As a freelance writer (and freelancers on the whole) it’s not an understatement to claim we stand or fall by our collective time managementfreelancing skills. From a freelance writing point of view this becomes even more apparent when working with places like Demand Studios. They offer the advantage of not having to market yourself to clients, however the lower payments on offer make it a necessity for working as efficiently as possible in order to make a workable income.

First step: Realistically assessing your time frame.

Effective time management can be used to outline a more productive and efficient work day, or it can be applied to everyday life. When freelancing however, there’s often no discernable difference between “work” and “life” as such, it becomes an imperative to assess your life as a whole. Exactly what are your major time sinks and can they be improved?

It’s harder then it sounds, you have to sit down and justify everything you do in the day, just to identify the reality sucking black holes of your life. But once you do, it becomes possible to break free of that titanic gravity well better known as procrastination. Once free of the black holes pull, you’ll find your time flowing back to you.

Personally speaking, my biggest black hole was/is Netflix – When I sat down an calculated just how much zombie down time I spent watching random stuff, it became evident I was losing enough hours for a part time job. Now jokes and clever astrophysics based metaphors aside, that’s no laughing matter as I was potentially missing out on a baseline guaranteed income.

Be honest with yourself, are you wasting time on things you don’t need? Do you find yourself being pulled towards the fridge whenever you feel your focus begin to slip? Which not only pulls from your work day, but adds to your carb intake…

Second step: Effective schedule creation and the art of sticking to it.

I like to think deadlines are named so, because once you cross them empty handed you’re done for. As such I deadline everything important, be it article creation or simply how long to shop. In the example of Demand Studios, claimed assignments come with deadlines for submission – but when the client doesn’t provide you with a deadline, the onus falls on you to deliver.

Technology has eroded away any last semblances of excuse with the veritable wave of desktop based time keeping/list making/work management software, from Google Calendar to Microsoft Outlook it’s becomes possible to not only list important deadlines, but to effectively plan out your day from the comfort of your own screen. Set aside an hour to finish that project or start research for next one, plan out time to excise, eat, relax or plan out time to do non-work related things.

On a personal note, living on a schedule can alleviate some of that “I could be working right now” feeling that stabs at the back of your mind everything time you’re not. It’s a form of guilt, but you’ve no need to feel guilty if you’ve sticking to the plan.

Third Step: keep an eye on the time      

The hardest part could actually be sticking to your schedule. Keep an eye on the time throughout the day and try to follow your schedule as closely as possible, when it’s not possible and you’ve strayed from the path so to speak, take note of the reason why. As you strike off your tasks for the day, be sure to actually strike them from the list, goal achievement is a great moral booster and allows you to see at a glance what’s left to do.

Example list:

  • Stuff
  • More stuff
  • Even more stuff
  • Things that have to be done today

It can help to note how long it took to complete task, an major part of scheduling is the allotment of the correct amount of time for each task, little point setting aside 15 minutes for a white paper on micro economics for example.

General time management tips:

  • Make use of 3 day planning (also known as tommorw+2). As you round off each day, plan out the next day and make a basic outline for the following 2 days after that. This allows you the time to formulate a plan of attack for the day AND get a good night’s rest.
  • Group similar things/tasks. E-mail, research, reports and editing and other similar tasks could be grouped into one task allowing you to focus on one set of tasks at the same time.
  • Less is often more, say no. If it’s not the best use of your time, say no. If it forces you to rush your schedule say no. If the assignment, task or project isn’t making the best use of your time, again – say no.

The act of effective task management

Personally I tend to focus more on effective task management then time, attempting to pick which tasks best matches my current resource, energy and enthusiasm levels. Now that last point is possibly the most important, even if I have the energy and resources for a project, if I’m not “feeling it” I’m not going to give it my fullest attention which results in a bad representation of me and my work – to the client.

A solid “to-do” list is to effective task management, what a Toxic R9 290X graphic card is to gaming. Or to the none pc gamers reading this: makes a good thing substantially better. Simple, effective and at its most basic – a simple list on the back of a napkin from that coffee house you really like (or don’t like, but has free Wi-Fi).

First Step: Realistically assessing the task/project

Finish anything that will take less than 5 minutes right off the bat, what’s more these tasks shouldn’t even be listed as they should simply be done and finished first. Task management is best used for the overseeing of long term projects and tasks, the assessment of which could look like the following frame work:

  • Asses the priority of the task/project (can wait, sort of needs to be done soon(ish) and needs to be completed now)
  • If there’s a deadline, you’ll need to beat it.
  • What resources will this task/project require?
  • Can delegation play a useful role?
  • Clearly outline what actions this task/project will require.
  • What will I have to do next? And how will this project effect that? 

Second Step: Marking progress

The feeling of accomplishment that comes from marking things off the list is a great motivator, however it also plays a big role in the daily or even weekly assessment of what needs to be added, removed or possibly delegated.  I highly recommend using the tomorrow +2 system here to ensure your list correctly states what you actually need to do in the coming days.