Time management is always an important issue for freelancers, and especially so at this time of year. It always seems that November and December are a triple whammy of the winter holidays, clients realizing that they need to squeeze in the last few projects of the year, and trying to finish up all of our own goals that we set back in January, so things get out of control very quickly.
When you think about how to manage your time, I think it’s important to first look at the utilitarian viewpoint: in what ways is your current time management strategy working and not working? Are you habitually scrambling to meet your deadlines (or worse yet, habitually missing deadlines)? Not sleeping enough? Having to cancel social engagements or feeling as if you have no life outside of work? Or are things mostly working for you? What are the objective restrictions on your time; do you have many commitments to other people or is your time primarily your own?
In addition, think about what sort of time management personality you have. Do rules and guidelines make you feel confident or constrained? Do you work better in a free-form environment or in a regimented one?
Looking over my own time management strategies, I feel that I am doing fairly well from the utilitarian standpoint. I’ve never missed a deadline, I sleep at least seven hours a night, exercise for about an hour most days and I rarely work in the after-school time slot in order to spend time with my daughter, so things could be worse. On the other hand, I feel like I could be doing better on projects that don’t have an imminent deadline: I want to do more direct client marketing, finish the second edition of my book and do a good job in my new role on the ATA Public Relations committee, and I feel that better time management could really help with these.
Here are a few time management strategies that work well for me, and I would be interested to hear what works for other people:
- Use a prioritized to-do list. I rank my to-do items in high, medium and low categories so that I’m not tempted to focus on the fun but not urgent items (i.e. designing a marketing postcard, picking a new header image for my blog) rather than on the excruciating but urgent items (i.e. quarterly payroll taxes, entering receipts into my accounting software).
- Put a leash on e-mail. Unless I’m waiting for a particularly urgent message, I check e-mail only on the hour and the half hour. Then, I respond immediately to any e-mail that requires only a really short response so that I don’t have a big stack to deal with at the end of the day. Also, I have all of my e-mail list subscriptions set to the daily digest mode so that I receive only one e-mail per day from them.
- Break rules as needed. You know the “never eat at the computer” rule? I have to admit that I eat at the computer a lot, because it allows me to take exercise breaks in the morning or at lunch. I know some people think that eating at the computer is totally uncivilized and horrible (and I don’t do it all the time) but I’d rather run or do yoga at lunch time for half an hour and then eat a peanut butter sandwich while checking my e-mail when I get back. I think that the point here is to take the “always do this…never do that” rules that other people espouse and bend them to fit what works for you.
- Work during the work day. This seems like an obvious one, but when you work at home, it’s sometimes hard to ignore the phone, friends wanting to get together, and all of the myriad other things you could be doing instead of working. My policies are: no answering the home phone during the work day (people who would be calling in an actual emergency have my work and cell numbers too); only one non-work commitment (school volunteering, etc.) per day, and the commitment has to last an hour or less, and no socializing during the work day unless I can combine it with another priority item such as exercising.
- Set an overall limit on how much you are going to work. Know yourself and your capabilities; although I might really push myself for a couple of days in a row to finish a big project or do a good client a favor, I know that if I translate more than 10,000-12,000 words a week, I get tired and sloppy. So, I force myself to manage my time so that after the big push, I get at least a day off to recover and rejuvenate.
Now, over to the readers!