The old saying time is money is perhaps the most relevant to freelancers. Strangely, many freelancers often find themselves scrambling to meet deadlines, sometimes even failing to do so.
So, what is stopping you from getting things done on time, especially when your paycheck depends on it? The simple answer is — yourself.
It sounds a tad harsh, but that’s the reality. And this problem is not restricted to freelancers, most people are bad at time management. It is more of a systemic issue that originates from our culture, education system, the way we were brought up, among many other reasons.
Meanwhile, the demand for freelancers is growing by the day, more and more companies are employing freelancers. That means there is scope to earn a lot more, and also maintain a better work-life balance if you can manage time better. The bottom line is that it is the key to unlocking your true potential.
This is why time management is such an important topic for us. We hope to help and encourage our community and beyond to get better at time management.
Keeping this in mind, we reached out to some of the most successful freelancers from our community to learn more about how they managed their time. We asked them the following questions, and you can find their insights and advice below that:
1. Time management hack(s) that changed your life.
2. What are your favourite time management tools?
3. One piece of advice for up-and-coming freelancers on time management.
Gayathri Vishwanathan, Freelance Writer
1. One hack that has worked miracles for me is that I don’t watch Youtube or Netflix until I am done with my day’s work. Also, I put my phone on flight mode to avoid getting distracted while working. Once, I finish the day’s work; I reward myself by catching up on a series or random videos. This simple hack has helped me become significantly more productive.
I also follow a one assignment per day policy; it helps me to deliver top quality articles to my clients as I am focused on just one deliverable at a time.
2. I have never used a tool to manage my time. I have always relied on self-discipline. However, I’m curious about productivity tools and would like to try out a few to see if they help me.
3. Find the best suitable time for work and maintain a routine so that you can manage your projects efficiently. For me, early mornings and late nights are the most productive hours. If you have kids or old parents who need care, ensure you have enough support to manage your work and home efficiently. Ensure that no one disturbs you at that time.
Shailesh Kudale, Digital Strategy Consultant
1. For me, proper planning is the key to getting things done on time. Before I start working on a project, I break it down into small tasks, identify challenges and interdependencies, and categorise tasks based on their importance and urgency; this ensures I never miss out on anything urgent.
Typically, I start the day by writing down the three critical tasks I want to complete. Besides that, I monitor the time taken for all the daily activities — helps me plan my days better and also, find out if I’m spending too much time on a non-critical activity.
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2. I prefer mobile based applications as they are more convenient. I use Asana to manage my daily work, and Google Calendar to set up all the critical activities and plan monthly.
3. My advice to the upcoming freelancers would be — commit to realistic timelines and never overpromise, plan the schedule well in advance, and delight your clients by overdelivering.
Sidharth Chhawchharia, Freelance Developer
1. When I started freelancing, I mostly worked throughout the day and sometimes even late in the night. There was no proper work-life balance. I started wondering where was I going wrong. I realised that I was working hard but not smart.
So, I decided I should have a fixed routine and set the right expectations with the client. Although it was hard to say ‘NO’ to untimely tasks and unreasonable deadlines initially. But, by doing so I was able to find more time for myself.
3. I feel that the correct way to manage your time is to commit to your work like a pro, and not to compromise on your me-time, sleep, and weekends. Of course, there would be instances where you’d have to work additional hours but make sure they stay as an exception and not the norm.
P.T. Shravani, Freelance Content Writer and Editor
1. One hack I swear by is starting my workday with simpler-to-accomplish tasks, and keeping the more daunting one(s) for the latter half.
Accomplishing the simpler, smaller tasks (from wrapping up that 400-word blog to emailing the client your project-related ideas) in the first half of the day is likely to make you feel great about yourself, saving and boosting your productivity for bigger, more challenging tasks during the day.
This is a neat little psychological trick that has worked for me every single time because it makes me look like a champion at work every single day!
2. I started with Toggl (basic plan) to keep track of time spent on projects, but quickly learnt I could use it for other purposes as well such as, using its “Reports” feature to gain insights on which of the projects I was spending far too much time on (when paired against my earnings on the said projects).
Now that I have a small team under me, I’d also include Asana in this list because of how easy it makes assigning tasks, keeping track of completed ones, discussing project requirements/doubts, tracking team members’ performances and ensuring deadlines are met. The fun template and the casual/chatty look helps tremendously!
3. My advice for freelancers dipping their feet in the business – treat it like a job. Set your own hours – 9 to 5 or 10 to 6 – whatever works for you – and stick to it.
