I have been a freelancer working from home for over 4 years. It gives me the flexibility I need, but is also very challenging. I constantly have to wear many hats as a freelancer. Add being a mom and working from home to that and life becomes a juggling field. Managing my time effectively is the only way I can survive each day.
In the past four years, I have read a number of articles about time management. There are very few of these articles geared towards people like me. Most of them talk about scheduling your day in a certain way – like waking up early, or getting a few hours of work done before going out for a workout etc.
I am not saying that is impossible, but with two kids and a husband whose work hours vary every day, there is very little order in my daily schedule. I am a person who loves schedules and loves to plan her day ahead. But, I have keep adjusting my schedule for all the things that seem to creep up during the course of a day/week.
So, whenever I turn to the internet to find tips to organize my day, I just end of feeling dejected or overwhelmed because I cannot have the kind of order that most of the posts talk about. That’s just our household. So, I decided to come up with a schedule that works for me.
Here are some things I have been doing for a while and some I have added in the past few months. This includes using the right tools and having some strict rules for myself.
Having fixed hours for working
I cannot stress this enough for myself. Since I work from home, it is very easy to think that I have all the time in the world to finish my work. I have been a victim to this a lot of times. Even now if I am not careful, I fall victim to this. So, I have made it a habit to tell myself that when the kids are in school, it is work time for me. I make my coffee, grab my breakfast and head to my office room.
When I go to pick up the kids, it is never the end of my workday, but I do know that I will not get much time to work after that unless I intend to give up some sleep. So, I have been scheduling my most important work for the morning so that I feel accomplished when I go to school at pick up time.
Getting an early start
I have always been a morning person. There are times I can sit until 1 am to finish my work, but that is very rare. I can sleep at 11 am and wake up at 5 am the next day with little difficulty. So, I now schedule a big chunk of work for the morning time. I am at my desk by 5 am with my tea. I work until 6:30 without a break. I usually schedule development work for this time. My mind is fresh and I can totally concentrate.
In the last month or so, I have noticed that this pattern has been getting me good results. So, even when I sleep late, I feel like getting up early to work on my favorite stuff.
I used to get really frustrated when I couldn’t wake up early enough and that frustration was affecting my work. I realized that I just have to prioritize my things to accomplish everything I need to. So, if I am up late or one of the tasks takes a much longer time than I planned for, I give up on things like elaborate lunch or dinners and make it really easy on me. That gives me the extra time to finish my work for that day.
I started planning ahead and always have a few things on hand to whip up healthy dinners on days when I am too busy. This planning has taken a lot of stress out of my day.
Maintaining a task list
Having a task management system is very essential to the life of a freelancer. If there is no set way of making sure the tasks get done, chaos sets in very quickly. There are umpteen number of task and project management systems for both individuals and teams. I have tried a number of them. Somehow nothing seems to work the way I want it to. If there are some features that are good, there are some which are pretty daunting.
After trying a bunch of them, I now have settled into a routine of using Asana, OneNote and my notebook. I have all my projects in Asana and OneNote. When I plan my project, I come up with individual tasks that need to be accomplished. All of those tasks go into Asana into respective projects.
Every week I review my projects and assign due dates to tasks that need to be completed in that week. This gives me a nice calendar with all my tasks. Then every day, I go over my calendar in Asana and check off the completed tasks. The rest of the tasks either stay or get moved to a different date based on the progress.
But, one thing I don’t like in Asana is that the calendar with the task list can get too overwhelming for me. When I started doing this, it was good, but I also got carried away with unnecessary tasks. I would look at my task calendar and jump between tasks.
To avoid the temptation to switch between tasks, I started using a simple notebook. Now I make a list of projects I need to work on the next day. It is just a simple list of the broad topics in the order I want to work on them. Physically writing them down somehow makes me more accountable to finish those tasks. Now, I open only that project I need to work in Asana and sort the tasks by the due date.
This helps me finish the tasks on the list for that day and then I can move on to the next project.
Scheduling client calls at specific times
Initially I used to schedule calls any time of the day that worked for me and/or my clients. I realized that when I do that my productivity suffered. I had to switch gears in the middle of my work to take the call and it disrupted my work flow. Now, I have a Calendly account and I try to schedule calls only through that. It has helped me a lot to know that my mornings are usually undisturbed and I can schedule my MIT’s during that time. Afternoons are now reserved for admin work and any client calls I need to take.
Sending out the Calendly link to clients also helps me avoid the number of emails back and forth to schedule calls.
I agree that most of the times, multitasking is a myth. We cannot focus more than one thing at a time. But, with kids at home in the evenings and having to juggle everything from their home works to dinner to planning meals for the next day, I am used to multitasking. Although I never do that while working on my priority tasks of the day, there are other times when I enjoy doing that.
I listen to a few podcasts and I regularly go through WordPress.tv to find some nice WordCamp talks that I want to watch. I bookmark them and add them to my Pocket account. So, when I am cooking dinner or working out in the gym, I usually listen to these podcasts or watch these videos. Sometimes, when I am cleaning up around the house, I just go around listening to the podcasts.
There are a few other things I wish to add to my list this year. One of them is to automate more processes that I do on a regular basis. This is something I have been trying to work on for the past few months, but I haven’t been able to put everything in place yet. This is one of my biggest goals for 2019.
Are there any tips you can give to a fellow freelancer? Is there anything that worked for you specifically? Please share them!