Work as a freelancer can be challenging, there's no doubt about that. Not just physically, but spending so much of your day coding projects and writing e-mail conversations can take its toll on your mental capabilities. Task management is a huge part of running a successful freelance business.
In previous articles we have discussed freelance management tools to help you even out workflow. Although there are many tools openly available to designers, they can be slightly cryptic and won't work as full solutions for everybody. Below I've outlined some basic strategies for task management and handling client project work. If you can loosely fit a schedule around your daily lifestyle then time will seem to fall neatly into place.
Recognizing your Work Times
As quoted from the infamous Benjamin Franklin in 1746 "Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of". Although a lot easier said than done, time is not going to wait for you to get yourself in gear.
Time is always flowing and follows the same rules as any stream of water. Therefore, strategies involving task management heavily depend on how well you can manage time. And time management is simply the recognition of time itself. You cannot complete all of your work in one sitting. It's crucial not to work against time, recognize that you are limited and work in unison. Don't beat yourself up for not completing tasks; instead reward yourself with each new goal.
A strong approach is to consider your daily schedule objectively. Begin from the moment you wake up and study how you go about working on each task throughout the day. Even catalog your habits if you need to. Then at the end of the day take a step back and see what isn't working for you.
Everybody has their own tools to help them manage tasks. I personally enjoy using Google's Task App which comes default with any Google Mail account. Directly in the bottom-right of the screen you can add new tasks, set completion dates, rearrange priorities, and so much more.
I'm not suggesting you hop onto using Google's task management, flow with whatever works for you. But I am suggesting you check out a few alternatives and see if anything is up to par with your needs. Remember the Milk and Flow App are currently my two favorite web apps for task management.
Flow isn't completely free as RTM, but they do offer a 14 day trial account just for signing up. If you have the budget I highly recommend joining if you need a detailed, intricate task management solution. Of course some freelancers would be more comfortable with a simple pad of paper. There's nothing wrong with this option, either!
If you can find a system that works well for your needs then stick to it. Our end goal is to balance work and personal time in an elegant equation to reduce stress on your end. Ultimately you'll reach this nirvanic state by keeping some form of to-do list and sticking by it! If you're a mobile iPhone or Android user check on their app stores for any popular time management apps as well.
Keep Meetings Strict and Brief
If you've worked freelance for any given time then you'll know clients can either become a chore or wonderful blessing. For repeat clients it's only proper to offer them extra care and attention - after all, they are choosing to continually offer you money for their projects.
But when you're contacting any new clients try to keep the meeting agenda strict. reduce idle chit-chat and dillydallying to a minimum. Spend a few minutes writing up a quick meeting summary beforehand, including the major talking points you wish to address. This technique works best in meeting spaces or phone conversations, but web chats tend to veer off course.
Free Up your Planner
Contrary to what many believe, calculating your tasks for every minute of every day for the whole week/month/year isn't going to help you get much done. Minimalist time management is a newer concept that holds a lot of power behind its ideas. If you can structure your days loosely on a schedule then small interruptions won't throw you off so much.
These do occur a lot more often than we would like to admit. Unfortunately there's not much you can do to stop them aside from acceptance and flowing with your daily agenda. The work and e-mails will still be waiting for you later on. I promise!
This type of task management also leaves you open for appointment scheduling. Whether you're living alone or with your spouse and kids, odds are you'll need to set appointment dates some time. With the freelancer's lifestyle you're able to work any time from morning until evening. Keep yourself prepared and on-task at all times! In this way you won't fall behind in work, and you won't stress over missing a few hours to run out midday.
Focus on the End Results
When you are going to sit down and work on a task, make sure you are working and don't lose sight of the end game! It's very simple to grab a 5 minute detour onto Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, or any of the countless distractions via constant Internet connection. This just comes part of the freelancer's job code.
Try pacing yourself when building on newer tasks. Take out big tasks in the early hours of your day so you'll feel accomplished come the afternoon and later evening. This also gives you the satisfaction of crossing off and rearranging your list for tomorrow's priority tasks.
While working you'll often have spurts of creative ideas and look to jump over to them immediately. Instead try writing these ideas down or adding them onto your daily tasks list. If you'd rather separate these, create a new list or document where you note ideas for later. It's important to keep yourself focused on project work, but you will eventually become angry at yourself forgetting an idea later on. Thus if you can generate such a brilliant stroke of genius I recommend jotting down clear notes for later and jumping right back into your work.
If you've come this far you're probably a very dedicated and passionate freelancer. The job comes with many benefits and degrees of control over your lifestyle akin to owning a personal business. Yet with this control it's easy to veer off course and damage yourself with heavy procrastination.
I find holding your tasks list sacred and keeping your work time focused are the two over-arching key points. If you can manage to complete even one(1) priority task daily then you'll do just fine in the long run. If you've got similar task management tips or questions, please share them in the comments section below.
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