Working from home might seem like a lavish lifestyle, but if you don’t focus and use task management, it’s easy for half the day to slip away from you. Time management for freelancers is one of the most crucial aspects of working from home, and, when not figured out early on, can be detrimental to your freelance career.
I’ve been a freelancer for almost a year, and it was definitely a bit of a learning curve in the beginning. I’m here to share my own personal experiences so that you can skip a lot of the mistakes that I had to work through on my freelance journey.
At any given time, I have around 10-13 clients, so you can imagine how difficult it could get if I didn’t stay on top of everything!
This guide to time management will introduce you to all of the best ways to focus and get your tasks done by the deadline that you set with your clients. Some of the time management tips might even surprise you.
Here are the best tips and time management tools for freelancers.
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Why is Time Management Important for Freelancers?
As a freelancer, you’re essentially you’re own boss. If you don’t stay on top of your deadlines and keep open lines of communication with your clients, it can get messy real quick and even be the end of your freelancing company.
Everything you do is in your company’s name and when someone asks to speak to your manager, you are the manager!
By not getting your tasks done on time, you can lose clients and possibly have trouble finding future clients because you won’t have strong testimonials from people you’ve worked with in the past.
It can be pretty difficult to manage time as a freelancer, especially when you’re working from home so often. Your bed or couch might be calling your name, and it can be hard to fight off the urge to take a nap or go out to your favourite restaurant for a few hours instead of working.
How do I manage my time most effectively as a freelancer?
Over the past 10 months, I’ve gone through lots of different trial and error programs and time-tracking tools until I finally found what works best for me.
I focus on using Asana to keep track of all of my work that’s due every day in conjunction with Google Calendar. I also track all of my time using a super easy web app called Clockify, but more on that in the next section.
I work to keep myself in a routine, similar to if I was working in an office.
I start my workday around 9 a.m. and also take around a 30-minute lunch break about halfway through the day. Some days I even finish my work a lot earlier in the day which is nice because I can sort of do what I’d like for the afternoon — whether that’s doing a local hike in my area or catching up on my Netflix show.
I also always take breaks. When you’re sitting for a long time, it can be detrimental to both your physical and mental health. I try to get outside for a walk at least once a day, even if it’s just around my block for 5 minutes. Getting fresh air helps a lot more than you might think.
5 Best Time Management Tools for Freelancers
Luckily, we are living in the 21st century, so there are tons of time management tools out there that make freelancing even easier. Below are a few of the best and top recommended time management tools for freelancers.
Like mentioned earlier, Clockify is a time-tracking tool that is truly one of the most important parts of my business that help me stay on track.
You can create different projects through Clockify, such as setting up projects for each of your clients so you can see exactly how much time you’re spending on each item on your to-do list.
What makes Clockify one of the best time management tools for freelancers is that it also offers fun reports and charts that you can look at, so you can easily see how much time you’re spending on Client A versus Client B.
This is the perfect way to see if you’re charging the right amount for your projects as well. If something is taking 80% of your time, then it might be worth upping the price for that type of project in the future.
There is both a paid and free version of Clockify, but as a freelancer, you only need the free version. To clock time even quicker, be sure to download either the Clockify Chrome extension or the app. Be sure to connect it with your project management systems too!
Toggl, like Clockify, is a time-tracking tool that many people swear by. It doesn’t offer as many reporting features as Clockify, but it does offer integrations including with Todoist, Asana, Basecamp, and Trello so that you can easily clock your time while working and checking things off your to-do list.
Because Toggl doesn’t have as many other features, it’s super easy to use if you’re new to time-tracking tools. You can create projects for different clients as with Clockify, and all you have to do is click the start and stop button to get started. The free version is perfect for freelancers.
I swear by Asana. After trying out tons of different project management systems to help me stay on top of my to-do list, I’ve found it to be the best.
It’s super simple to use, has a spotless interface, and allows you to add in guests in case you want to run certain things by your clients for approval before scheduling (such as social media content calendars).
With Asana, you can create different project types, see all of the items that you have to complete, and even connect with Google Calendar. Asana also has its own calendar view setting which makes it easy to see just how much you have on your plate at any given time.
Within each task that you create on Asana, you can also create a whole bunch of subtasks, add in notes, and even connect to Clockify or Toggl to track your time.
If you’re a graphic designer, Asana also has easy tools for you to store certain resources for your clients — like fonts, mood boards, and hex codes that are pertinent for branding.
