How to manage your time as a freelancer

Time management is one of those things where many people struggle, but usually the real problem is lack of discipline. This guide aims to give you some hints and tips on how to improve yourself and build long lasting habits.

We’ll be taking some inspiration from the fantastic book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear in this guide as we think some of the points he makes are critical to building good habits when managing your time as a freelancer. You don’t need to read his book to benefit from this guide, but if you've got the time and spare money, it’s well worth a read!

1 - Eliminating Distractions

Before diving right in, first let’s discuss the elephant in the room. Your phone! Now it depends on what you do as your side hustle. You might not even have your phone on or near you when doing your work, which is a great start. However if you work on computers, you’ll likely have your phone on or near you and this makes it very easy to get distracted, checking your messages or scrolling through social media, you know what I mean!

Unless this is marketing time for your business, you should start by removing distractions. First put your phone in another room, on vibrate / silent or loud if you need it. Now when you get the urge to check your phone, you’ll need to make an actual effort to get up and go get it. I’ve found this method really effective. At first it’s difficult to fight the urge, but once it passes you can carry on with the job, and I often find myself in a flow where I'm making good progress on whatever it is that I'm doing and I’ve totally forgotten about checking my phone all the time.

2 - Create a Schedule

It’s usually a good idea to plan out your day, so you know in your own mind what you need to do. Your schedule can be as simple or complicated as you wish, it just needs to be right for you. Make a start by taking a piece of paper or a notes app on your phone / computer and write down what time you’ll be working for and when you’ll be taking breaks. Remember this doesn’t need to be set in stone, you can experiment and see what works best.

I personally find that I work best in short bursts, usually 15 - 25 minute periods and then I'll either take some time to think or I'll get up and go for a short walk around the house or fold some washing or a quick household chore. Anything that takes my mind off what i’m working on. I find that if I over commit I can get myself bogged down and make mistakes.

Remember that if you are working for yourself, you are your own boss! Take the breaks that you need, you aren’t timeboxed into your full-time work schedule anymore.

3 - Prioritise your work

Again this is very much down to personal preference. I like to tackle the big or most time sensitive jobs first, that way I know they won’t be weighing on my mind later on. After I've completed or made good progress on those big jobs, I'll pick up any smaller jobs near the end of my working day. It’s nice to finish off with an easier task in my opinion.

As a freelancer or sole trader you’ll know what jobs are most important, or the ones that will take up the most time. These jobs should take priority over the others ideally.

Another good way to manage your time is to break a big job down into smaller, more manageable chunks of work. This can make them easier to understand and to work with.

Are you a freelancer, self employed or a sole trader?

If you’re looking for a tool to help you manage your clients, jobs, invoicing and time management, all in one place. ClientWide has everything you need. Sign up for a free account today and give it a try.

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4 - Set a Deadline and stick to it

In most fields of work, the client will want to know when a job will be complete, aka a deadline. Knowing you have a deadline should act as a good motivator to get the work done on time. 

A well known phrase is to “Underpromise and overdeliver” this is where you set a deadline or a completion date, but where you know you can do the job quicker. Sometimes this is unintentional, whereas you genuinely don’t think you’ll finish early, but you actually end up doing so.

Either way this can be great from the client's point of view. They’ve got what they asked for sooner than they expected. There are exceptions to this however, you shouldn’t do this when the client explicitly states they need something for a specific date. E.g. you wouldn’t bake a cake a week before the event - it will go stale!

If you are goal driven, deadlines can be used as payment intervals. You might be able to agree with the client to get paid once certain deadlines or milestones have been met. This can be great for both parties, as you are motivated to complete the work on time and you get paid for doing it and the client gets work done in predictable intervals and can see what you’ve done instead of handing everything over when the job is complete.

Another important thing to remember is to give yourself ample time in between projects. Don’t derail yourself by overrunning one job, only to have to start the next job later than expected. This won’t look good to your clients and you won’t have any time to get prepared for the next job. It’s also pretty stressful. Plan ahead accordingly.

5 - Take Breaks

If you’ve come from the typical 9-5 or shift work type of job, you’ll be familiar with set working hours and breaks. This is your schedule and you must stick to it, even when you might not perform to your best.

Ask yourself a question, do you really work for 4, 5 or 6 hours straight without losing track, becoming distracted or just getting tired? If you find this happening, it’s usually a good sign you need a break. Now granted, your line of work might call for long hours of continuous work and this is your call to make, but don’t underestimate the importance of taking breaks.

Being your own boss you are free to take as many or as little (if that works for you) breaks as you please.

