Friday, October 14, 2011

Freelance Files | Time management

For anyone who thought my desk might actually look like this on a normal day, here is a more accurate picture of my "tidy" desk during the week. And yes, this is after clearing off space.

True story: I opened up this window to type this post around 5:30 p.m. last night. And right now it's 8:30 a.m. and these are the first words on the screen. Although I had some ambitious time management plans when I first started out this freelancing thing, reality has set in. I was always really adept at juggling multiple projects at work, prioritizing what had to get done, and churning out lots and lot of stuff. But fewer deadlines and unclear priorities are a new beast for me (I can take my personal projects at my own pace right? I ever want them to get done?). Some thoughts on my current time management situation:
  • One of the things I was looking forward to most about freelancing was a more flexible schedule. Lunch with friends, more time for hobbies, the ability to join weekday Bible studies. Not to take away from my work time, but mostly because I knew freelancing was not an 8-5 job. Sometimes it's a 12-10 job, sometimes 3-midnight. I don't want to over-plan my day, either.
  • Much (ok, almost all) of my work so far is for clients in California. This has been a huge blessing and it's really great to continue work relationships with people I love working with, but has got my hours a little wonky, since they're basically working 12-8. I do really like getting a head start in the morning on them, though...definitely keeps me from more late nights.
  • Training for a half marathon has totally thrown my schedule upside down. Exercise was never part of the plan. If you include running time, warm-up/cool-down time, and taking time to eat a nutritious breakfast time, that adds about 1.5 hours to my morning routine 4-5 times a week. 
Things I'm learning about managing my time:
  • One to-do list. Rather than the multiple to-do lists I'm accustomed to keeping, since my life is much more fluid and flexible, I'm using just one list. 
  • Take breaks when needed. Not just computer breaks (although those are important), but coffee breaks, reading breaks, and breaks from the race of keeping up with other blogs and social networks. 
  • Make appointments. If I want to have lunch with a friend, I schedule it days in advance when possible. I also have standing volunteer hours at Dress for Success Miami, which is great to add structure to my day. Not only do appointments help me chunk up my work time and use it better, it also gives me something to look forward to and measure toward during the week.
  • Realize I don't have to plan every minute, especially when it comes to my workouts. I prefer morning workouts, but a) it's been hard to get up in the mornings lately (soreness from this new exercise thing doesn't help) and b) sometimes I get inspired when I wake up and sit down and start typing million-word blog posts like this. To keep myself on track, I make sure to put on my gym clothes in the morning and then when I do get to a stopping point, run down to the gym in my building knowing that once I get on that treadmill, it's a bigger pain to stop than it is to keep going.
  • Do something. Anything. It doesn't have to be for money. It doesn't have to be for a larger goal. Doing begats more doing, so instead of thinking about my website while browsing blogs, I'm trying to close the browser and start working on the website instead (writing in Word, for example...I know I'll need to open up the browser again to actually do web work). 
  • No more caffeine after noon. Iced tea with last night's dinner was a bad move, but I now have a whole pageful of notes and ideas (things I can do right away) that I took on my iPad under the covers. I'm paying for it this morning, though, so time to rein it in. This one's a party animal, can you tell?
What are your biggest time management challenges?


  1. One to-do list is a smart tip - I'm a compulsive list maker who probably needs to learn that always having multiple lists going might seem organized but only stresses me out more! Also: "doing begets doing" is SO true. I'm a self motivator, which is how I'm able to successfully work from home, but there are off days - and I've learned that if I just get going on something, I'll be able to make things happen.

    p.s. good for you training for a half marathon! I'm running my first in a week (kind of terrified, but kind of excited), and it does take a lot of time to train. I'm keeping in mind that it's not a forever thing in my schedule though - I'll scale back the distance a bit afterward so I can still stay in shape but not eat up so much of the day.

  2. Awresome advice...seems like you are doing great with your time!! I love the not planning every minute..I should learn to do that too!!

