As a freelancer, my work often involves a lot of irons in the fire and a lot of spinning plates.
Clichés aside, one of the biggest challenges is managing in a time that works for you and for your clients.
Here I've compiled just a few of my favourite tools, tricks, and nuggets of wisdom for managing yourself and your own time as a freelancer.
1. Take the best advice, not all of the advice, you can get – With so many business start-up and productivity blogs and books around, it's easy to get stuck in a research rut. I've found that you get much further with one or two good, solid pieces of advice.
Rework by the guys at 37 Signals was a revelation for me because it justified a lot of my existing working method, while giving me new ways to think about how best to handle my time. Manage Your Day to Day from 99U is also packed with simple, easily implemented advice on managing your time.
More recently, this blog piece on structuring your ideal workday further confirmed my theories about the best times of day to get certain types of work done.
Now that I have those fundamentals down, it's time to move on and put them into practice. Don't get bogged down in the latest tricks if you've found something that works for you. Give it a go and try to develop it into your perfect practice.
2. Find a system that suits you – In earlier (and less lucrative) days as a freelancer, I kept all sorts of paper notes and a planner. The planner was my own diary, keeping track of meeting dates and deadlines, and I liked to keep a separate notebook for each project. As I gradually added more and more projects to the pile, it became important to keep all the key things in one place.
Now I use Basecamp Personal, using my work-life as a single Project. Within that, I have a to-do list for each client (each to-do is attached to a deadline), and a document for each week in which I list the days of the week and the time spent on each client. After trying tends of productivity apps to manage them all, this has been the best solution I've found for keeping separate lists in one place. [EDITED TO ADD: Basecamp Personal is no longer available but the Basecamp service is available for internal teams only.]
Some other great tools with similar functionality are and Toggl for time management and Trello, which is a dream for to-do list addicts.
3. Don't forget the your fundamentals – You know how the tax deadline seems to come around earlier each year? And you end up spending hours in a sea of receipts, wishing you'd been more organised? Try dedicating 20 minutes per week, or an hour each month, to getting your receipts together.
I like to keep my monthly receipts in separate envelopes. Usually I'll clear out my purse at the end of each week and write the totals on the envelope. Then I keep a separate spreadsheet where I tally up the monthly totals and separate day-to-day and capital expenses. As an added bonus, breaking it down will keep things fresh in your mind so you won't miss those stray receipts, and I promise you'll feel loads more sane.
If you're more of a geek about these things, try Kris Atomic's blog post on The Joy of Accounting – it could be a life-changer!
Are you a freelancer? What's your favourite piece of advice or tool for time management? Tell us in the comments below or send us a Tweet @SmallisB!