You can be flexible with your timings once in a while, but knowing that you have a timeframe will allow you to be professional at work, helping you accomplish tasks faster and keeping your personal and professional lives separate – a dire necessity when you’re working from home and looking to manage time!
You could also go ahead and create a low-key office set up in your home using a desk and minimal office supplies to set the ball rolling. It may sound like make-believe, but simply taking care of these two details can help you take your freelancing career seriously, manage your time and design your freelancing success.
Krishnendu Mandal, Freelance Data Science Expert
1. In my initial days as a freelancer, I struggled a lot to juggle my full-time and my freelance work. I often found myself scrambling to meet deadlines. That’s when I started setting my own deadlines for projects.
My deadlines will always be earlier than the actual one. For instance, if the client’s deadline is 20th May, I aim to finish it by 18th May. It is a simple hack, but it has helped improve my efficiency massively.
Another thing that I learned over my freelancing journey is that you should always plan out your course of action. Right after a project is confirmed, I divide it into small milestones and set a timeline and course of action for each. Then I monitor my progress on a daily or weekly basis (depending on the size of the project) so that I can make the necessary adjustments at the right time.
2. I use Google Calendar to plan my timelines and to set reminders.
3. If you are giving the client a specific timeline, never miss it. If you think you won’t be able to meet it, ensure you inform the client beforehand. Don’t wait till the deadline day to communicate the delay or for the client to follow up. It is your responsibility to keep them posted about your progress.
Narmada Udayakumar, Freelance Content Writer and Social Media Ideator
1. I believe that time is the biggest asset for a freelancer and learning to “control” how you use it is the most important hack.
Unlike a 9-5 job, freelancers do not have a controlled environment. Although this is one of the pros of freelancing, it can also work against you. It is important to classify and plan your work (personal and professional) for the entire day, and even more important to stick to that time before moving to other chores.
For example: If your to-do list says keyword research, laundry, and website optimisation (in that priority order), and you give 2 hours to each of them, then ensure you complete the first task before moving on to the second.
2. With technology ruling over every industry, access to various time management tools has made life easier for many. However, I like sticking to the good old tradition of “pen and paper”. I think they are the best tools for me in managing my time.
At the start of the day, I jot down all the things to do and give each task a timeline. It helps keep the deadlines fresh in my mind, and also gives me the satisfaction of crossing items off the list.
3. Always split up your work hours, and dedicate at least 20-30% of your time for reaching out to potential clients on various platforms and building your professional network.
Divya Agrawal, Freelance B2B Tech Writer
1. I believe time management is distraction management, in essence. There are quite a few hacks I learned the hard way that totally changed the game for me and these are also a few I would recommend to upcoming freelance writers.
- Keep your phone on your left if you are a right-handed person. This way, you pick it up less often when it buzzes.
- If you want to take a break, leave an article half-written. If you complete a piece of work before pausing for a bit, you take a more extended break.
- This is specifically for freelance writers. Create the first draft without caring a lot about grammar, punctuation, spelling, and formatting. This gets the first draft ready, and then you can edit and rework.
- Work in a different window than the one that has your email inbox open. Open one window for the research websites and a different one for the writing space. This will help you focus and remove any distractions. Fight the urge to check your email repeatedly
- Do the hard job first. You know that thing you feel like putting to the end of the day — do that first. You feel accomplished and in better shape to focus and do more after you’re done with the hard stuff.
- Are you feeling the urge to call a friend? Check social media? Have a sweet? Use that as a bait to complete work faster. Reward yourself at the end with whatever your distraction is. This is how I manage my distractions.
- Don’t have your lunch in front of the TV watching your favorite show. I try to keep the focus alive when I take a break for meals.
2. As for a tool, I consider Trello an excellent time management tool. When you have everything — upcoming deadlines, ongoing projects, each project’s specific details, research material, client information, etc. — present in a single window, you cut down hassle by a huge margin. Trello allows me to schedule, add detail, and forget about things, so I have the headspace to focus on specific tasks at hand. It’s a great time management tool in that regard.
Rohini Murthy, PR Professional and Freelance Writer
1. I created a workspace at home which is similar to a SOHO. A dedicated space gave me a semblance of entering an office space which helped me concentrate better and aided me in drawing a line between household chores and work assignments. It is a simple hack but proves to be very useful in enhancing your productivity and quality of work.
2. I don’t make use of any time management tools besides charting out a mental map of priorities and jotting it down in my diary like old school.
3. Don’t get stressed out if you are up against tight deadlines. Take a few deep breaths, compose yourself, and start by prioritising your work.
A huge thanks to all the experts who weighed in! Let us know in the comments about your favourite time management tips. Also, if you found the post helpful, do share it on social media with your friends and followers.