The shift from permanent employee to freelancer dictates change – a change of hours, office location, working relationships and responsibilities. But the biggest adjustment is finding an effective way to manage your time.
When I worked as a full-time web developer, time management came easily. The online calendar, project management tools and to-do list dictated how I spent my day. The work was interesting but formulaic – achieve this, then that and you’re done. There was plenty of scope to be creative but work was carried out on a single road leading to clear objectives at the end.
If I worked a few extra hours in a week, my pay package remained the same. Time did not equal money. And time began to feel like an expendable commodity where I could get lost in a low priority problem or even surf the internet for cat pictures without much impact on my work (although research from Hiroshima University suggests that this may boost productivity: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0046362).
The stakes are not as high for a permanent employee. If I failed to make a deadline then I received a dressing down from my boss or a client. But if I fail to make a deadline as a freelance writer, I lose a client, I lose trust within the industry and this loss is reflected in my earnings.
I say this with the proviso that permanent employees feel just as time pressured as freelancers – deadlines always need to be met. But time management as a freelancer is completely different. Every chunk of work is an asset, not a tickbox on a to-do list. Every task directly adds value to me, not to a team or the wider company. Every new contract represents a boosted income for me and me alone.
One key difference between permanent work and self-employment is the range of tasks you have to manage. As a freelancer, you are the sales team, finance department, facilities manager and web master. Balancing these diverse roles while maintaining focus on your business is no easy task. The straight road has been replaced by spaghetti junction.
You also lose the buffer of a boss to deal with clients and dictate your work. This is one of the reasons I love freelancing – it is a far more rewarding way of working but it is also much more demanding from a time management perspective. If a client needs copy in a hurry, there’s no one to negotiate a deadline on my behalf and no one to delegate the work to.
There is also no more 9-to-5 as a freelancer. It can be a famine or feast existence and you need to be able to adapt to this. When the work is mounting up, you have to be able to prioritise and knuckle down. And, in quiet periods, you need to maintain momentum and spend time on less glamorous tasks such as invoicing, pitching ideas or working through your inbox.
Here are my five tips to manage your time as a freelancer:
1. Create a schedule – flexibility is a benefit of freelancing but you need a schedule to be efficient. Try to compartmentalise your time on a day-to-day basis or map out the week ahead, blocking off time for specific projects.
2. Minimise distractions – if you work from home then it can be difficult to dodge distractions. You have a couple of options. Either barricade yourself in a room away from distractions or grab your laptop and head to the nearest library or coffee bar.
3. Stay focused – multitasking is a key skill for any freelancer but juggling too many tasks at once results in a loss of productivity. Try writing down ideas and tasks in a notebook, use a clever tool such as Wunderlist (www.wunderlist.com/) or use the Pomodoro Technique (http://pomodorotechnique.com/), where you focus on one task for a 25-minute block before taking a 5-minute break. Which leads me to my next point...
4. Take a break – productivity improves when you take a break. If you work primarily on a computer, for example, get up and go for a walk, read a book or just step away from the screen. Just surfing Facebook or writing a few social emails doesn’t count. The perfect break length is much disputed but recent research suggested working for 52 minutes and then taking a 17-minute break (www.fastcompany.com/3035605/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/the-exact-...).
5. Raise your rates – this may sound like strange advice, but raising your rates can help you to be more productive. By charging more, you have the freedom to pursue the work you enjoy and flexibility to refuse time-zapping projects. I’m not suggesting you double your rates across the board but consider slightly increasing your rates with each new client. Over time, you will notice a difference.
My time management skills have moved to the next level as a freelancer. It’s not enough to flit between tasks and giggle at the latest grumpy cat picture. Every minute counts. My time is my money – so I must manage it effectively to succeed.
Article by Gemma Church
Gemma Church is ‘the freelance writer who gets tech’. She is a journalist, blogger and writer for the science and technology sectors.