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8 Tips for Managing Your Time as a Freelancer

Can you really take the time to write something for your website right now?

I really don’t have time for it, I’m overwhelmed.

I have a fifty-page eBook due tonight on the keto diet, three emails from potential new clients to return, an SEO order to negotiate and place for another client, six posts to write for him, and, two more articles to write for yet a third client.

I have no business writing something for myself first thing in the morning. Doing it is leaving me with a tight feeling in my chest.

But, I also know, if I don’t do it now, this post will never be written. It’s rare I’m inspired to write something and I usually deprioritize it until the urge has gone. It’s time that stops.

I’m committed to getting everything done and here are some of the strategies I’m using to do it.

1. Put Pressure on Your Procrastination Monkey

When you were in college, you probably remember putting off at least one major paper until it was almost due. While a select few people might manage their time well, many of us rely on the pressure or a deadline to do our best work.

Fortunately, you can create pressure yourself long before the real deadline, making yourself more productive. Learn more about putting pressure on your procrastination monkey in this TED talk.

2. Handle Your FOMO

There’s always going to be a party to go to, a friend to see, a concert at a secret venue in the city. You have to decide right now if you’re the kind of person who can just say ‘no’ and stay home and work.

I for one, am not. I have an extreme case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

If I think something is going to be a good time, I don’t want to miss it. I’m a live-life-to-the-fullest, savor-every-moment, kind of person. That’s why I chose this career path in the first place.

But, in order to make that work for me, I had to commit to another life philosophy - the plan doesn’t work unless you do.

If you’re going to be available when the cool things are happening, that means you have to be focused when nothing is going on. Put the work in now. Give it your all every day. Be the living example of work-hard, play-hard.

3. Set Client Expectations

When I first started taking on my own clients, I was super nervous. I was walking on eggshells trying to make my clients happy. It was stressful and totally unnecessary.

As a creative freelancer, your clients will understand that quality work takes time. They also know that sometimes creatives hit a wall and get writer’s block. If you communicate with your clients and let them know what’s going on with you, you’ll sleep better at night.

But, that doesn’t mean you can miss deadlines all of the time. Managing your client’s expectations means knowing how long to give yourself to complete a project and communicating changes to the timeline as they’re needed, not after it’s already late.

4. Decide How You Will Be Paid: Per Project or Hourly?

I like to bill my clients on a per-project basis. It’s nice to have the flexibility to work when it feels right for me and I’m not always consistently productive, so I don’t want to bill them for my distractions.

I also find that if I bill per project I fight harder to get the work done quickly so that I can take on more. There’s no advantage in drawing the project out. You just want to get it off your plate.

But, some people like to be paid hourly. Often times they work with the same companies and have to be logged online at a particular time to sit in on meetings. I would consider work like this for about ten to fifteen hours a week.

But, I didn’t avoid the working world to tie myself to a desk and a schedule. Before you take on a freelance position with an hourly weekly commitment, consider how it will fit into the rest of your lifestyle.

5. Estimate Your Time Properly

If you are going to ask to be paid per project, you have to make sure that you know how long it will take you to complete something.

I was fortunate. I worked for a company for two years that had very specific templates for their writing. I turned out the same length pieces over and over again. I know exactly how long it takes for me to write a 500-word post vs. a 1,000-word one.

When I started writing for that company, it used to take me hours to write a small post. I had to learn new ways to synthesize information quickly so that I could regurgitate it into high-quality content without a second thought.

I know how the type of content and the amount of research it will take for me to become an expert on the subject can affect that timeline. And, I know how to estimate additional time for edits from pickier clients.

Once the habits were established, I started setting timers for myself. Pushing myself to finish even more quickly and limit my distractions. Now, I can estimate exactly how long it will take me to do something and if it takes any longer, I know I wasted my time. (I guess the FCAT Writes was good for something after all.)

6. Know Your Work Patterns

You’ve heard that some people are morning people and others are night owls, but that generally only applies to their demeanor. You could be perfectly delightful to be around in the morning but unable to get any work done.

It’s important that you rearrange your work routine until you find an optimal time that works for you.

For me, I like to work at night and early in the morning. I find these quieter hours of the day when everyone else is sleeping to be the most peaceful and uninterrupted work time.

As a writer, a lot of times during the day, I have to answer phone calls and respond to emails. I’m also often asked for favors from friends and invited to social events. It’s easy to get distracted and caught up. But, in the wee hours when most people are sleeping, there’s nothing in the universe but me and my keyboard.

7. Don’t Fight Your Flow

Even if you study your work patterns and do your best to maintain a schedule, there will be days you just don't feel like working. Some people might advise you to fight through it. They will tell you to sit at your keyboard until something makes sense.

But, I argue the opposite. I think it’s a waste of your time and energy to fight yourself. If I’m in a flow, I can get ten times the amount of writing done in an hour than I would get done in a funk.

Sometimes you just need to get up and walk away from the keyboard for a while. Take a break. Go fishing for an hour. But, set a timer for when you will come back and try again.

8. Remember Why You’re Doing It

We all have our own reasons for freelancing.

You might:

  • Be a stay at home mom just getting back to work

  • Have another job and be making the transition

  • Have a debilitating illness or injury that keeps you from traditional work

  • Be lured by the call to travel

  • Be a military spouse who moves frequently and wants a career

  • Want to be location independent

  • Live in the country and want another income without a commute

  • Want to eliminate commuting from your life

  • Enjoy working in your pajamas

  • Like not having a boss

  • Like making your own schedule

Whatever the perk it was that first brought you to freelancing, never forget that.

Thank your lucky stars that you live in a world where it’s possible to make a full-time income from home.

Take advantage of every aspect of your freedom and live the life you’ve always dreamed of. Once you master time management, you can make yourself dependent on this lifestyle and reward yourself for your hard work. Cheers to long days and even longer nights.

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