Many people turn to freelance because they want the freedom to set their own hours. While some freelancers are up at the crack of dawn, others prefer to work into the wee hours and sleep late the next day. The beauty of freelancing is that you can do whatever works for you — as long as you take the time to structure your schedule appropriately.
The following guide explains how to structure your schedule for maximum productivity and offers tips on time management for freelancers. You’ll also learn how to build sick days and vacation days into your schedule to reduce the risk of burnout.
Structuring Your Schedule
For freelancers, a one-size-fits-all approach to scheduling just doesn’t work. To maintain a high level of productivity, you must structure your schedule to accommodate both your personal preferences and the commitments you’ve made to others. Otherwise, you won’t be able to meet your writing deadlines without dropping the ball in some other area of your life.
At the beginning of each week, sit down and take a look at your approaching deadlines. For each task, figure out how much time you need to get everything done. Don’t forget to include a buffer for unexpected delays, such as difficulty finding quality sources or the need to consult with a subject matter expert before you turn in the assignment.
Once you know how many hours you need to complete each task, make a list of everything else you need to do during the week. Don’t forget to include the following:
- Going to the doctor
- Dropping off/picking up kids
- Attending sporting events or other school activities
- Helping kids with homework
- Spending time with loved ones
- Engaging in your hobbies
- Attending worship services
- Participating in community events
- Meeting with friends
- Preparing meals
Now that you have a clear idea of everything you need to do, block out time to work on your writing projects. Although some people prefer to write at the same time every day, you may find it easier to adjust your work hours based on all the other things you have going on. For example, if you have a doctor’s appointment at 9 a.m. on Monday, you may not be able to start working until 11 a.m. or later. Tuesday, you might need to get an early start so you can attend a meeting at your child’s school in the afternoon.
As you build your schedule, try to leave some extra time to deal with the little surprises life likes to throw at you on occasion. If you get sick or have a home emergency, such as a broken pipe or failing appliance, you need to be able to handle the situation without missing a deadline and disappointing one of your clients.
Time Management for Freelancers: Tips and Tricks
Creating a schedule is a good start, but you still need to manage your time effectively if you want to be as productive as possible. Here are some tips to help you manage your time without getting burned out.
Tracking Your Time
The Pomodoro® Technique is one of the most popular methods of time management for freelancers. Developed by Francesco Cirillo, this technique emphasizes the importance of estimating how long each task should take, eliminating distractions and maintaining intense focus for short periods of time. If you decide to try the Pomodoro Technique, here’s what to do:
- Pick a task to complete.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes. This 25-minute interval is known as a Pomodoro.
- While the timer is running, focus solely on your freelance work. Don’t stop to answer the phone, send an email or do anything else that isn’t the task you started at the beginning of the session.
- After 25 minutes, take a five-minute break.
- Take a long break — at least 20 minutes — every time you complete four Pomodoros.
You can keep track of your Pomodoros on paper, but it’s much easier if you use an app. Pomofocus is a browser-based tool that keeps track of your pomodoros, short breaks and long breaks. When you start work for the day, you can even make a list of tasks you need to complete and estimate how many Pomodoros you need to complete each one. This makes it much easier to determine how long it takes to complete different types of projects — which can help you determine your average hourly rate or figure out which type of writing is the most profitable.
Even the most productive freelancers get distracted sometimes, but you can’t get in the habit of letting a distraction completely destroy your focus. If you find yourself getting distracted frequently, try some of these tips:
- If you’re working while other people are at home, wear headphones to block out the sound of their activities. This also works to block out distracting noises coming from outside, such as car horns and construction equipment.
- Download an app to block distracting websites during your work hours. When these sites are blocked, you can’t access them without going through the hassle of changing the app’s settings, making it less tempting to visit Facebook or spend hours playing online bingo.
- Turn off email and app notifications on your phone. It’s hard to stay focused if you get a new notification every couple of minutes.
- Share your schedule and ask family members and friends not to call or text you during work hours unless there’s an emergency.
