How to Manage Your Time as a Freelancer

Time Management and Organisation Tips to Protect Your Sanity

Your friendly neighbourhood ghostwriter planning out her day.

People often turn to freelancing for the freedom. The irony isn’t lost on those who have been in the game for a while. Yes, freelancing comes with a certain amount of freedom but when you’re managing multiple projects and clients, in order to experience that freedom, you need to have your time management and organisation skills down. Having come to freelancing from a regular old day job, teaching, ghostwriting was a considerable learning curve for me, particularly in terms of organisation. Before, I’d always had a boss telling me what to do and when. With freelancing, and self-employment in general, my entire career is completely up to me.

A flexible schedule is cited as the main reason why 75% of workers turn to freelancing.[1]

Those who know me, know that I’m terrible for procrastinating. If left to my own devices, I’ll find anything else to do, other than what I should be doing. However, as a freelancer, I can’t afford to do that. Time = money. I am usually working for a few different clients at once, so it’s essential that I can keep on top of everything and deliver on time. I haven’t missed a deadline yet, so I must be doing something right.

You are in charge of your own time.

Freelancing is often a solo operation. If you’re not managing your time effectively, then this impacts all aspects of your life. The better you manage your schedule and projects, the more time you can spend either taking time off from work, or taking on other projects. That flexibility is, arguably, one of the best bits of being a freelancer, so why wouldn’t you make the most of it?

How to Manage Your Time as a Freelancer

Let’s get down to it. This is what you clicked on the blog post for, right?

1. Plan and schedule everything.

And I mean everything! I start by planning out a rough yearly schedule. Where do my upcoming projects fit into the year? This is especially important with ghostwriting as projects last for months at a time, so I tend to book projects fairly far in advance. Then I move on to a monthly schedule. What days am I going to work that month? Am I going on holiday, or do I have important events? Do I have smaller projects to fit into my diary too? After that, you guessed it, my daily schedule. Each evening, I plan my next day, usually hour by hour (ish). I need to think about when I’m going to walk the dog, go to the gym, what chores I have to do. All of that gets written down. This keeps me on track. Plus, there are psychological benefits to being able to tick things off your list.

2. Don’t procrastinate!

I could write a whole book on procrastination. In fact, I did once for a wonderful client. The more time you spend dawdling, the more time you spend working on a project, and the less money you make per hour. That’s simple maths. When I plan out my day, I like to do my least favourite jobs first (admin, I’m talking to you!). Once you’ve got these jobs out of the way, you can get back to the ones you enjoy. For me, if I know I have a job I will procrastinate on, I set myself a time limit to sit and do it. For example, if I have some editing to do, and it’s not super interesting to me. I will say, ‘Right, Sarah, you’re going to sit down for 40 minutes, and edit. No distractions, no nothing.’ I’ll put my phone in a different room and get to it. You’ll be surprised by how much you get done in 40 minutes if you focus solely on that project. If it will take more time, I have a break and do the same thing again.

3. Only commit to what you can handle.

I know, as a freelancer, it can be tempting to take on more projects than you can handle. More projects = more money. However, this is a slippery slope. If you take on too much, you will likely end up miserable. I’ve been there, and I’ve done it. Occasionally, if a project comes across my desk that I love so much, I will take it on knowing full well I’ll have no free time for a little while. This happens rarely. I know my limits. If you’re a new freelancer, it will likely take you a few months to figure out your own capabilities. Focus on delivering quality work and you’ll be able to be picky with your projects, meaning better pay and a better work-life balance. Be realistic, be kind to yourself, and say no to projects that don’t fit this ethos.

4. If you work from home, try to separate the two.

Working from home is both a blessing and a curse. So often, I see things around the house that need doing, and I want to do them. However, one thing leads to another, and it snowballs out of control. Putting a load of washing in, leads to another, and then I have to put away the dry clothes. It goes on and on. Something I’ve found that works for me, is to shut my office door. What I can’t see won’t distract me, most of the time. I do chores on my lunch break, and once I’ve finished work. If I’m working, then I’m working. For all intents and purposes, I’m not at home. I’m at work. By minimising your distractions, whether that be in your workspace or the rest of your home, you’re more likely to manage your time effectively.

5. Write everything down.

Don’t save that thought until later. Don’t wait until later to write that project in your diary. You will forget. I’ve done it in the past, I’ve forgotten to send something over, or get back to somebody. It leaves a bad taste in the client’s mouth, as well as messing up your time management. Write it in your diary now. So often our time management goes to pot when we remember something we should have done, or still need to do. All of that hard work planning projects can easily fall apart because you forgot to write something down. Do yourself a favour, and just write it into your diary, whether electronic or otherwise. You’ll be thankful you did.

My FAVOURITE organisational tool (and this is not an advert).

I’m old school. I like a good old-fashioned pen and paper diary/planner. I’ve tried my fair share of electronic calendars and they just don’t work for me. If they work for you, that’s awesome, stick with it. I stumbled across the Smart Panda Diary last year and I genuinely couldn’t stay organised without it. I can plan daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. It’s bloody incredible. Here’s the link for those of you who’d like to check it out… I tend to use the academic ones, where they run July to July the following year, but that’s just because of when I bought it.

In Summary…

Time management and organisational skills are so important to freelancing. It’s impossible to overstate just how essential they are. By staying organised, you have the ability to be as flexible as you’d like, which is why many of us freelance in the first place. Without these skills, you run the risk of working around the clock, which isn’t good for anybody. If you have any tips or tricks that help you to stay organised, I’d love to hear from you. I’m always looking for more ways to manage my time better.

As always, wishing you love and books that make your heart skip a beat,

Sarah Jules x


One thought on “How to Manage Your Time as a Freelancer

  1. ‘Don’t procrastinate.’

    Nope. Not going to happen, lol.

    But in all honesty, I’m always looking for ways to tackle my procrastination, so here’s to finding my path in dealing with my sloth. Thanks for this comprehensive post!


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