How to Manage Your Time As a Freelancer

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When you’re a freelancer, there are no contracted working hours, no guaranteed half an hour for lunch, no one to tell you when to turn up, and no rules over how much holiday you can take. As a result, some freelancers end up working practically nonstop, tipping their work-life balance towards work, or feeling like they have no free time. So, how do you manage your time effectively as a freelancer to get your work done and get that vital work-life balance?

The only rule…

Contrary to what you might expect, the one and only rule of managing your time effectively as a freelancer is to do what works for you. In other words, nobody but you can tell you how to manage your time most effectively. The answer depends on what you’re like as an individual and how you work best. It’s easy to lose sight of that, but it’s vital to remember this important rule if you want a freelance lifestyle that works for you.

But what about productivity techniques?

Yes, there are countless methods that strive to improve your productivity, from focus-boosting apps to notification blockers, the Pomodoro technique to time blocking, and so on. There are those who say “the early bird catches the worm”. But ultimately, every freelancer is different, so the same things won’t work for everybody. If you listen to prescriptive advice on how to manage your time, you might end up working in a way that suits somebody else but doesn’t work for you at all.

Instead, it’s better to do some self-analysis to figure out what the problem is, what’s causing it, and which solutions are effective for you personally.

If you’re having trouble managing your time…

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If you don’t seem to have enough time available for all of your work, or are working all of the hours under the sun, ask yourself why? Is it because you have too much work for the hours available? Or because you’re wasting time on unimportant tasks? To figure this out, you can track how you spend your time using a calendar or free time-tracking app such as RescueTime.

  • If you discover you’re wasting time, then eliminate the time-wasters.
  • If you’ve been over-committing to work, start cutting back and saying no.
  • If you’ve got too many tasks to do, look at automation or outsourcing some tasks.

If you’re struggling to be productive…

Start by figuring out what is affecting your productivity. Is it email notifications, tiredness, lack of focus, working environment, or something else? Once you know what the problem is, you can put solutions in place.

  • If you’re easily distracted or can’t focus, try notification-blocking software or a focus-boosting app or technique.
  • If you’re tired, get more sleep, plan daily exercise, go for a walk to freshen up, or modify your working hours to match your circadian rhythm.
  • If your working environment isn’t suitable, try setting up a dedicated home office or working from a different location, such as the garden or a co-working space.

You might want to adjust your working hours to match your productivity levels, in which case time-tracking apps can help you discover your most productive hours.

If you have a bad work-life balance…

As a freelancer, it can be notoriously difficult to balance your personal life and work. Especially when you work from home, it can be tempting to work all hours or turn your laptop on the minute you get an email on your phone.

  • Think about how many hours per week or day you’d like to work and set boundaries accordingly.
  • Make yourself switch off your laptop or phone for social time.
  • Split your work and personal emails into separate accounts and don’t check your work account in non-work times.
  • Tell clients the hours you’re not available.
  • Give yourself a break from working by taking a lunch break every day and planning regular days off and holidays.

As a freelancer, you get to choose how you work, so don’t listen to what works for other people—figure out what works for you.

What improves your productivity? Got any techniques you’d like to share? Comment below or get in touch.

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