How I get things done in 10 steps- basics of time management for freelancers
Ever since I started freelancing, time management became a huge topic. The feeling that there is something going on is awesome, but being overwhelmed by work (or having nothing to do!) can suck. A lot.
So of course I do panic sometimes, when it seems there are one million urgent things to do RIGHT NOW, yet I find myself being quite productive and disciplined. Here are a few tips and tricks I use:
1) A bigger picture - every now and then I just stick a big piece of paper to the wall and brainstorm. I note all subjects (like podcast, blog, social media etc) and then write down everything that comes to my mind. Ideas, questions, partners, tools, side notes. It's all there - a reference for me to know what there is to do. And as much as I found it pointless at school, it's actually quite helpful in real life :) There's a bunch of apps to draw a good looking diagrams, but trust me- paper and a few pens do the trick. The key is just to focus and throw down all that comes to your mind (listening to some cool songs, sipping wine and planning your great, bright future).
2) Goal setting- 1 or 2 things that are important for me this month. It's what I start with because...clients. Yup, they never wait and queue for weeks ‘till I finish, they usually just come out of the blue. And to be honest, I can sacrifice a perfect new look for my website for a great project (which will probably impress my future clients way more anyway…). The second reason is that it's simply really motivating and easier to accomplish, if you work at 1 thing at the time, and not juggle 15.
3) Bit by bit- a few years ago I was the kind of person who writes down „make a kick-ass website” on my to do list, expecting it'll be ready in one day, never does it and gets frustrated. Luckily I learned that the most effective way to actually get things done is to divide the big plan into small pieces. This is also part of the reason why I like mind mapping so much -you can see a lot of questions and ideas that you connect with the topic and turn them into your tasks. It is way easier to find 20 minutes to do one step per day, and way more satisfying to cross it out once done, than staring at one big task for ages, right?
4) Done, not perfect- it's still driving me crazy when all I do is not top-notch from the beginning, but my mental health improved a lot since I accepted it's impossible to be the best at everything all the time. And trust me, it's way more important you have a basic website or a simple on-line shop up and running than working for a year on the best looking website possible, with lots of great widgets and powerful logo, not selling a single thing, because ... it doesn’t exist. You can always go back and upgrade your game after a while. That's on my to-do list right now :)
It actually applies to most of the activities and habits, really. Baby steps, girl!
5) Make a list- I know, jaw dropping! But it works…Those who have had a meeting with me know I carry a big black notebook with me all the time. To sketch, make notes, plan meetings and never miss a thing. The system I use is known as bullet journal. By this I mean the simple list building (look it up), not the fancy hand lettering you can find all over pinterest (that for me seems way too time consuming -> pointless). Monthly logs, weekly and daily are enough to keep track of what you have to do, never miss a meeting and have everything organised. All you have to do is NOTE. And even though the AppStore is full of productivity apps, the only thing I’ve stuck to is my notebook.
6) Not everything is of the same importance- speaking of lists...people tend to plan way too much for a day and not enough for longer periods of time. So once you have your monthly/weekly goal, decide what is the most important thing to do right now that brings you closer to your goal. Note 3 things that really have to be done today. Then a few more that are quite important, and a few „it would be nice if I did it” tasks. And stick to the list!
7) Warm-up- it happens rarely that I'm relaxing and then all of the sudden I feel an urge to work. How I get ready to work is...yeah, by working. I choose a few warm up tasks. I don't want to call them no-brainers, but just something relatively easy I know how to do, that goes by fast and brings me nice and easily to the next point on my list. Once I think „hey, it's not that bad” I get into the work mode and keep going.
8) Act like you know yourself- first of all human brain loves patterns, so try to find yours. By now I'm sure that starting a drawing in the morning is nothing more than pain and waste of time. What I can start my work with are e-mails, social media or the hunter/gatherer part. I tested morning runs and again, once I go back home all I can dream of is sleep. Which is why I do sports in the evening and enjoy well deserved relaxation afterwards.
There are also certain tasks that drain my energy and the next day I feel like a zombie, which means I simply don't plan anything important for that time and recover instead. My advice is: check and test what works for you, but once you find it- stick with your routine. And seriously, keep your expectations realistic.
9) Accountability partner- freelance work sometimes feels very lonely, and if you appreciate discussing problems and an occasional motivational push, an accountability partner is the way to go. I could write a whole separate article about it, but to make it simple for now: find a partner (preferably another freelancer), share your plans and report regularly what you accomplished. You have no idea how often I eventually made everything on my list, so as not to show my partner I’m lazy. Otherwise I would keep on postponing some things till now.
10) Planning your free time -this one doesn't sound cool nor romantic, but raise your hand if in the middle of the free evening/day off you run back to your computer thinking “oh, this little thing and I promise, I’m ready for today”. Exactly! As long as it’s not a matter of life and death or a major fuck-up, I try to make a note to myself to do it tomorrow, if it’s still relevant.
I’m testing a programme right now (that I’ll tell you soon more about) that made me notice how little time I actually dedicate to myself. This is why marking a me-time in red in my calendar is the habit I’m working on. Because the truth is, we don’t have to be on-line/on-call all the time. Humanity will survive without you replying to an e-mail straight away.
So this is the main idea behind how I manage my time. Well prepared to-do list together with an updated calendar can actually make wonders, if you plan your tasks wisely and minimize distractions. I personally couldn’t work with a fixed schedule with the same thing every day as it just wouldn’t work for the kind of work that I do.
My personal key is balancing what is essential to my business with what gives me a buzz.
I believe this attitude is simply healthy for my sanity and also makes me feel happy and fulfilled as a person.
I hope I helped at least some of you a little bit. Don’t hesitate to post a comment below or send me an e-mail.
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