I never quite know what to say when asked whether I freelance “full-time”. I certainly don’t work 40 hours a week, nor do I earn $50,000 a year. (Though if I did the former, I would probably surpass the latter.) But freelancing is my only source of income, so I guess I am full-time in the sense that my business is my main gig rather than a side hustle. More important to me than punching a time clock or even getting a paycheck, though, is whether the time I spend working is fulfilling. Is that time full of things that fill me with joy, accomplishment, creativity, and money?
I work about 15 hours a week, by choice. The flexibility and freedom of freelancing are worth the decrease in income. But in order to make it all balance out, I’ve had to learn to use my work time very efficiently and productively. Here are my favorite time management tips for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and especially work-at-home moms.
Track your time, at least for awhile.
If you’re serious about getting the most out of your work time, I recommend tracking your daily time usage for at least a week. You can use an app like Toggl to track how much time you spend on each task, or use a notebook to write down what you’re doing every fifteen minutes. Just like you need a baseline account of your spending when setting a budget, you also need a general idea of how you usually spend your time if you want to look for ways to be more productive and efficient. Time tracking is also very helpful when you are first establishing your rates and prices. While you may not charge an hourly rate, knowing how long it takes to edit a photography session or create a piece of custom jewelry will enable you to price yourself profitably and sustainably.
Use task-batching to be more efficient and cohesive.
Try to group similar tasks together and complete them in one (uninterrupted, if possible) sitting. One thing that used to drive me crazy in my previous life as an administrative assistant was the nearly constant switching from one task to another. “Jenn, fill out this contract! Call a plumber for this house! Where’s the file for this client? Hey, is that contract ready yet?” One study found that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after a disruption. Ain’t nobody got time for dat!
My version of task-batching is called the Rampage Method, and I use it both for work and household chores. Blogging Rampage, Client Rampage, Prospecting Rampage, Cleaning Rampage, Cooking Rampage…I tend to do most things better in bigger spurts rather than attempting to maintain a complex routine of small tasks every. single. day. I even try to batch my errands because most of the time going out requires wrestling a tiny human and his associated paraphernalia into the car and out again at every stop.
Keep your most productive time sacred.
I’m a morning person and Fire Monkey goes to daycare in the mornings, so I reserve that time for work that requires the most brain power and uninterrupted concentration. (Fortunately my child-free time coincides with my peak mental sharpness!) I leave tasks that don’t require as much concentration for the afternoon while the toddler naps. One particular form of task-batching that has been really helpful is scheduling all my weekly client calls on the same day. Now for an introvert like me, doing this is not an insignificant drain on my mental energy. But it would be harder to get back on track after one phone call every day than to just call it day after three phone calls in an afternoon and a productive morning. (Of course, if clients need to reschedule, it’s not a big deal, but for the most part I try to stick to this system.)
Build in productive breaks.
Even the most dedicated rampager can only focus for so long. While I don’t adhere strictly to the Pomodoro technique of timed productivity periods, I do keep a list of “designated distractions” handy for when my attention wanders. These are small, discrete to-do’s that don’t take long to accomplish but that haven’t found a dedicated place in my schedule. I also call them junk-drawer tasks: making an appointment, putting something back where it belongs, buying something on Amazon. (Or, what I should do, is get up and walk around my house or hop on the elliptical for a few minutes.) This way my brain gets a break, but I’m still taking care of something that needs to be done rather than vegging out on social media.
Plan, plan, and plan some more.
My Sseko mentor recently led us in the sprint system of project management, which is basically writing out the steps of a Rampage. Understanding my process has been the cornerstone of running my business, so turning every project into a list of concrete to-do’s (that gives me the illusion of control baha) is actually rather pleasurable. I use my Passion Planner to list out tasks and map them onto my weekly schedule. I don’t know about you, but if I come to an empty block of time, I am not inclined to use it wisely unless I already have a list of things I can use to fill that time.
Eliminate Minimize interruptions and distractions by setting boundaries.
One of the best things I ever did for my business was create time and space for me to work. We send Fire Monkey to daycare four mornings a week. I also joined a coworking space in addition to maintaining the third bedroom as an office. If I’m working from home with the door closed, everyone knows that I’m off limits unless the house catches fire. But boundaries have to work in reverse too in order to be truly effective. I have set my business hours and try not to respond to e-mails or otherwise work on projects outside of those hours. It doesn’t always happen because snow days make daycare go away, children get sick and can’t go to school, appointments run long etc. But having that structure makes the time I do spend working more efficient, and the time I don’t spend working more fun.
Eliminate Reduce the noise.
I know the work-at-home moms are probably laughing at me right now. While physical quiet is important, I’m mostly talking about digital and distraction noise. I have an app called OFFTIME on my phone that keeps from accessing everything except phone calls and text messages. I also deleted the Facebook app from my phone entirely. There are various browser add-ons that can block our access to specified distracting websites. I’ve also started (semi-regularly) practicing a few minutes of silence before and after reading the daily office twice a day, and that has helped my concentration. (Or at least I notice I am more scattered and distractible when I don’t practice this.) And of course, noise-canceling headphones are very helpful.
Whether you work 40+ hours a week or 4, time is precious. I hope these time management tips for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and work-at-home moms can be helpful for those of you who are building a business and managing a home at the same time.