The time and project management tips freelancers need to succeed

Leveraging time and project management is one of the key components of freelance success. Learn how you can make time work for you.
The time and project management tips freelancers need to succeed

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More than 57 million Americans have decided to become their own boss.

While one of freelancing's biggest draws is being your own boss, sometimes that's easier said than done. With the freedom to work where you want and when you want comes great responsibility. After all, you only get paid if your work gets done.

For some people, working an erratic schedule works best. But for others, maintaining some sense of a regular work routine is necessary.

Keep reading for our top tips for mastering time management and project management to help you find out what works for you - and how to turn your time into money.  

Plan your week ahead on Sunday night

One of the most important skills to learn if you want to succeed as a freelancer is time management. And one of the simplest ways to manage your time is to plan your schedule out ahead of time.

For best results, you should do this before your workweek starts — on Sunday night. If you wait until you get up on Monday morning, you'll already be behind. You'll either have to spend time planning during working hours or not plan at all.

Planning your tasks for the week is probably your most important task overall, so it deserves it's own designated time and all of your focus.

Set aside some time, perhaps half an hour, on Sunday night to layout your tasks for the week ahead. That way, you'll start off Monday morning knowing exactly what needs to be done. 

Work on a fixed schedule

When you first start freelancing, the freedom from working 9 to 5 and the ability to take control of your own schedule feels amazing. But, if you don't learn to manage yourself and your time, you won't succeed in the long term.

There's a reason society has a structured workday schedule — it works. With a traditional work arrangement, your boss makes sure you work your scheduled hours and makes sure you complete your work each day.

When you're self-employed, that responsibility falls on you. For most freelancers, being your own boss is the hardest part of the job.

Succeeding at freelancing is all about finding the right balance. When you work for a traditional employer, the line between work time and personal time is well defined. When you work from home on your own time, that line can easily become blurred.

Then, two things can happen. If your personal life takes over, your work won't get done. If your work life takes over, you can become burnt out.

Overworking and forgetting to unwind at the end of the day can have a significant negative impact on the quality of your work. Most freelancers stick to a schedule, even if it's not a traditional one. 

Work hardest when you naturally have the most energy

Learning how to prioritize while also taking into account how to make the most of your time is critical for success in freelancing.

Making the most of your time involves changing your habits to best suit your body's clock. One of the best parts of freelancing is being able to work on your own schedule.

Some people have the most energy outside of working hours. Night owls, for example, can obviously benefit from setting their own schedule.

But for most people, working a regular workday keeps them the most productive. This is where prioritization comes into play.

Most people have the most energy when they first sit down to work for the day. At the same time, most people begin their workday with mundane tasks like checking their email.

Time management for freelancers boils down to learning how to get the most out of your workday by scheduling your tasks around your best working hours. When you figure out when you're most productive, you can block off those hours to work on the tasks that take the most focus. 

Devote lower energy hours to easier work

Along the same lines, schedule your easiest tasks for the times when you're less productive.

For example, if you're a morning person, you should dedicate your early working hours to your most important tasks. Then, when afternoon and evening roll around and you have less energy, you can check off the lighter items on your to-do list such as checking your email and social media. 

Try working in shorter bursts

When it comes to setting your schedule, consider opting for a non-traditional workday.

While the 9 to 5 workday has its merits, it's not the most productive option. In the corporate world, the 9 to 5 work schedule makes sense because you don't have the same level of freedom that you have when you freelance. You simply can't — and probably don't want to — take a nap in the office.

Most people want to get their work done and leave as soon as possible. However, this isn't necessarily the best option for producing high-quality work.

When you freelance, you have the opportunity to manage your time more efficiently. For example, if it takes you less time to get your work done, you can end the day early. You don't have to sit in your chair just because of the time on the clock.

One of the best ways to take advantage of this freedom is to work in short bursts. Most people will find that working for 3 or 4 hours straight doesn't produce the best work.

Freelancing gives you the opportunity to build meaningful breaks into your schedule so that you're not wasting time and putting out inferior work. 

Use the Pomodoro Technique

If working in short bursts sound like your kind of thing, there's actually a formal name for the technique. The Pomodoro technique is a method for improving productivity by making the most of your time.

