances, and having enough free time for yourself.
Taking on more responsibility requires you to build an understanding of how to effectively manage your time, but more importantly, learn how to make a schedule that allows you to allocate time for work, start new projects, and also have time to rest.
Understand your capacity
One of the best ways to take control of your schedule is to understand your capacity to take on new clients and projects. This is especially important, seeing that freelancers are often fearful that declining a project would leave them without any further work for some time.
The fear of missing out on new and exciting work could lead you to become overbooked, often not leaving enough time to actually get the job done.
The idea of declining work, or saying “no” can be daunting at first. However, you need to set limits for yourself right from the get-go. Consider how much time you have available in your schedule, factoring in projects you’re currently busy with, and the proposed deadline for each.
Before taking on any new work, always consider your availability within your schedule and whether this project would require you to decline any other potential job opportunities.
Be proactive with your time management
Now that you have more autonomy, it’s time to learn how to manage your time appropriately. Creating daily routines, such as when to wake up, how much time you will set aside for specific projects, the hours needed to find new work, quote clients, and still complete all your administrative duties, need to be factored into your schedule.
Being more proactive with your time management will allow you to designate specific slots for different tasks and activities. This will help you become more efficient, but it’s also a way to plan better.
Plan. Plan. Plan.
We can’t stress this enough, but planning your days, weeks, and even months will help you realize how much time you can spend on specific projects, and how much availability you have to take on new work.
Planning in itself takes a bit of time, so it’s essential to decide on a day of the week when you can begin planning for the upcoming week of work. Slotting in projects, replying to follow-up queries, meeting with clients, and even having enough time to rest.
We’re not saying that you need to plan for every given hour of the day, however, it’s important to calculate how much of your time you can spend working, but also how much time you can allocate to rest and relax. Remember, time is money.
Create a project tracker
Keep track of your projects and deadlines with an online project tracking tool. This might seem somewhat unnecessary, but it will save you a lot of time and effort knowing exactly where you might be on a certain project, and how far off a deadline may be.
Using an online project tracking tool can help you plan accordingly, but also ensure that you are ahead of schedule, and if something needs to be reworked, you are then able to make adjustments that work for your schedule.
Use a simple tool with an easy-to-use interface, allowing you to make changes as you go along. This way, you can inform your clients about upcoming deadlines and give you enough time to make any changes or reworks where needed.
Build a routine
Being a freelancer means that you can create a routine that works for you. If you work better at night than during the day, make that work to your ability, but remember not to lose track of your deadlines.
Creating a routine encourages you to be more responsible with your time and minimize any possible distractions. Having a routine lets you focus on what needs to get done now, how much time you need to allocate to a given task, and when a deadline is coming up.
Having a routine can help you become more responsible with your time, meaning that you have designated slots when you are supposed to work, and times when you can rest or take on other activities.
Being more autonomous with your schedule and time can lead you to become easily distracted by other, less important things.
Distractions can be anything or anywhere, at all times, and when you begin to realize how much time you’ve spent doing unnecessary things, you lose out on valuable hours that could’ve been better utilized.
Ensure you minimize distractions such as turning your phone on silent or disabling social media notifications. Ask others that may be working around you not to disturb you during working hours, or schedule less important tasks for a later time in the day.
Sometimes you feel like checking your phone, scrolling through social media, responding to emails, or doing other things. While there is no one to check up on you, make sure that you know how much time you are spending on these tasks, and that you can catch up on any work if you fall behind schedule.
Complete difficult tasks first
Now that you’re planning your weeks and building a routine, start by learning how to schedule more critical, and complex tasks first, getting them out of the way quicker, helping to free up more time on your schedule.
Taking on challenging projects first can be a way to be more productive, help reduce stress, and create time to make any necessary adjustments.
Tackling more minor, less important things first can create a false sense of productivity, and in the long-run, you feel less motivated to undertake more significant projects that are still due. Starting with the hardest things will make other tasks seem much easier to complete.
Schedule time for admin
People often don’t tell you about all the admin responsibilities of freelancing. Writing proposals, generating quotes, responding to emails, meetings with clients, keeping track of finances, ordering new supplies, making edits and adjustments to projects, and still having enough time for yourself as well.
Continuously avoiding your administrative responsibilities can be costly, and it’s best advised to complete your admin tasks during the day, or even during the week.
Depending on your workload and the amount of admin you may have, decide whether you can finish it at the start or the end of the day. Better yet, streamline your administration by using digital tools that can help you keep track of things like finances, invoice due dates, or even email reminders.
Remember, being a freelancer is the same as running a small business. Neglecting your admin can be a costly mistake, lowering your earnings and further creating more work for you in the long run.
Schedule designated rest days
It’s been found that freelancers work on average 43 hours per week, suggesting that it’s similar to that of a regular nine-to-five job. However, freelancers tend to have different working days and schedules. Sometimes they might find themselves working full days; other times, it’s every other single day.
Not having a routine and knowing when to take a break can damage your productivity, primarily if you work more than 50 to 55 hours weekly.
Create intervals where you can take a break from working, whether taking an hour lunch break during the day or having shorter work days on a Friday, but scheduling a few hours over the weekend to catch up with work.
Constantly working increases risks related to burnout, which can result in higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Be sure to check up on yourself, and remember there’s nothing healthy about being a workaholic.
As we’ve mentioned, tackling bigger projects before smaller, less important tasks will help you get more done in your day and motivate you as you begin with other projects.
However, it’s crucial to prioritize your work as you sign up new clients, or accept new tasks. While you may want to start with something simple now, it’s best to leave this until a later stage, and rather focus on the things you are currently working on.
Take work as it comes, and ensure you schedule enough time for everything during your working days. Regardless of how you manage your tasks and priorities, prioritizing your work will help you see what’s more important, and what might require your immediate attention.
Make time for yourself.
Your well-being and health must be prioritized, even when it feels like you don’t have the time. Be sure to check in on yourself now and again. Having time off from work, even one day in the week, or over the weekend – make time for yourself.
Without proper rest, you will become less productive, creative, and attentive at work. By scheduling a few hours per week to rest, or do something other than work, you can establish a healthy work-life balance, whereby you have enough time to hustle and prioritize your well-being.
It’s hard, but trust the process.
Being a freelancer can be an excellent way to pursue what you enjoy most about your work; however, without adequate time management and scheduling, you will drown yourself in work and deadlines.
Taking control of your schedule, whether day-by-day or week-by-week, helps you prioritize essential projects and creates more work-life balance throughout your freelancing career.
While you want to make the most of your days, ensure that you have enough time to rest and finalize your admin before taking on new work. Yes, time is money, and your time is valuable, so instead of wasting it on mundane tasks, create a time management structure that works with your freelancing goals.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Gustavo Fring; Pexels; Thank you!