    Statements In Fashion: A Funky Little Fashion Blog

  3. I love this! Such great points. I also "pencil in" time with my friends, otherwise I'd never see them! My biggest problem would be wanting to do it all. Wanting to work out 5x a week, work my 9-5 job, write for myself at night, cook dinner every night for the hubs, and squeeze time in for ALL of my friends. Not possible. haha I'm learning how to say NO. And high five for training for a marathon! I just ran my first 5k race and I can't wait to do another and build up to a 10k, and maybe someday a marathon. : )

  4. I work from home too, and I forget to give myself "me time" away from my work tasks. It's been forever since I sat down with a good book. I have noticed when I don't take care of my mental/emotional/personal needs, my work performance suffers.

    I agree about not having caffeine late in the day (but I don't always stop myself).

    Have a good weekend!

  5. My most challenging would have to be prioritizing. Sometimes it's difficult to prioritize when just about everything you have is high priority! However, just dedicating time to each task equally is important to stay on track, and avoid becoming overwhelmed.

    Great post!

  6. Time and project management are both very hard outside of a structured environment.

    Do you have a good to-do list program? Are you a member of the "Getting Things Done" cult? (GTD if you're on the inside.) OmniFocus is a GTD computer program and it's awesome. At a very high level: OmniFocus breaks down your projects into manageable tasks. You can then categorize the tasks and assign deadlines. For example, if I have to buy a gift for my friend the two tasks for that project are 1) buy the gift online 2) go to the card shop and pick up a card and wrapping paper. My OmniFocus task list syncs to my mobile device, so if I'm out running errands I can just look at my phone and it will show me all of the tasks I can tackle. If I'm driving by the card store I might as well pop out and take care of that part of the gift project.

    The idea behind GTD is to remove the running lists from your brain. It's great, I drank the Kool-Aid.

  7. @ collette - it helps me a lot, because then I don't feel guilty if I'm in the zone or in the mood for one kind of work over another.

    @ monster cakes - I hear ya! Sometimes it is hard to narrow down the goals. I think making a list of "don't dos" is really helpful, too. Congrats on your 5K! I'm not quite up to that distance yet, but the folks I"m training with assure me that it will come with time. :)

    @ christina - for sure! everyone always wants everything at the same time, don't they? Sometimes I find that's almost helpful, though, because then I can move seamlessly from one item to the next and just cross them off my list completely. What really kills me are those long-term projects that you don't feel urgency on until the last's much better when it's over and done easily.

    @ Cynthia - I haven't found an online to-do list program, but to be honest, I haven't looked. I have not gotten into the habit of using online tools on my computer or my phone (my computer's always on, but I rarely use my phone in general). I'm not sure why, but whenever I try I just find that I don't use them. I rarely look at my online calendars or lists...a paper agenda is much easier for me to keep track of appointments. I use Toggl to track my billable time for clients, but I'll look into GTD...sounds neat!

  8. Fitting in things I want to do versus things my husband wants me to do with him. Mainly fitting in my workouts and then being mad later in the day that I didn't do it at such and such a time.

  9. Great post...I found things that I could benefit from in my "position" as a stay at home mom.

  10. @ No Guilt Fashion - I imagine it's probably sort of similar, since we're both mainly working from home. :)

  11. As a manager at first I often lose focus at work and sometimes I find myself drowning on tasks and I don't know how I can stay productive. Then, I read different articles and blogs on how to stay productive including Getting Things Done by David Allen and most of it discusses how to manage time. When I’m starting to manage time I can see the advantages between managing time and not. I effectively manage time with the help of a time management tool. Using this tool I list my entire tasks on it and set an estimated amount of time. This way I can stay focus on tasks and limit wasted time. Taking regular break also helps a lot and I also even set my break every 2 hours of work. This way I can relax a bit and try to refresh sanity. Discipline is my key to effectively follow scheduled tasks and finish it on time. Using this tool it also keeps me more organize and improves productivity.


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