Time Management For Freelancers – My 6 Figure System
It’s one of the reasons a lot of people want to start freelancing – the ability to set your own hours.
It sounds amazing, doesn’t it? You wake up at 8. Or 11. You work as many hours as you want. You can cook your own meals, take time off to hit the gym, have lunch with a friend on a random Tuesday and do everything you’ve always wanted to do, whenever you want to do it.
Except it doesn’t work that way.
In my 12 years as a freelancer, I found out the hard way how stressful it can be to set your own hours. That’s why I think time management for freelancers is a topic we don’t discuss nearly enough. And that is especially true if you are freelancing on the side.
The following are the 6 time management rules I use every day to work as a freelance translator, run a short term rental business and work on this blog, without going mental or filing for divorce.
My 6 time management rules
For a lot of freelancers, this is what a typical day looks like:
- You wake up at 9 and you start swearing – you are already late
- Still in your pajamas, you begin working on that project you’ve been procrastinating for weeks
- You stop to check your inbox and waste 30 minutes of your life answering pointless emails and call requests from clients who think you work for them
- It’s time for lunch, but your deadline is at 3:00 PM. Lunch can wait.
- You finally deliver the project. You open the fridge, and… crickets. When was the last time you cooked your lunch? You can’t remember.
- You have your food delivered and eat it while you go through your inbox again.
- It’s finally 5 o’clock. What a day has been. You turn off your laptop and finally take a shower and take off your pajamas.
As embarrassing as it is to admit it, this is exactly what a lot of days were like for me when I was managing a 10+ client portfolio.
These are the 10 rules I followed to put order back into my days.
1. Define a standard routine
I am not saying to act as if you were working in an office and you had to punch in at 9. If you are not an early riser and hate to work before 10 AM, just don’t. But if you start working at whatever time you want, and that time is different every single day, I’m not surprised you are struggling.
The key here is to be in charge of your schedule so that you can decide what to do and when to do it, instead of everyone else.
My recommendation is simple: wake up at the same time every day, and set your end of business time accordingly. Even if you work with clients from different time zones, they know what time contractors from your time zone stop working, and they’ll know when they can expect a reply and when they can’t.
For proof that a routine generates result, regardless of the mistakes you make along the way, go no further than Janine’s story – she posted a poster per day on TikTok for a whole year, which lead to some amazing freelance opportunities.
2. Give yourself monthly and weekly goals
Do you know how you always give yourself some yearly goals? I want you to think for a moment about the goals you gave yourself for last year. What happened to them?
There is a reason why yearly goals fail – they are too complex and big. Monthly and weekly goals, though, are much easier to track and actually complete.
Let’s say you want to get new clients. More specifically, your goal is to get 3 clients in 3 months through cold email outreach. You know that, on average, you get a client for every 45 pitches you send. This means you need to send 135 pitches in 90 days – 45 per month, 11 per week, 2,15 per day.
Give yourself a monthly goal of sending 45 pitches, then a weekly goal of sending 11 pitches for 4 consecutive weeks.
3. Define your priorities
Give yourself too many monthly and weekly goals, and I can assure you that you are not going to achieve any of them.
That’s why most freelancers you know are struggling to make time for marketing or reading, to hit the gym or to revamp their websites. And there’s no magic formula to do all these things – time is finite, and we only have a certain amount of it. We should use it well, and I know no better way to do that than to prioritize.
Think of as many goals as you want, then pick one for the month. Only one. That is your goal, and your time should be allocated accordingly.
4. Time block
You have now given yourself one single monthly goal.
How do you make sure you actually work on it till you accomplish it? By saving time for it and fighting against anyone who wants to take that time. In theory, you can time block your entire day on a per-hour level. Some take it even further – you may not know, but Elon Musk famously divides his day in 5-minute blocks!
If you are like me, you don’t want a system that tells you what to do at all waking hours.
What do I do then?
Before the week even begins, I time-block 20 hours to dedicate to my blog. Each and every day, I know what to do to grow it and when to do it. You can do the same for your marketing activities, those projects you really don’t want to do, the gym or anything else.
5. Never plan to work at full capacity
While you no longer have to work 40 hours, I know too many freelancers who end up with 50-hour workweeks. I’ve been one of them.
The reason is simple – they start the week by expecting to do 40 hours of client work, and nothing else. Then something happens:
- An anchor client needs that small tweak to a job you completed weeks ago, and you are at 43
- You get an introductory call and before you realize it it’s become 44
- The call goes well (hooray), and now the client wants your proposal. Do I hear 47?
- But wait, it’s the last week of the month! It’s invoicing time! And it’s officially 50 hours for you…
Ok, this may be a bad week… But stuff like this happens all the time!
I tried several options, but there is just one fix – you have to limit your working hours. 35 is a start, 30 is better.
Does it mean you’ll have to turn down jobs? No. If you have done your marketing and your admin tasks for the week and you get a small, one afternoon project on Wednesday, no one’s telling you to decline.
But when you discuss deadlines with your clients, always count on 30 or 35 hours.
6. Leverage time tracking tools
As you can see above, I do most of my planning on paper. This works for me, but I know it may not work for others. If you are more of a virtual note-taker, there are tools that can help you to time-block and track your time.
These tools come with an added bonus – time tracking. Time tracking tools are not only helpful to plan your days and weeks, they have a variety of benefits:
- They help you to understand how much you are really making for every task you take
- If you use hourly rates, they provide a neat way for you to present your timesheet to your clients
- They allow you to track how much time you spend on non-billable activities and help you to understand what may be worth delegating
7. Automate and delegate as much as possible
Many freelancers struggle with the idea of delegating tasks – ‘I don’t make enough to even pay someone else’ they reply.
What if you are not making enough because you are refusing to pay someone else?
The truth is, depending on how much you make per hour, delegating tasks may be the best choice to manage to market your services even when you don’t have the time. Not if you are just starting out, of course. But if you have an established freelance business, here are a couple of things that are easy to delegate:
- Social media posts
- Email outreach
- Laundry and housekeeping
Not there yet? ChatGPT is not a virtual assistant, but it can help with a number of tasks.
This is my time management system for freelancers. Now go find yours
I am not a fan of one-size-fits-all solutions.
My whole system is based on two books (The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll and The One Thing by Gary Keller) and an online course by Clark Kegley (the course no longer exists, but you can watch Clark’s videos on journaling). While I don’t follow any of their systems the exact way they recommend them, I took bits and pieces from each and combined them to create something that fit my schedule and style.
That’s why I don’t expect you to follow this exact system. My hope, however, is that you got something out of reading this.