Why Time Management Skills Are a Must for Freelancers
Time is money when you work for yourself. Here's how to make the most of it.
Whether it’s because of a long day stuck inside the office, days filled with endless meetings, or simple interactions with a manager who seems to know exactly how to push all the wrong buttons, from time to time, we all dream of branching out on our own.
Freelancing is an appealing alternative to the daily grind and it’s an allure that more and more of us are finding hard to resist. Based on projections from the Freelancing in America Survey, if freelancing continues to grow at its current rate, freelancers will make up the majority of the US workforce by 2027.
According to Doodle’s “Growing Client Loyalty Remotely” study, 46 percent of employees are conducting client meetings outside of business hours in order to retain them. Against that backdrop, it’s no wonder that so many people prefer the dream of working from their local coffee shop and being able to pick the kids up from school every day.
That’s certainly what caught my imagination when I turned full-time freelancer more than a year ago. I haven’t looked back since and I’m not alone in that assertion. Half of American freelancers say they would not go back to a traditional job for any amount of money.
So, the world of freelancing must be all rainbows, puppy dogs and sunshine, right? Not exactly. There are, of course, downsides and the major one is that, as a freelancer, time is quite literally money. So, to succeed as a freelancer, you also need to master the art of time management.
How time management impacts freelancers
You are now master of your schedule – good luck
For many freelancers, no longer having to dance to the beat of the corporate drum is the main appeal. No more rush-hour commutes. No more clock-watching. No more living for the weekend.
While owning your schedule is undoubtedly liberating, it can also be chaotic. Without a nine-to-five, the hours quickly merge and you can find yourself working deep into the evening; weekends and weekdays can start to look the same; vacations become something you discuss with salaried friends but never have the time to take.
It can be hard to sympathize with digital nomads who are managing to perform freelance life from a beach in Bali, but even paradise loses its charm if you never have time to relax and recover.
Create a flexible schedule and make some rules about what times of day you work, how many hours a week you work and when you’re going to book your next vacation.
You can’t stop saying “Yes!”
‘Yesitis’ is an ailment that afflicts all freelancers at some time, but it’s especially common amongst newer freelancers. With the security of a recurring salary removed, there’s an understandable temptation to take on every piece of work clients offer. Suddenly, you’re overwhelmed by deadlines and finding it hard to deliver.
The tendency to take on too many projects is compounded by what famed psychologists Kahneman and Tversky christened ‘the planning fallacy’ – human beings’ innate tendency to underestimate the time needed to complete any assignment.
Plan (and charge) for assignments to take fifty percent more time than you initially estimate. If projects require high degrees of collaboration with others, you may want to double that original projection. Oh, and learn to say “no.” It can be powerful.
Procrastination is your middle name
Even the most efficient people procrastinate. There’s substantial evidence that procrastination is essential for both creating the urgency to get tasks done, and also for feeding our creative inspiration. However, if you bill per hour or you have a client waiting on you to deliver an assignment, procrastination is not a particularly useful trait. It is an area where many freelancers come unstuck.
Just as salaried workers are surrounded by cues to get their work done, such as other employees, schedules filled with meetings or the need to be in the office or online at a specific time each day, freelancers need to create these same cues to avoid a few hours of procrastination becoming a full day without work.
Equally, don’t trick yourself into thinking that you can avoid procrastination altogether. You must allow for times of unproductiveness. Unless you have superhuman levels of concentration, 40 billable hours a week are likely to take 50 hours or more to complete.
Schedule your procrastination. Allow yourself 30 minutes to surf your social or read through the news while sipping your morning coffee. Use apps like Focus to block you from visiting certain websites or apps for 25 minutes out of every half hour. Or make a lunchtime walk part of your schedule – combining a little exercise, fresh air and the chance to call friends, catch up on a podcast or think through some issues.
You are your company – all of it
If freelancing were simply a matter of doing the work you’re good at for one or more clients, time management would not be such a challenge. However, as a freelancer, you are now CEO, CFO, COO, CTO and CHRO, as well as the only employee. In addition to the actual assignment and projects you’re working on, you need to hunt down new work, schedule meetings, take care of invoicing, file taxes, record expenses, choose a pension scheme and take care of any technical hiccups along the way. These are all useful life skills and learning experiences, but they require time and excellent organizational skills.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a full schedule of work, make an honest assessment of the value of your time and which tasks you do and don’t enjoy performing. Then become a master of outsourcing the rest to other tools or freelancers.
For example, having once lost an entire day trying to install an external drive for a monitor, I discovered a great freelance remote tech support via Fiverr. Now, when I have issues, I turn immediately to my tech guy who gets the job done quickly, while I’m able to keep working for my clients.
From automated meeting scheduling to time tracking software and even apps that help with invoicing, expenses and filing taxes, implementing such support tools makes you more efficient and makes the job of being a freelancer much more comfortable than ever before.
You’re still a professional – behave like one
While the temptation to burn the suit and never wear anything but sneakers and sandals again is strong, don’t let all semblance of competence go up in smoke too. Discipline and dedication go a long way to success as a freelancer.
According to Doodle’s own research, almost half of professionals consider participants arriving at meetings late or having to leave early to be a significant irritation. So, whether online or in person, make sure your schedule is up to date and that you are fully present for the entire meeting duration. Oh, and don’t forget to be suitably attired. Even for freelance developers, pajamas in a Zoom call is a bad look.
Deadlines are even more important as a freelancer than as an employee. You are defined by your word and your ability to deliver, so organization and the ability to prioritize are vital traits. Remember: a great freelancer is a great collaborator who has a stack of work through word of mouth or repeat clients.
It helps to think ahead rather than always chasing your schedule. Arrive at al meetings – online and offline – five minutes early and use the time to be the best-prepared person in that meeting. Also, schedule deadlines for bigger projects at least one day early, giving you 24 hours of wiggle room should you run into difficulties.
Whatever industry you’re in, if you dream of branching out on your own but you’re also plagued by time management doubts, know that there are plenty of tools and services out there to help you succeed and that, with a little preparation and strategy, freelance success looms. Also, rest assured that, while it may be chaotic to start with, we do improve many time management skills with repetition and experience.
To learn how to master your virtual meetings – and keep all of your clients engaged and loyal – download our research study, “Growing Client Loyalty Remotely.”