When you are a freelancer, your success wholly depends on you, and nobody is going to organize and manage your tasks. This can feel overwhelming at times when your to-do lists seem endless.
Indeed, working as a freelancer can offer a lot of autonomy, but to successfully grow your business and meet your clients' expectations, requires organization and self-discipline.
Losing track of time or a poor prioritization of your schedule can lose you a lot of money, generate stress and frustration with your career.
In this article, we'll outline ten great tips on how you, as a freelancer, can better manage your time and build a productive routine with your schedule.
1. Create an Optimized To-do List
To-do lists serve as a great tool to stay focused and on track, ensuring you use your time efficiently.
Log your tasks on to-do lists daily, using a tool such as Notion, Evernote or Asana. One great function of these productivity apps is that they are available on both desktop and mobile devices, which allows you to add on tasks throughout the day, whether you are on your desk or not.
Integrated “all-in-one” tools like Plutio also helps you manage your tasks, with nifty functions like colored tags, checklists, task templates, and delegation functions.
Logging your tasks regularly helps keep your mind free of anxiety; particularly, logging down new to-dos every morning as a "brain dump" exercise can help free up your mind for the rest of the day.
Once you are ready to start your workday, a suitable method is to order tasks by their urgency and priority. For freelancers, naturally, for larger clients and with looming deadlines are considered more urgent. You can also prioritize clients who are loyal customers or of a more significant customer lifetime value. Organizing your tasks in advance allows you to plan the best use of your time for the day, week and months, so you can keep up with deadlines.
2. Set Fixed Work Hours
Hadn't it been said that flexible working hours is one of the best perks of being a freelancer? Naturally, work autonomy and the independence to set your work hours can be fantastic and allow you flexibility in your social and work life. Still, we wouldn't recommend a haphazard routine to guide your daily work ethos.
Routine is powerful in that it allows us to form healthy habits and reduce wasted time.
We suggest setting yourself a fixed work schedule, such as from 9.00 AM to 6.00 PM. From then on, you can adopt further flexible hours by changing work timings for social and work appointments. The great thing about these fixed hours is that the ultimate decision still lies with you as the freelancer to set them as you wish. For example, if you're a night owl, you might prefer to start work later. Or if you love mornings, you might even adopt a 6.00 AM start.
The next question is then: how many hours a day should I work? This is a decision that you'd have to undertake regarding the hours that you can bill clients for, as well as the hours you require to reinvest in non-billable work, such as maintaining your sales cycle to generate new leads and customer service.
3. Use Technology to Your Advantage
Optimize your repeatable workflows as a freelancer to manage your time better. By improving your operations' efficiency, you will be able to reduce the amount of non-billable work hours in your day-to-day routine.
Plutio is a great tool that provides almost everything you need to run your business. Plutio provides all the necessary tools that freelancers need to run their business successfully, from creating proposals and contracts to time-tracking and invoicing.
- Managing projects and tasks: Create tasks for billable work with custom fields, collaborative tools and templates.
- Time-tracking software: Generate time-sheets, invoices for a billable time across all devices.
- Create professional invoices: Create invoices in multi-currencies, with multiple supported payment methods and recurring frequencies.
- Create beautiful proposals: Drag-and-drop editor allows you to create proposals, get notified on signatures and electronic signature functions.
Apart from Plutio to automate much of your freelancing workflows, you can also use a plethora of collaboration tools to boost your productivity with other members of your team or your clients, such as Discord/Zoom for meetings and remote socials, and AirTable/Notion for building your knowledge repositories.
You can also use free website builders to create your own professional website for your freelancing portfolio. A professional website, that can be built cheaply or even for free with the latest website builders, makes it easy for your client to view all of your past work at once, add in social proof by way of any press coverage, as well as testimonials and case studies. Great tools include Squarespace, Wix, and Webflow.
4. Work in a Workspace
Your workspace should be equipped with everything you need to get your work done and minimize distractions that may affect your focus.