With this technique, you'll first decide on the task you want to work on. Then, you'll work on that task for 25 minutes, being sure to set a timer. When the timer rings, you'll stop working and take a 5-minute break.

Once you've completed 4 sets of this, take a longer break — 15 to 30 minutes. This article goes into more detail about how and why the Pomorodo Technique really works. 

Use the Ivy Lee Method to improve productivity

A common problem freelancers experience is taking on more than they can handle.

Planning ahead only works when you're accurate in assuming what you can complete in a given amount of time. When you over assign tasks to yourself, some of them won't get done.

You're also more likely to find yourself moving between multiple tasks at once, without ever completing a single one.

A simple solution to this problem is called the Ivy Lee Method of Task Management. The Ivy Lee method takes the concept of creating checklists and makes it more meaningful. Here's a quick breakdown:

Step 1: At the end of each day, write down the 6 most important tasks you need to complete the next day. You should have this information already noted on your weekly to-do list. Limit yourself to only 6 tasks.

Step 2: Prioritize your 6 tasks in order of importance.

Step 3: The following day, start with your first task. Complete this task before moving onto the second task. 

Step 4: At the end of the day, move any tasks you didn't complete to your list for the next day. 

Step 5: Follow this process every day you work. 

The Ivy Lee Method has been around for over 100 years. What makes it so effective? Following this method is an easy way to prioritize your most important tasks, save time, and eliminate the stress of deciding what to focus on. 

Master tracking your time

Tracking your time can help you not just with project management but with overall time management as well.

Most freelancers track their time in order to bill their clients, but even if you don't have to, you still should. Tracking your time allows you to get an overhead look at your operations, much like your boss would at a traditional job.

When you understand how you spend your time, you can plan better and make improvements. If you're spending too much time on projects for a certain client, why is that?

Knowledge is power when it comes to time and project management. There are a number of time tracking apps to help you gain insight and bill clients.  

Create an ideal work environment and change up your work environment as needed

Where you physically complete your work can have a big impact on your productivity.

As more workers are working from home than ever before, there has never been more information available to help you create the optimal office space. This article contains plenty of tips for creating the perfect remote working space.

While having a well-designed workspace can seriously boost productivity, don't underestimate the power of a change of scenery. If you feel your productivity slipping, don't be afraid to try something different. Many freelancers find success working in internet cafes and coworking spaces. 

Eliminate distractions

One of the hardest things for any modern worker is staying focused amidst distractions from our phones and computers.

It's all too tempting — and easy — to check social media for "just a second" and completely lose track of time and focus. Turn off notifications on your phone from social media and email during working hours.

StayFocused is a handy web browser extension that you can install that helps you stay away from distracting websites while you work.

Email can be just as distracting as social media. Avoid the temptation to read and respond to every email as they come in. Instead, set two designated times each day to go through your inbox. 

Make the most of your breaks

You know that taking enough breaks is important and can improve the quality of your work. But, did you know that what you do during your breaks is important too?

When you make the most of your breaks, your mental and physical health benefit. Here are some of the best things to do during your breaks from work:

  • Recharge your focus by distracting yourself
  • Go outside
  • Have a healthy snack
  • Do eye exercises
  • Exercise your body
  • Let your mind relax

As a freelancer, you have a unique opportunity to make the most of your working hours. Check out this article to learn more about how to make the most of your breaks. 

Learn to hold yourself accountable

As we mentioned before, being your own boss is not as easy as it may seem.

To really manage yourself effectively, you have to put yourself in your pretend boss's shoes. You can improve your productivity by evaluating yourself just like a real boss would.

You should do this on a regular basis.

The first step is setting the right goals. It can take some trial and error when you first start out to learn what goals are realistic for you. Then, after a set period of time, you should give yourself an evaluation.

Be careful not to be too hard on yourself, but don't go too easy either. Take the opportunity to evaluate whether you reached your goals and if not, why not? 

Put project management technology to use

Jumping into freelancing can be one of the best decisions you'll ever make — if you do it right.

Becoming a successful freelancer requires a commitment to learning the skills of project management and time management. Fortunately, you don't have to do it alone.

Moxie is designed to help new freelancers learn to manage themselves. We connect you to a community of experts and peers eager to help you learn the ropes.

Click here to get started today. 

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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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