As a freelancer, do you ever feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for the things that matter? It’s a common complaint. But the problem may not be how much time you have. Check out these time management tips from an experienced independent creative pro.
Many freelance colleagues tell me that they simply can’t find the time to do everything they’d like to get done professionally and personally. I understand where they’re coming from because I’ve frequently felt the same way during my years of freelancing. Yet more often than not I’ve found the number of hours in a day is less important than how you choose to use them.
Here are a few common complaints I hear from my fellow freelancers, along with some time management tips to help you better control the clock. While none of these strategies will actually give you more minutes, you’ll feel like you have extra time if you implement them.
“I have too much work for a personal life.”
As freelance challenges go, this is one of the best problems to have. You may even find that your fellow freelancers don’t have much sympathy for you, but it’s still a legitimate concern. This is usually a sign that it’s time to set firmer boundaries and expectations — possibly with clients, but more likely with yourself.
You wouldn’t want a corporate boss to drain your free time dry, so don’t do it when you are the boss either. I feel like the point of freelancing is to have more flexibility, not to work more hours. For example, I start and end my workday earlier than most people to match my wife’s teaching schedule so we can enjoy more time together. If you struggle with this, try scheduling personal time as a daily “appointment,” and give it the same respect as your office hours.
“I don’t have time to promote my business.”
I think this idea is a bit crazy because it leads to having no work to do. But it’s such a common gripe amongst freelancers. Again, the fix is to schedule time for marketing yourself each week and treat it like a high-paying project.
More often the real reason is less “I don’t have time for this” and more “I just really don’t want to do this.” I got over this hurdle by finding a few freelancer friends who felt the same way. We check in once a month or so to keep ourselves accountable. I also think it’s perfectly fine to outsource some of your marketing tasks to another freelancer. One of my most successful collaborations was a trade deal with a local graphic designer: He helped me rebrand my website in exchange for my assistance in getting his email newsletter up and running.
Some freelancers think they shouldn’t do anything that isn’t billable work during office hours. This is usually a holdover mentality from a 9-to-5 job, but that doesn’t make it logical. Someone in your old company was doing business development, even if it wasn’t you.
“I lose time deciding what to do next.”
This is an easy one. Keep a single list of everything you need to do, organized by priority. I currently do this with a free app called Wunderlist, but you can use whatever system works for you. Whenever you’re unsure of what to do, grab your “hot list” and start working on the next item.
“I’d like to take time off, but the work has to get done!”
Yes, but work also has a funny way of expanding or contracting to fill the available time. For example, I made a commitment to work-life balance on day one of my freelance career. Except for very rare exceptions, my day ends by a specific time, I don’t answer my business phone outside of office hours, and I don’t work on weekends. If this sounds like a fantasy world, I urge you to try it for a month and see if your efficiency improves. You might be surprised how much sooner your creative projects get done.
Tom N. Tumbusch writes copy that creates action for creative professionals and green businesses.