Freelancing may equal freedom, but this lifestyle won’t flourish if you’re unorganized, unfocused — and winging it.
So, let’s get organized.
Every few weeks the same handful of topics bubble up among my freelance colleagues. What’s top on the list these days? Scheduling.
Freelance creatives are always looking for more work or wondering how to manage an avalanche of accepted project proposals within days of one another. When you’re newer to this work style, the feast or famine rollercoaster is a wildly popular ride.
You can ease those extreme stresses by getting better about scheduling client projects and the ongoing tasks that keep your business afloat in bite-size pieces during peak periods of focus and creative flow.
How should a freelance schedule work?
What hours do I work?
How do I actually complete huge projects on my own?
If these questions have crossed your mind, keep on reading. I left my last newspaper job in 2009 and have learned a few things (thanks to trial and error!) over the years about managing my small writing business.
Here are a few thoughts from my desk to yours.
- Unlearn What Society Has Taught You
- Create a Schedule That Works for You
- Learn Your Creative Energy Flow
- Experiment With Time Blocking
- Prepare for the Unexpected
Disclosure: This blog is reader-supported, which means this post contains affiliate links and advertisements. I earn a small commission if you shop through them, which helps fund this website so I can continue to bring you amazing content. Thank you! ~Angela
Unlearn What Society Has Taught You
When you start working in a freelance capacity, it’s common to structure your days around the ways you’ve worked in the past. You might block out eight hours on your calendar, plan to start at 8:00 am or put in 40 hours each week. Or, you might just keep grinding day and night because — projects are piling up and it feels good to send out those invoices.
I invite you to pause.
You don’t have to run your business as a mirror of your former employers. This is your career. You can work as many or as few hours, at any time of day, to meet your goals.
Next time your freelance schedule is making you upset, ask yourself why you’re working the way you do? Is it because it’s a familiar process? Or, is it because it’s actually working for you and helping you meet your deadlines and goals?
Create a Schedule That Works for You
Let me emphasize this again: You didn’t start freelancing to be bound by your past employers’ rules, methods and scheduling. As you brainstorm the best working hours and conditions, think beyond your work tasks.
Life: When are you most energetic and focused? Work during those hours. For me it’s mornings. For a fellow content marketing bestie, it’s late evening after her kiddos go to bed. You do you.
Family and Friends: Do you want to drop the kids off at school, go to a daytime yoga class with a friend or take a long lunch each day with a neighbor? Do it. Making time for family and friends fills your emotional well-being, which means you’ll perform better during working hours.
Health: Do you need to make accommodations to best manage your health? I do. I take long mid-day breaks to give my hands a typing break.
Goals: It doesn’t matter when you work, as long as you’re making progress on your projects and business goals. If you prefer to work evenings and weekends, do it. If you work best in two-hour time chucks flanked with hour breaks, schedule that.
This is your business. Create the ideal schedule that balances work tasks and the joys of life. Nobody else has to maneuver your schedule, so customize it to fit your daily wants and needs.
Learn Your Creative Energy Flow
A few years ago I logged every work task that I completed, and how long it took, over the span of a month. I quickly could see when I was most energetic, creative, focused and ultimately producing my best work.
Now I use that information to optimize my freelance work schedule.
I’ve learned that I can work quicker, produce cleaner copy and so it all with more satisfaction in the mornings versus the evenings. I don’t schedule interviews or meetings on Mondays or Fridays unless it’s absolutely necessary. My writing is more concise and polished after a morning walk in nature and eating a savory breakfast.
But, that’s just me.
Log a week or two of your tasks and happiness level. Once you discover when you’re most focused, schedule your work tasks in those moments, and you’ll be checking tasks off the to-do list with more ease.
Experiment With Time Blocking
When it comes to tasks that pop up daily, weekly and monthly, I set recurring time blocks on my Google Calendar as reminders. Email happens twice each day. Working on marketing for my business is scheduled for every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. Anchor clients with ongoing projects get time blocks for outlines, drafts and editing on weekday mornings.
These time blocks pop up on my calendar and keep me focused on what needs to get done so I never miss a deadline.
Can you experiment with time blocking to get your everyday tasks done?
Prepare for The Unexpected
Finally, plan for curve balls. Kids get sick and need to be picked up ASAP from school. Or, you’re unwell and need downtime to recover. These common situations can quickly throw off your freelance schedule.
Life happens to all of us.
My friend Brian Eastwood asked about this very topic on Twitter. He knows I manage autoimmunity, which can flare up at any time, causing my freelance schedule to get disrupted. So, how do I manage to keep my business running smoothly despite health challenges?
Sorry to hear this and glad to know you're on the upswing!
I'd be curious how you tell folks you need to take time off. I have to do this a bit (not for my health but when daycare is closed) and I wonder if there's more to it than "sorry, I'm OOO now."
— Brian Eastwood (@Brian_Eastwood) June 27, 2022
It’s taken a few years to find what works for me, but the best way I’ve found to prepare for the unexpected (because something will pop up eventually!) is to work ahead. I ask my clients for longer-than-I-need deadlines to build in potential downtime. If I don’t need the time off, then they get their drafts earlier than planned and are happy!
I also gave my boss-self a little talk about taking on too many clients and projects last year. I’ve intentionally reduced my services and availability to keep a few extra hours open during the week. Sometimes these spots get filled with revision requests from clients, last-minute projects that pique my interest or naps to keep my body healthy.
Do you have more questions about scheduling your freelance work? Feel free to comment below or reach out on Twitter. I love hearing from freelancers. After all, we have to stick together in this crazy career!
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