Did you know that most freelancers struggle with time management, project management, and getting things done — on time? With margin?
We deal on a daily basis with multiple projects. Plus, we take care of business. Plus, we handle our marketing and promotion. Plus, we manage our households. Some of us are going to school. Others are working on side businesses. Some of us work full time and freelance part time.
We have so much going on that creates chaos. The busier we are, the more easily we forget stuff.
I hear it all the time from people: “I just can’t get it done in time.” “I wasn’t able to meet the deadline.” “Can I have an extension on this project?”
I see the results of lack of time management: We don’t deliver on what we promise. We don’t meet expectations. Ultimately, we lose the trust of the people waiting for what we’re delivering. That includes clients.
When was the last time you didn’t deliver on something because of the chaos caused by not managing your time and tasks? Or because you forgot something? Or, you’re spending so much time planning and making your BUJO look pretty that you’re unable to accomplish your list for that day?
Okay, yeah, I’m with you. I’ve had to scramble to make it up to a client, child, or friend because I let the ball drop on something. Not getting things done creates more work for us. More work requires more time.
That’s a big deal when you’re in a service-based business. As professional creators who work with clients, we “live or die” by deadlines. We have to hit those dates. When we don’t meet the deadline, we become less profitable.
If you’re struggling with the overwhelm of client work, home life, and whatever else you have going on, these tactics are for you.
Three simple things you can do right now to overcome overwhelm
1] List it.
Brain dump everything you can think of that you need to do. Don’t do any editing. Just keep adding items to your list until you run out of things to do. Don’t be concerned how long the list is. Just make the list and include everything you can think of.
TACTICAL TIP: Use a Sharpie® and some sticky note pads. Write each task on a separate sticky, and post it on a wall, mirror, window or white board. This makes Step 2 and Step 3 very easy, and you save time because you don’t need to re-write anything.
Write down everything — business, personal, family, home… Include your entire life. You can’t effectively manage time unless you address all the ways you spend your time. So keep that whole life/big picture view in mind.
By making a list, you will actually start de-stressing. There’s something about writing things down that makes you feel better. You know what you need to to. It’s all in one place. You’ve written it all down and your brain’s decluttered and able to make sense of things better.
2] Categorize it.
In categorizing, you take the first step in managing your to-do list. You curate each action into a category.
You might have a category for work and another for personal. How you set up your categories is up to you.
I sort my actions based on my life roles.
This is where my list-making and action plans differ from many other people. I’ve blended David Allen’s, Andy Stanley’s and Michael Hyatt’s approaches into my own mix.
Currently, my life roles are: creator, business owner, teacher, parent, friend.
Under Creator I list everything that pertains to my creative work, whether it’s for a client or for myself.
Under Business Owner, I list the actions I need to take that sustain my business, including marketing, planning, budgeting, paying bills, invoicing, writing contracts, and such.
Under Teacher, I include everything that relates to my college courses, Freelance Road Trip and other trainings.
3] Sort it.
Under each category, sort the actions by most important and urgent.
Keep in mind that most important might be things that are catalysts for other things, not necessarily the most urgent in terms of due date. You can sort in this manner:
Sort by priority + urgency What must get done first — today
Sort by priority What must get done in the next few days
Sort by whenever What can be tabled, postponed.
Sort by delegation What can someone else do for you? What can you systematize?
Sort by deletion Do you REALLY need to do that thing? Not really? Remove it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve transferred things on my daily to-dos to the following day because they’re just not that important and I don’t get them done. When I find myself doing this again and again, I stop and consider if I really need to do it? Is it that much of a priority? Should I postpone it or delete it?
4] Batch it
What tasks are similar and can be done in a single sitting or session? Group these together in order of importance.
4] Schedule it.
Schedule your high priorities first. Add them to your calendar. These are the bigger items that will really move the needle for you as you complete them.
Schedule not just the day but the time frame. Will writing your next email sequence take you about 2 hours?
Block out that 2-hours on your calendar to dedicate to those actions. Put a fence around that block, meaning, you’re going to keep this appointment with yourself and not allow distractions to intrude. Nothing else can be scheduled during that time. Turn off your phone. Close your email.
Once you have your high priority and urgent items scheduled and time-blocked, add your less urgent actions on your calendar. Be sure to batch these together as well.
What gets scheduled gets done.
The whole idea to avoid being overwhelmed and dealing with chaos is to arrange and order your time every day. In this way you’re designing your days and you end up designing your life, so to speak.
Organization brings you calmness, the power to get things done, and breathing room. Knowing what you need to do, and when, frees you up.
Whenever you sense you’ve too much to do and overwhelm is starting to encroach, it’s probably because you’re not repeating these tactics on a regular basis. So, STOP and make a list.
A few more thoughts about time and tasks
We can do only one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is a myth. It’s not possible. When we thing we’re multi-tasking, what we’re really doing is shifting quickly from one task to another and back again. We can’t do two things at once. Have you ever tried to watch television and write an article at the same time? You can’t. You’ll pay attention to the writing, then shift your focus to what’s on the screen, and then shift back to your writing. The problem with this is that you never get a deep-dive experience where you’re in “the zone” and things are just running along smoothly.
Distractions are problems. A distraction is anything that calls our attention off the task at hand, and they come in many forms. They pull us off track with a sense of urgency. We’ll either end up wasting our time, or we’ll not move ourselves forward. We do things that are necessary but they’re not what we need to be doing at that moment in time.
Some things just won’t get done. Don’t kick yourself over it. You’re just not going to accomplish some things. You can reschedule them to the next day or week, but if you keep doing that perhaps it’s because those things just don’t need to be done. Rethink, and table them until some other time or delete them.
Time isn’t a renewable resource. There’s so much coming at us that we really can’t be effective with our time unless we have a way of managing things that’s easy, repeatable and practical. We can’t make more time. We can only spend it, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Build in flex time. You need to take a break, and often. You can’t be in a deep work session or handling small tasks comfortably without taking a breather. You need white space, or margin, in your schedule to refresh and regroup. Don’t adhere to your schedule so that it becomes your master. You need to be the master here.
Use an idea catcher. This is where you record seemingly random thoughts that come to you while you’re doing other things.
How many times do you have a thought, promise yourself to remember the idea, and forget it a few minutes later? Idea catchers can be voice memos to yourself (“Hey, Siri…” ) or quick texts, emails… I use a section in my planner as an “inbox” for ideas.
I’ve often experienced the internal nagging that, although I’m doing something necessary, I really should be doing something else. There’s an imposed urgency, and the nagging thought flutters around my brain, keeping me from concentrating on the task at hand. I deal with this by writing down the nagging thought. Usually I use a sticky note. The paper remembers so I don’t have to. Once written, it’s no longer a nagging thought, and my brain quiets down.
No matter what, you should capture everything so you don’t lose it. Using these tactics helps you do that, and not only that, but they’ll keep you moving forward and building momentum.
Remember that busy is not the same as productive. Efficiency is not the same as effectiveness. You want to be productive and effective. Your family will thank you. Your clients will appreciate it. And you’ll feel accomplished, de-stressed (instead of distressed), and in control of your time.
In future articles I’ll be talking about work–life integration and creating systems to save time. So stay tuned.