Time management is an important skill for any professional, but this is doubly true for freelancers and independent contractors. It’s great to be able to set your own hours and be your own boss, but when no one is looking over your shoulder and directing your work, time can get away from you despite your best intentions.
Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can use to effectively manage your time. Efficient time management will help you make your deadlines, prevent the need to work extra hours, and save your sanity in the long run.
1. Prioritize your work. Consider deadlines and time required to complete the task.
As an independent contractor, you’ll often be working on projects for several clients at one time. Your success will depend upon your ability to prioritize each task. If you have a number of projects due this week and aren’t sure where to start, it’s a no-brainer that you should begin with whatever is due first. However, you should also take the size of the task into consideration. If you have a small project due Tuesday and a large project due Thursday, you may want to begin on the large project first so you don’t leave all the work until the last minute.
2. Begin the day by working on something you can finish.
Whenever possible, you should start your morning strong by working on something you can finish that day, or better yet, before lunch. If you’ve been working on a project you know you can finish up in a few hours, do so before diving into something new. Completing a task gives you a great feeling of accomplishment that will energize you throughout the rest of the day, and will also set a standard for productivity you’ll feel compelled to match in the afternoon. This will help you beat the “afternoon slump” many of us experience.
3. Work in bursts and take frequent breaks.
Breaks are an important part of any work day. If you work too long without taking a break, it will become more difficult to maintain your focus, and the return on your time investment will be diminished. You’ll be more efficient if you work in short bursts and take plenty of breaks. You may have heard of the Pomodoro technique, which advocates working for 25 minutes followed by a five-minute break, but you can also come up with your own schedule. In general, don’t work continuously for too long, and if you’re having trouble focusing, take a break!
4. Eliminate distractions and don’t try to multitask.
It’s very easy to get distracted in the Internet age. Between email, social media and mobile phones, there’s huge potential to get sidetracked, especially if you’re already having trouble focusing on your work. You need to block out all these distractions if you’re going to make the most of your time. Try silencing your mobile phone and only checking your email once or twice a day at predetermined times. And if you think of something you need to do that isn’t related to the task at hand, make a quick note of it and then return to your work. This should help you stay in the zone and not go off-task.
It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes of focused work as opposed to one hour of unfocused, distracted work. Keep a to-do list of tasks that you can complete in fewer than 15 minutes, and tackle one whenever you have some down time during the day.
5. Learn how to turn down work.
We know it can be very difficult to turn down work, but you will only hurt yourself and the quality of your work if you take on more than you can handle. To prevent making this mistake, you need to have realistic expectations of how long it will take you to complete a project. Be generous with your estimates, and err on the side of caution — projects often have a habit of taking twice as long as you think they will. Additionally, be sure to charge enough for your time so you don’t fall into the trap of overbooking yourself just to make ends meet.
There you have it — five tips for managing your time effectively. The only question is, what will you do with all of that extra time on your hands? We trust you can come up with a few good ideas.