Calling all freelancers: 10 tips on staying organized

When you're new to the world of freelance, work can easily get hard to manage. Here's how you can stay organized, efficient, and successful!
Calling all freelancers: 10 tips on staying organized

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Becoming a freelancer is an experience that you simply can't attain through a typical 9-to-5 job. Working for yourself in this manner is actually more like being an entrepreneur instead of a typical employee.

Many people struggle, however, when it comes to staying organized, and this can directly affect how efficiently they work.

Not quite sure how to begin? We’ve got all the info you need. Let's explore everything freelancers need to keep in mind.

1. Organize your files 

As you may expect, clutter can easily kill your overall productivity when freelancing. This is true regarding clutter for both physical documents and digital files.

All too often, freelancers allow their desks (and desktops) to fall into disarray. Not only does this make it difficult to locate the assignments or assets that you need, but you may also forget about certain obligations that become lost in the mess.

Fortunately, it's relatively easy to stay organized once you actually get organized.

It's best to set aside time as soon as possible to develop a personal system that allows you to quickly find the files that you need. For example, you can organize files on your laptop based on what client they are associated with.

You could also go a step further and organize projects based on the month and year in which you work on them.

Put simply, you should do everything that you can to optimize how quickly you can locate required files. Another practice to incorporate involves archiving projects after a certain amount of time has passed.

For instance, it's worth relocating files from the year's previous quarter onto an external hard drive, allowing you to free up space on your computer while maintaining access to this information. 

2. Complete tasks based on priority

One of the first things you learn as a freelancer is that not all tasks carry the same weight. Responding to emails, in general, is typically something that's done in between projects or assignments.

Putting off actual work in favor of replying to every unopened email isn't an efficient use of your time and could complicate your schedule later on.

Instead, it's recommended that you complete high-priority tasks as soon as possible while saving low-priority tasks for periods of downtime at the end/beginning of your workday.

A typical schedule could involve answering emails or messages in the morning, completing the bulk of your workday, and then following up with these messages once you're ready to stop working for the evening.

It's also recommended that you take advantage of the utility that a productivity app can provide. One of the most beneficial attributes of the Hectic app is the 'suggested actions' that it provides.

This will ensure that you stay on track and only spend time on actions that will benefit your freelance business.

Of course, not every freelancer begins working in the morning and stops in the evening— all that matters is the order in which these obligations are handled.

To help further increase your efficiency, you should write a to-do list for your workday that ranks tasks based on their level of priority. You'll then have an objective reference that can help you determine which obligations you should tackle first. 

3. Set a block of time dedicated to working

A common pitfall freelancers find themselves succumbing to is the capability to work whatever they'd like to. Unfortunately, this can easily develop poor habits, as it's far too easy to end up finishing your work at 2 or 3 in the morning.

While some freelancers intentionally schedule their time this way, the average freelancer ends up working a 12-or-13-hour day as opposed to the conventional 8-hour day.

The root of this issue is that freelancers often work for an hour or two before taking a break to exercise, relax, do chores, etc.

While there's nothing wrong with staying on top of personal obligations, you'll still be responsible for completing the projects you've accepted. 

So, a day that should have ended at 5 PM or 6 PM now runs well into the evening, sometimes past midnight.

Since the vast majority of other people have typical work schedules, this can make it difficult to socialize with friends or spend time with family.

Luckily, the solution is notably simple— all you'll need to do is establish a block of time that's dedicated to working. It will then become your responsibility to hold yourself accountable during this period so that you complete all the work you intend to. 

The Hectic app can help streamline this process by providing comprehensive project management utility.

4. Make your environment conducive to your productivity

Cleaning up your desk and computer's desktop isn't the only time where clutter comes into play. Working in an uncomfortable location can easily make it difficult for you to stay organized.

This is particularly true if this area contains non-work related items, such as playroom toys, storage boxes, etc. Instead, you'll need to ensure that your environment is as conducive to productivity as possible.

This will vary highly from person to person, as everyone has their own individual tastes.

Consider decorating your room in a way that makes you feel comfortable. For some, this could involve incorporating numerous plants and plenty of natural light. Others may favor a minimalist interior design with ambient lighting.

Playing music in the background will also help you stay organized because it will keep you in a constant state of creative flow.

Be careful, though, that you play the right music— it's highly recommended that you opt for instrumentals or songs in a language that you don't understand.

This will allow the songs to be background noise like you intend them to rather than something your brain focuses on. 

5. It's a marathon— not a sprint

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by a heavy workload. Depending on your projects, you may not even feel as though you have time to organize them. However, it's essential to remember that long-term success is a marathon and not a sprint.

This means that you need to break down your productivity into bite-size segments as opposed to rushing through your entire to-do list. Within your block of time that you allocate for your workday, you can further divide your time to work on specific projects.