- If you have school-age children, stay on top of their assignments so you’re less likely to have one of them interrupt your work to tell you a big project is due tomorrow.
Don’t be afraid to set strong boundaries with the people in your life. More than a few freelancers have had someone show up at their home unannounced or assume they could take on daytime volunteering duties because they “just sit around in their pyjamas all day.” You need to make it clear that freelance writing is a job and you need to be able to focus on your work.
The best way to do this is to learn how to say no without feeling guilty. It takes a bit of practice, but once you master this skill, you’ll be more productive and won’t have to worry about feeling resentful because you turned down paid work to run the bake sale or collect donations for your church.
Psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert recommends being polite and assertive instead of beating around the bush. If the other person doesn’t accept your answer right away, be firm. There’s nothing wrong with putting your needs first when doing so can help you have a more successful career. If something comes along that you really want to do, such as volunteering at a food bank, go ahead and say yes.
Although many apps can be distracting, some of them make it easier to manage your time and keep track of assignments. If a paper-based system doesn’t work for you, downloading one of these apps can help you be more efficient and less likely to spend time doing things that take you away from paying work. Here are a few apps you might want to try:
- Asana: Designed for project management, Asana makes it easy to keep track of assignments, communicate with clients and collaborate with other freelancers.
- Evernote: If you’ve ever wasted time searching for a link or file, you might like Evernote. This tool allows you to store notes, schedules, to-do lists and more, eliminating the need to search for them in multiple places.
- Trello: Trello is also used for project management, but it uses digital “cards” to store information. You can create a card for each assignment and then delete it when the assignment is complete.
It’s great to be productive, but don’t forget to add breaks to your schedule. The longer you work without a break, the more mistakes you’ll make and the more time you’ll have to spend editing each piece. Working constantly also makes it difficult to maintain high levels of creativity and innovation, which can be detrimental to writers who rely on their creativity to earn money.
If possible, block out one hour for lunch — or dinner, if you prefer to work in the evening — to ensure you have enough time to eat, use the restroom and let your mind wander for a bit. Take short breaks throughout the day to stretch and clear your mind.
You can’t manage your time effectively if you don’t have realistic expectations. Just because you managed to write 10,000 words in a day once doesn’t mean you should aim to write 10,000 words every day — this just isn’t a reasonable level of output for most freelancers.
It’s also important to be realistic about how much time it takes to complete a task. Many freelancers have had that panicked feeling that comes from starting a project and finding out it’s taking three times longer than they anticipated to finish it. Finishing late puts you behind on other assignments, making the freelance life more stressful than it should be.
Scheduling Tips To Prevent Burnout
No matter how much experience you have, burnout is a real concern for freelancers. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to freelancing is that you don’t get paid sick days, holidays or vacation days. The good news is that you can still enjoy time off if you plan ahead.
If you’re planning to take a few days off, let your clients know ahead of time. Ask them to send you new assignments as soon as possible to ensure you have enough time to finish them. You may also want to check your schedule to see if there’s one month that tends to be less busy than the others. If so, scheduling your vacation during this month can help you avoid having to turn down work because you need a chance to relax.
Sick days are a little trickier, as you usually don’t get much notice that you’re going to be sick. One way to overcome this challenge is to keep a small emergency fund that you can draw from if you’re ill and need to take a few days to recover.
Another is to structure your schedule to give you a bit of a cushion in case you feel ill and just need to rest for a few hours. For example, you may want to schedule five hours of work per day instead of eight. If you have a migraine that makes it difficult to read and look at a screen, you can use the extra free time to lie down and wait for your medication to take effect instead of having to power through pain, nausea and light sensitivity.
Living the Freelance Life
Freelancing is an exciting opportunity to get paid for your skills and have a little more freedom than the average worker. To maximize your earnings and prevent burnout, it’s important to manage your time effectively. Crowd Content supports writers by making it easy to claim new work and keep track of in-progress assignments.