Whether you are working from home or a co-working space, you should aim to have these elements for the workspace to foster productivity:
- Light: The workplace should be perfectly lit, as this positively affects energy levels and reduces tiredness: the more natural light, the better.
- Clean and Organized: Keep your workspace clutter-free. A messy workspace has been shown to reduce productivity and hinder work tasks.
- Optimized Chair and Table Setup: A healthy work setup for extended hours of sitting down should include a laptop stand to raise your screen to your eye level, a chair with lumbar support, and if you can afford it, perhaps even an ergonomic, flexible standing desk!
5. Mindfully Minimize Distractions
Social media and text messages are some of the greatest modern hindrances to productivity. You do not have to completely cut yourself off from social media or curb its use entirely, but instead, grant yourself organized short pauses for using social media and texting during work hours.
For example, having a 15-minute break interval every hour to relax and follow up on social media can help you manage distractions effectively.
6. Divide Your Schedule into Blocks
Context switching occurs when your schedule is too full, and you need to jump between different tasks quickly. These tasks use other cognitive functions; for example, rushing out an email to a client, which requires analytical and situational thinking, and then rushing to complete a design pitch which requires creative thinking.
Time-blocking, which is the process of dividing your work schedule into specialized blocks that are dedicated to a different aspect of your work, allows you to allocate a specific time for each task. This massively increases your productivity.
For example, you can carve out time for:
- Blocks to review emails, reply and clear your inbox.
- Blocks to receive and make outbound phone calls and Zoom meetings.
- Blocks to check operational tasks and review workflows for your invoicing, time-tracking etc.
- Blocks for actual billable work.
7. Focus On Your Most Profitable Customers
One way to better manage our time is to choose our clients better.
When you are a freelancer, it is essential to determine how much time you dedicate to each client and the value that each client provides you with: monetary and non-monetary.
You can ascertain the "profitability" of your clients by understanding not just who brings you the most benefits in terms of pay/remuneration but also understand the clients that you've grown to love to work with, be it whether it is their professional reputation that you'd like to be associated with, or their healthy and respectful work culture that you enjoy, or your love and passion for their organization's mission.
Focus your time and energy on the clients that provide the best balance in monetary and non-monetary benefits
8. Avoid Procrastination
When we are working, we can sometimes find ourselves with menial tasks that we seek to avoid at all costs. This in turns leads us to procrastinate.
We can improve our habits and reduce procrastination through fostering healthier habits, such as rewarding ourselves with completing tasks and minimizing distractions while working.
Studies have also shown that increased mindfulness from mindfulness activities can also help you reduce procrastination. You can practice mindfulness with activities such as meditation, journalling, intention-setting, and self-care.
9. Start Small, to Be Productive
When it comes to carrying out all the tasks on your daily, weekly or monthly task list, prioritizing tasks will help you always to do what is most necessary, in case you run out of time.
Sometimes, we get overwhelmed by our to-do lists and do not start at all. While some might be inclined to start doing more tedious or mundane tasks, or more pressing matters, a productivity hack is to start with the easiest and quickest task.
This builds momentum, helping you to start feeling productive quickly. You can then move on to more tedious tasks or that you like least, such as recording your sales and purchase invoices in your accounting.
10. Take Good Care of Your Body
In addition to learning to manage your work time, remember to also take care of your body and min
Sometimes, as freelancers, we need to remember to take breaks to rest and recover. We might have ambitious goals, but remember that you need to keep pace not just to outlast the marathon but also to enjoy the journey.
As the adage goes, time is money. This phrase resonates ever more sharply for freelancers. Any freelancer must manage their time in the best possible way. We hope that this article has helped you learn to manage your time at work effectively.
Jaron Soh is Co-founder and COO at Traktion, the platform that makes hiring for growth simpler, agile, and more profitable for businesses. Prior to Traktion, Jaron founded the e-commerce marketplace Artisan & Fox, with operations across 10+ countries.