If you prefer to work in short bursts, try taking multiple short breaks. Take yourself away from the job and try to clear your mind. Think about anything else other than the job. If however your work requires longer hours, try taking longer breaks of an hour or more. The idea is to come back to your work, fresh and with a clear mind.

If you’ve been working on something for a long time or have become stuck, sometimes it's better to call it a day and come back to it the next morning with a fresh pair of eyes. There have been many times where I'm stuck on a problem only to come back to it the next day and instantly solve it.

Things you can do when taking a break

  • Go for a walk outside if the weather permits - Fresh air does wonders for the mind!
  • Go make some food or grab a snack and eat it away from your desk or place of work.
  • Do some household chores. Fold some laundry, cut the grass, wash the dishes etc.
  • Do some exercise - pushups, planks, lunges, lift weights etc. 
  • Especially good if you have a sedentary lifestyle I.e. sit at a desk all day
  • Phone your friends or family and catch up with them
  • Just sit down, watch some TV, unwind and chill out. It doesn’t have to be physical, just a way of giving your mind a rest.

It’s important that you try to do these things away from your desk or wherever it is that you work from. Try to create a barrier between your work and your rest time.

Keeping track of time

So far we’ve covered 5 ways to help manage your time better, next is keeping track of it. We’ll discuss why you should do it, how it helps and some tools you can use also.

Why should you track how long you’ve worked on something?

First of all, if you keep track of your time, you now have a log of everything you’ve done. This can be really handy if you need to show a client what you’ve been working on or even for your tax returns. You’ll have an itemised list of everything you’ve done for the past week, month and year.

You can also use time tracking to your advantage when setting prices or hourly rates. Some jobs can be big or time consuming and some clients like the reassurance of a set price instead of an hourly rate. But how do you come to your fixed price? Do you just pluck a number out of the air and run with it? 

While you can do this, what I prefer to do is take how long I think the job will take (in hours) and then times that by my hourly rate. I’ll usually discount it down a bit too if I think the client won’t accept the true cost of my labour.

If you log your time, you’ll be able to see how long a job actually took you to complete. If it turns out you spent longer than you thought you would, you might be selling your services too cheap and vice versa. So in the future when a similar job comes up, you can quote a more accurate price. 

Time tracking with ClientWide

So we’ve got you covered. We have a dedicated, yet simple to use time tracking feature built into ClientWide. You can log your hours against a client and job and you’ll be able to look through them in chronological order. You can also see your hours worked when viewing individual jobs, so you’ll never lose track of what you’ve worked.

Another cool feature we have is that you can set your hourly rate on your profile, how long you think a job will take and we’ll then when you log your time, we’ll show you your predicted price versus your actual price. Pretty nice don’t you think?

Screenshot showing the time management section of the ClientWide app.

Stay Organised with our built-in calendar

As well as time tracking, ClientWide also adds all of your jobs to your calendar. You’ll be able to see all of your jobs for the week or month to get a better view of what’s going on in your life. It's also a good indicator of your workload.

If your calendar looks full, it could be a sign you’ve taken on too much work for that particular period. Sometimes being able to see a visual representation of your work can be an eye opener.

Screenshot showing a calendar with jobs listed across several days.

Let’s Recap

We’ve covered a lot in this guide, so let’s summarise what we’ve learned:

Eliminating distractions - Put your phone in another room and remove anything that is likely to distract you.

Create a schedule - Don’t just pick up jobs or tasks willy nilly. Have a plan for how you’ll tackle them. Plan out how much of your day you’ll dedicate to working and breaks.

Prioritise your work - Once you’ve got a schedule, check which jobs need to be started first and allocate your time to completing them first. If you are the type of person that feels stressed and uncomfortable when you know there’s a deadline looming. Knowing you’ve made a start or completed the job can clear your mind and be a motivator to start the next job!

Set Deadlines - Always try to finish the job when you say you will. This builds customer trust in your company and keeps you on track for the next job. Running over in one job can lead to a delayed start on another job. When setting deadlines keep them realistic and within your abilities. Leave some spare time between your next job so you have time to relax and then gain focus when it's time to start.

Take Breaks - Burnout is real and you want to avoid it if possible. It’s really important to take breaks whilst working. Breaks help clear your mind, allowing you to focus for longer. Don’t forget them!

Lean on tools to help you - We also mentioned how ClientWide can help you with time tracking and organisation via your calendar. The main goal of ClientWide is to help freelancers manage their time and clients more effectively. If this guide has helped you, why not consider signing up for a free account and see if ClientWide is right for you?

Are you a small business, self employed or a sole trader?

If you’re looking for a tool to help you manage your clients, jobs, invoicing and time management, all in one place. ClientWide has everything you need. Sign up for a free account today and give it a try.