I was working day and night. Yet, there was so much to be done!
There was always so much to be done.
Work was literally spilling out of my days. I was working day and night. Yet, when I counted back on the number tasks that I had accomplished through the day, I wasn’t really proud.
Something was definitely wrong and I decided to take a step back.
For once, I thought I was the only one struggling through these problems, but after reading only a few blogs it was clear to me that managing time well is one problem that all freelancers struggle with.
For instance, I came across these statistics which showed how managing time was the second biggest problem (first one being finding work).
While this graphic was for freelance writers, I know designers, coders and a lot of other freelancers who struggle with the same problem. It’s such a common pain point that one comic designer has made an entire series of comics on the theme ‘Freelance Freedom’
The freedom of time is a huge responsibility whether we realise it or not. And these simple hacks are helpful in managing time — our biggest asset well.
This word comes up a lot. We all know that it’s important. But how exactly do we go about it?
There is this interesting concept called ‘Priority Matrix’ by someone named Eisenhower. It’s a simple method to bucket your tasks in either of the four quadrants — Do it, Plan it, Delegate it, Drop it.
By default, for most of us, our tasks lie in the ‘do it now’ quadrant. As soon as we remember that we have to do it, we jump to getting it done.
But learning to concentrate on what is really essential right now is the key to success.
So, Let’s understand how this visual can help us manage time better.
Do it (Important and Urgent) — is ideally meant for important deadlines, crisis, family situations and any last minute jobs.
Wait a minute. Is that it? What about the rest?
Plan it (Important and Not Urgent) — The other things come here. For everything that is important but not urgent, it’s a good practice to take time to PLAN as this will help in delivering so much better results.
If you plan in advance, chances are you will not be struggling the day before deadline.
For instance you can schedule your research for your next article or document user stories for your next design prototype way in advance, so that you smoothen out the doing bit. This will make your life easy.
Delegate/Avoid (Urgent and Not important) — These are the tricky things that appear to be urgent but are not that important. They are time robbers, specially if you are in middle of some work.
The phone calls or meetings that we are better off not attending fall into this list along with distractions which jump in front of us saying, “give me attention,” these are fires that you won’t really care if they burn down.
Ignore (Not urgent and Not Important) — We all have some ‘escape activities’ that we put our time to. Everything from social media to Netflix falls here. It’s a good idea to keep these things into control otherwise they end up eating huge chunks of our time.
2. Estimating time
When I thought of writing this article, I thought I will be done in 3 hours. So far, I am sure I have spent over 5 hours reading, writing and finding perfect images for this.
This happens with everyone. Everyone has their own ‘fudge ratio’. For instance, my fudge ratio is (e.g. expected time=3hr, actual time=5hr, fudge ratio=(5/3)=1.6).
Knowing your fudge ratio will ensure that you don’t overbook your time or overcommit.
It’s a good idea to keep some buffer time for every single project you take up. Understand that things can go wrong.
You might not find the right ideas at the right time or the project could involve details that couldn’t anticipate before. Or you might simply not be in the right mood on some days. It’s bound to happen. We are only human.
To estimate your time better, do these three things.
- Track your moods along with results as you get more done on certain days than others. This will help you know yourself better (Hack by Daniel Gold)
- Know your fudge ratio — how much time you take it takes for you to complete a task as compared to the time you assumed you will complete it in (Hack by Steve Pavlina)
- Add at least 25% to 50% extra time to your projects. (Scotty’s principle)
3. Defining hours and using tools
Even as a freelancer, you must have fixed times for working. It really helps your brain function better.
For instance, I found this week template shared by a freelancer online.
What I loved about this was that there was fixed time for sales and emails, the stuff that is mandatory to grow your business as a freelancer and a fixed time for reading and acquiring knowledge.
Without a schedule, the work can take up all your time while it is just as important to take care of your health, to upskill and to grow your business.
Also when you count your work hours, only count the ‘focus hours’. This freelancer’s week schedule consists of 9 focussed work hours every day which is pretty great. Use apps like Pomodoro.cc , Harvest, Toggl to track your productivity during work hours.
Respect yours and other time by pre-planning and scheduling meetings and showing up timely for them. Use Google Calendar actively to schedule everything.
4. Take a break. Get out of the rut.
Though this sounds counter-intuitive, sometimes that’s just what you need.
Remember when you are stuck with a problem and you take a step back or go for walk, you come up with so many ideas. It’s probably good to do that more often.
Use the 80–20 Rule-
Okinawans are some of the healthiest people in the world and they follow a tradition called hara hachi bu, which means they eat until they’re 80% full.
Justin Jackson, a canadian entrepreneur applied this principle beyond dieting to his work and found enormous benefits.
Many of us eat and work to capacity (if not to over-capacity). We max out in just about every area of our lives: career, money, social commitments, and more. This puts us at risk of burning out and it leaves no room for error or anything else.
His solution was a kind of mental hara hachi bu at work — deliberately pacing and managing his energy so he was only working at about 80% instead of 110%. It’s not an exact science, but it’s simply about being more mindful.
Remember you can say no. You don’t have to take a job you don’t think is right for you and don’t want to do. You don’t have to work weekends. You don’t have to cancel family vacations or birthday dinners or plans with friends. You’re in control of your life and your schedule.
5. Don’t Undersell Your time
Maybe the reason you are always working and yet somehow short of money and time is because there is a need for you to brainstorm about how you can deliver more value by putting in the same amount of time.
Freelancing is like running a mini business. You have to market yourself, convince prospective clients that you’re awesome, write proposals, send invoices, chase payments, manage projects and clients, and so on.
And while you are at this game, you also need to learn the art of pricing and packaging your services. Invest some time in doing that and stepping up the game.
For instance, by sharing your knowledge on the matter and giving deeper insights and solutions you could add consultation services to your overall charges. While this varies from field to field, it is good to take up big projects where you can deliver, learn and earn immensely rather than doing a lot of small gigs just for money.