It's Monday morning. You open your laptop and dig into email — in the blink of an eye, an hour is gone and you aren't even sure how you ended up on Facebook.
It is easy to lose track of time as a freelancer — there's social media, laundry that needs to be done, dinner to prep, maybe even kids vying for your attention.
Being your own boss is amazing, but there is no one else to blame if you don't manage your time well.
If you want to succeed as a freelancer, you have to focus and manage your time well.
The thing is, there's not one tool, trick, or strategy that will help everyone. We all work a bit differently, have different hangups, and use different techniques.
So while I can't give you a magic solution, I can provide a handful of tools and techniques to help you stay focused and get more done in less time.
Below, I will walk you through time management tips for freelancers. We'll also look at freelancer tools you can use to prioritize tasks, track your time, and tame your email inbox!
Use a Task Management System
How often do tasks fall through the cracks? Or you sit down to work, only to get overwhelmed by the amount of work on your plate?
The first step to managing your time as a freelancer is to make sure you know what you have to do and when you need to do it.
Which is where a task management system comes into play.
A task management system lets you create a list of tasks so you always know what you need to be working on. Every morning when you wake up, you'll know exactly what you need to accomplish that day.
I love ToDoist — it is a simple list-based task management system that makes it easy to schedule tasks by day and priority. I use the "comment" feature to add links and information about each task so I don't have to hunt down files.
As soon as I agree to do something for a client, I put it in ToDoist, leaving my mind free to focus on other things! The premium version is just $3 a month, which is well worth it to keep your work organized!
If you have multiple clients using multiple project management tools, ToDoist is a great way to keep your tasks all organized in one place. It also integrates with Google Cal, if you want to see tasks on your daily calendar.
Track Your Time
As a freelancer, your time is money — so understanding where your time goes is critical. Tracking your time will help limit distractions, but it can also ensure you are charging appropriately for projects.
If you bill clients and hourly rate, use a freelancer tool like Clarrow to track your time. Since the time tracking is integrated into a full-fledged business management tool, you can assign time to each client, add expenses, and send a professional invoice all in one place. (We also have a mobile time-tracking feature for on the go!).
What if you work on a per-project rate? While you might not need to bill clients for your hours, it's still a good idea to track your time. You might discover you are undercharging for projects. For example, tracking your time might show you that research takes longer than you thought.
Your time is a commodity —- just like factories track how many widgets they make per hour, you need to track where your time goes.
When you work in a traditional office, staying on task is a bit easier. Your boss is likely to notice if you spend all afternoon watching YouTube videos, after all!
Freelancers are free to manage their time however they see fit. Which is awesome when you want to meet a friend for a weekday lunch or get in a flow at 2 am.
But, it also means you are free to fall down a rabbit hole of the internet and spend half your day arguing on Twitter.
Even if you can keep yourself off social media, there are plenty of other distractions — email, Slack, that laundry that needs to be put away.
So how do you keep yourself on task even when there are a million things vying for your attention? Here are a few tips to limit distractions:
- Turn off notifications for Slack, email, and social media accounts.
- Use headphones to block out noises while working. I like Coffitivity, it's the ambient sounds of a coffee shop.
- Use a social media blocking app like FocusMe to stay on task and off social media.
- Use the Pomodoro technique to break time into blocks. Focusing in 15 to 20 minute blocks makes it easier to get into the flow.
Finally, take regular breaks and get away from your desk. You'll come back to your desk refreshed and ready to dig into another task.
Get Control of Your Email Inbox
The average worker gets more than 200 emails every day. It's no wonder we struggle to stay focused and actually get work done with so many messages to contend with!
If you use Gmail, priority inbox will save you so.much.time. This feature automatically splits email into three sections: read, unread, and starred. You can also create categories so that social media updates and promotions go into their own tab and all the important stuff goes into the "primary" tab.
I also strongly recommend Boomerang for Gmail. This add-on lets you schedule emails for a later time and reminds you to reply to emails after a few days. It's kinda like a personal assistant right in your email inbox!
Here are a few other tips to keep your email under control if you (even if you don't use gmail!):
- Don't leave your email open all day. Instead, schedule specific times to check in.
- Use a tool to sort your email, like Gmail's priority inbox or SaneBox.
- Unsubscribe from newsletters and emails that don't bring value to your inbox.
- If possible, choose "daily summary" emails from project management tools. For example, you can have Asana send you one email a day with important tasks.
If you need to have timely conversations with clients, consider using Slack to message back and forth. It will keep your email box lighter and encourage collaboration — just be careful with it, Slack can get just as overwhelming and distracting as email or social media!
Get Organized With Time Management Apps for Freelancers
It is tough to manage your time as a freelancer. You are likely juggling dozens of projects with multiple clients. Time management apps can help you stay organized and so you can focus on the work that really matters.
Take control of your time with these time management app for freelancers:
- Clarrow: Track your time, send invoices, and automate expenses
- Coffitivity: Looping sounds of a coffeeshop to keep distractions at bay.
- ToDoist: Task management app to keep your work obligations organized.
- SaneBox: Keep your email box under control.
- Boomerang: Schedule emails and get reminded to respond to emails from others.
- FocusMe: Block social media and other online distractions.
Sign up for a free Clarrow account and start tracking your time today!