Organizing your assignments and this way will make your day seem far less intimidating. 

As you progress through your workday, you'll have fewer and fewer obligations to worry about. Crossing off items from your list is a great way to help you visualize this and keep you focused.

Using an app to help you log the time you spend on projects is a great way to keep things in perspective. Otherwise, you may begin to feel overwhelmed as time goes on. 

6. Plan your workflow the day before

Planning is one of the most important steps that you can take toward staying organized while working. Unfortunately, planning is one of the last things that freelancers want to do after they're done working for the day.

But, setting aside 5 or 10 minutes the night before can go a long way when it comes to ensuring that the following day is as organized as possible.

You can also plan out other aspects of your day, such as how long you spend in the morning to mentally prepare yourself, the personal responsibilities you need to take care of, etc.

This is especially useful for those who don't have an abundance of free time, as it could be difficult to make the most of available opportunities without taking the time to write them down. The more thorough your plan, the easier it will be for you to stay on track.

This will directly result in a higher level of productivity and may even allow you to finish your workday sooner than you plan to. And, who doesn't want to have more time to relax or work on independent projects? 

7. Establish a daily routine

Ironically, this doesn't refer to how you complete your projects. Instead, it involves planning a routine associated with what you do before you start working.

Most freelancers find that they remain far more organized and productive when they trick their brain into going into 'work' mode. In a traditional work setting, this often involves a cup of coffee and a morning commute. 

As with your work environment, this will vary from person to person. Some people may need to simply brush their teeth and eat breakfast before they're ready to go. Others may need to shower, get dressed, and spend 30 minutes catching up on the latest news.

Since freelancers have so much control over how they work, they also have full control over their daily routines. Some individuals may find that they can mentally prime themselves by playing video games for a short session before starting their workday.

Regardless of what gets you ready to be productive, it's important that you stick to this routine every single day. Over time, this can drastically improve how organized you're able to stay.

8. Don't overload on assignments

It should come as no surprise that taking on an abundance of projects can easily make it exceedingly difficult to stay organized. This is especially true for projects that come with a large number of nuances, such as programming, website design, etc.

So, it's important to be realistic with yourself about the amount of work you're able to complete within a given period of time. Not only will overloading on assignments make proper work organization more difficult, but you also run the risk of leaving your clients dissatisfied.

In some scenarios, you may find that these professionals are no longer willing to work with you.

Using discretion when accepting projects also has a great synergy with the first tip in this list ('Organize Your Files'). When handled appropriately, it will be virtually impossible for you to have difficulty in locating the appropriate file or asset.

9. Respond to messages promptly

As previously mentioned, managing your messages or emails should only be done during certain parts of your workday. But, it's also imperative that you respond to clients' concerns as quickly as possible.

Oftentimes, clients have last-minute updates for your projects or attempt to get in touch with you regarding the project's completion. Unfortunately, many freelancers that fail to answer these concerns at the end of their workday end up pushing them to the next day instead.

If they aren't handled before their next workday, the cycle may continue indefinitely. This could potentially result in a wide array of complications, and it may even cause you to complete the project incorrectly.

As a general rule of thumb, you should respond to messages as soon as possible as long as you don't find yourself consistently foregoing sleep, quality time with friends/family, etc. to handle clients' concerns. 

You should also prioritize financial obligations, such as client invoicing. Fortunately, the Hectic app allows you to easily create branded invoices that pull data from your past projects.

In fact, the most you'll often need to do is click to approve the invoice that's generated.

10. Eliminate distractions

Distractions are the bane of productivity and organization. Even something as simple as scrolling through social media for 30 seconds could cause you to lose your train of thought and waste more time than you need in order to complete a task.

Eliminating as many distractions as possible will ensure that you can maintain an efficient workflow. If you can't escape a noisy environment, for example, consider wearing headphones.

It's also recommended that you put your phone on airplane mode or even turn it off while you're working so that you won't be tempted to check it.

If you find yourself becoming mentally overwhelmed to the point where you need to decompress, take a short break to gather your thoughts. You can use this time to satisfy the urges we have been having (checking texts, social media, etc.).

Afterward, you'll be ready to pick right back up where you left off at a far more efficient pace.

It can seem difficult for freelancers to stay organized 

But the above information will make the process far smoother.

From here, you’ll be able to take advantage of the tips that can help freelancers keep their workflow as organized and efficient as possible.

Want to learn more about how Hectic can help you stay organized, meet project deadlines, and become more efficient? Discover Hectic, a freelance management platform built for freelancers. 

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Our team of career freelancers writes about best invoice practices, what makes a great client, and repeats the mantra, "never work without a contract." We're opinionated about the future of work and will always be on the side of freelancers.
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