There’s a free and paid version, but I’ve found that the free version suits all of my needs. As your freelance business grows and you begin to hire some assistants to help you out, you might want to bump up to the paid business plan.
ClickUp is a project management/time management tool that is also excellent like Asana but has a bit more of a learning curve.
ClickUp definitely has more options than Asana does, but it can be hard figuring out the difference between different boards. Once you master it though, it’s truly a powerful tool which is why it’s on this guide to time management.
Create different project boards, content calendars, lists, and more.
There are also 50+ different templates that you can easily use if you don’t want to take the time to set up each board on your own fully. There are boards for SEO management, blog posts, social media calendars, project management, and more.
ClickUp does have a free version, but depending on what features you want to use, you might have to change to the paid version. Unfortunately, unlike Asana, there isn’t a free trial period for you to see if you want to purchase the paid version.
5. Google Calendar
Surprisingly, Google Calendar is one of the best tools for work at home time management. It’s completely free to use and can be critical when it comes to scheduling meetings and blocking out your day using the time-blocking method.
Each morning, consider mapping out your day and blocking out time periods for different tasks. This way, you won’t accidentally spend the entire day on one project. Be sure to integrate Google Calendar with the other tools you use to get the most out of it.
- Notion: This tool is sort of like an all-in-one note-taking and project management system.
- Calendly: Easily let your clients schedule meetings with you without all of the back and forth. Integrate with Google Calendar for it to automatically show up on your calendar once it’s booked.
- Harvest: This time management tool for freelancers is great if you plan on sending invoices. Track your time and then switch to the invoice tab and you’re all set.
- Todoist: Make to-do lists right on your computer and connect them to your phone to stay on top of your tasks.
15 Top Time Management Tips for Freelancers
Work at home time management can be tough to keep on top of, especially if you’re just starting out in the freelancing world. Use these task management tips for freelancers and be productive during the work day.
1. Track Your Time
Time tracking for freelancers is often something that is overlooked, especially creatives. It can be easy to get sucked into working on a single project all day until it’s done, even if that means staying up until you see the sunrise the very next day.
Consider investing in a CRM time tracking tool like one of the ones mentioned above, or even use the stopwatch on your phone if you want to get on top of time management for freelancers.
This is pertinent because then you can see if you are actually spending too much time on a project that you might not be getting a whole lot of money for. Or, if you’re simply taking too long to finish a task.
2. Take Breaks
If you were working in an office, you’d be taking advantage of your breaks so that you could stop and chat with your coworkers for 15 minutes. So, don’t forget to take breaks while being a freelancer either! This is one of the most overlooked time management tips for freelancers.
Some of the best ways to spend breaks are on a walk around your neighbourhood, calling a friend, or even taking a quick power nap. If you really want to remind yourself to take breaks, consider using the Pomodoro Method, in which you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break, then start over!
3. Give Yourself Set Working Hours
New and experienced freelancers alike struggle with this tip, which is surprising. It can be tempting to answer an email or a message from one of your clients on the weekend, even if that’s not when you want to work.
So, give yourself set working hours, whether that’s 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. like an average office worker or even just 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. if that’s when you work best. You’re a freelancer, so you’re in charge of yourself.
As long as you’re productive during the work hours you set and you meet your client deadlines, then there’s nothing wrong with having shortened work hours each day. It’s one of the true benefits of working remotely, so take advantage of it.
Just make sure that you take the time to communicate with your clients about what your work hours are so that they don’t wonder why you aren’t answering their email at 11 p.m. on a Saturday. Communication is key.
4. Use a Strong Project Management System
Applications like ClickUp or Asana can be vital when it comes to staying on top of your projects. They are essentially digital versions of a planner, where you can set subtasks, due dates, and compile all of your notes in one place.
If you have other people that work with you, this is also a great way for you to delegate tasks and store your own brand assets. These project management systems help you manage your time well because you can easily see if you have a busy week coming up, so maybe you can start working on those tasks a bit earlier.
5. Prioritize Your Tasks
If you have a huge task that’s due in two days, then obviously that’s the one you should be spending your time on rather than the one that’s due in a week. Be sure to prioritize based on the due date and the amount of time that you think the task will take so that you don’t fall behind on your deadlines.
Project management systems or even a physical planner can be pertinent to helping you prioritize your tasks so that you stay on top of your dates and impress your clients.
6. Consider Hiring Others to Help You
If you find that you are having trouble keeping up with all of your deadlines, it might be time to hire a few freelancers of your own to help you out. Some places to search for remote workers that would be great for you to share your openings include sites like FlexJobs and Upwork.
When you hire someone else to help you meet due dates and better manage your time, you might have to raise your own personal rates so that you can pay an appropriate amount to the workers under you. You’ll also have to consider the time that you will now have to spend delegating tasks and onboarding new workers.
7. Get Rid of Distractions
Distractions are one of the worst parts of being a remote worker. Whether you’re on a beach and you’d rather go swimming with your friends, or you’re at home, and you’d rather be watching your new TV episode, distractions can be truly tempting.
Getting rid of distractions is one of the most important pieces of work from home time management. Consider using noise-blocking headphones, shutting your door, or working in a different area of your house to be more productive during your work hours.
This is definitely one of my top tips for working remotely.
8. Eat Meals for 30 to 60 Minutes As You Would in an office
When working as a freelancer, don’t forget to take a snack or lunch break. Try to refrain from eating from your desk to get tasks done on time or else you might mess up your work/life balance without realizing it.
Consider setting up a lunch call with one of your close friends each day to hold yourselves accountable for taking a distraction-free lunch break. This also helps bring back the social life that is often missing from freelance life!
9. Try Time-Blocking
Time-blocking is a great way to try managing your time as a freelancer. Each morning, sit at your desk and open up an app like Google Calendar and block out increments of time for the different tasks that you have to complete each day.
Try to stick to the times that you assign yourself to see how much you can truly get through in each of those time blocks. This is the perfect way to see how much time a project really takes, and also helps to keep the ball rolling on all of the tasks that you have due.
10. Find Your Most Productive Hours and Use Them to Your Advantage
A lot of people find that they are most productive right in the morning, or even late at night, so find out when you’re in your groove and use that to your advantage.
During your most productive hours, be sure to do all of your hardest or most time-consuming tasks during that time — rather than emails or client meetings.
11. Make Templates for Communications With Clients
With third-party platforms like these, you can set up automatic responses each step of the way as they move through your services so that you don’t have to spend as much time on your emails every day.
If you don’t want to invest in a CRM, consider keeping a Word document or Google Doc with templated responses that you can edit and send off to clients to save yourself at least a little bit of time.
12. Don’t Overbook Yourself (the most important when it comes to time management)
I think every freelancer goes through this at least once. You think you can handle way more clients than you initially thought, which can be hard to keep up with. You’ll lose sleep, your social life, and might even start to hate being a freelancer in general.
Plus, your quality of work can plummet — affecting future contracts.
Only bite off as much as you can chew. If you know that you can only handle about 5 projects at a time, then don’t let yourself take more. Sometimes, you’ll have to say “no” to potential clients, but that’s okay!
13. Take a Day Off if You Need
Freelancers often forget to take a day off, and sometimes personal health days can be all that you need to suddenly love your work more and be more productive each day. Even if it means giving yourself a long weekend, do it!
When you take a day off, be sure to communicate in advance to your clients so that they know you won’t be available to talk with them that day in case something comes up.
Of course, if you end up being sick, there’s no way to really communicate that ahead of time, but be sure always to have an open line of communication.
Many freelancers will give themselves Monday to get through all of the logistics of their business for the week, whether that means planning out everything, scheduling social media for their own business, sending contracts or invoices, or just catching up on emails.
One thing to keep in mind for admin days is that you shouldn’t be scheduling client meetings or calls on this day; instead, use the whole day to focus on your business.
Make sure that your clients know that every Monday (or whichever day you choose) you aren’t available for calls or meetings, but will answer emails.
15. Change Where You Work
Sometimes being more productive can be as simple as changing up your workplace setting. Consider getting a membership to a local coworking space, heading to a cafe, or working at a friend’s house so that you can have a little bit of social interaction.
If your house or apartment allows for it, move your desk each month to switch up your surroundings. It truly can make a huge difference when it comes to productivity!
Now You Know All About Time Management for Freelancers
Time management is one of the most critical pieces to being a freelancer, and it really comes down to staying on top of your deadlines through many different tools and apps that are completely free to use.
You truly have to find what works best for you, and that can mean a lot of trial and error when you first start! I hope this list helped give you some good ideas for your freelance business.
Some of the images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
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