7 self-management strategies to optimize your time

Feb 23, 2016

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

Enjoying a successful and flexible freelance career holds tantalizing promise for those looking to get off the nine-to-five office schedule. In order to achieve success as a freelancer, however, you must adjust your life balance to the ebb and flow of the work, without allowing your freelancing commitments to dominate all of your time. It is possible to balance work and life while making a living as a freelancer, but it does require proactive planning.

Facing the Demands of Freelancing

Freelancing presents a different kind of work situation, where failing to answer your email could result in lost opportunities and a drop in your income. If you’re not careful, your freelance jobs can crowd out other important aspects of your life, including family time and sleep. The good news is that by proactively taking steps to prioritize tasks and manage your time, you can successfully meet the demands of freelancing.

● Have a system for prioritizing work and home activities

Prevent work from crowding out your personal life by creating a simple system for prioritizing work and home activities. Your system will help keep priorities in perspective, so that you will know immediately whether or not you can accept a new job without sacrificing family time or your social life.

My personal preference is for a simple worksheet that I use for prioritizing using the letters LWB1, LWB2, LWB3 and LWB4. LWB stands for Life/Work Balance and is a constant reminder that life/work balance matters - so that I don't become too focused on work! I actually plan for family events and social activities.

● Keep your system simple and visual

Start with a calendar where you can keep track not only of appointments and activities, but also of your project schedule. I use a simple visual manual system. However, there are many excellent apps on the market, and any one of these may serve your purposes.

The key is to keep it simple so that you can see at a glance what you need to accomplish during any given week. I have found that many freelancers prefer a simple weekly worksheet. On the other hand there are freelancers that love Google Calendar and run their scheduling that way. Google Calendar is free and there are some excellent training courses to get the best out of it.

● Don't be afraid to reschedule

You will probably never go to bed at night with everything on your ‘to do’ list checked off. Most clients will understand the need to reschedule occasionally, especially if you make it a point to communicate clearly and frequently.

This is one of the important reasons to have a prioritizing system that allows rescheduling and which identifies what items are important to complete first and what can be rescheduled in need when an unplanned family event intervenes.

● Break down large projects

It is easy to become overwhelmed when you look only at the big picture. Large projects become far more palatable when you break them down into small, easy-to-accomplish steps.

Set a deadline for each stage of the project to help you stay on track. The lesson with this is to take one step at a time.

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● Plan for family time and personal time

Nurturing your inner self through family and personal time helps you remember what attracted you to freelancing in the first place. Turn off your phone, close your laptop, and take some time for yourself.

I plan for this in my Life/Work Balance scheduling so that I allow time for family, social and exercise activities. I am in a bike riding club and this helps keep me committed.

● Plan for breaks

When you work for yourself, you discover that it’s easy to get caught up in a project and work for hours at a time. Unfortunately, that’s a good way to burn out quickly. Schedule breaks throughout the day and give yourself a chance to recharge.

This should not only include relaxation breaks, but exercise breaks. It is a good idea to have a sitting desk for computer work and a standing desk to prevent the problems associated with sitting for long hours at your computer.

I have a desktop computer and a laptop placed on top of a three door filing cabinet. The computers are synchronized with software (most of the time). This allows me to comfortably stand up and work. I try to remember to set an hour timer for this switch. This certainly beats bouts of neck and back pain.

● Plan for regular exercise

Exercise often gets sacrificed as deadlines loom and projects take longer than expected. However, keeping your body fit provides a necessary mental break, and helps your brain function better as well. I have found that after a bike ride, shower and a cup of coffee is my most creative and productive hours.

I often get more done in the half day after the morning spent bike riding than I would normally achieve on a full day without an exercise break. It is strange that it should be that way, but for me that is the way my brain works.

Keeping it Simple

People spend a lot of money trying to manage their schedules and create better lives for their families. Many of the more popular self-management systems are structured in concept, but people often have trouble executing them consistently. The key to managing your schedule in order to achieve success as a freelancer is to keep it simple.

With a plan in place and a good system for executing that plan, you can achieve the work/life balance you need to be successful in both realms. Flexibility and simplicity in your system I have found to be a major factor if you wish to succeed.

John Cosstick has worked as a banker, accountant and certified financial planner so he understands the financial challenges of freelancers. He is now a professional freelance journalist who is passionate about seeing freelancers of all skill sets getting better support. John supports and advocates for the Freelancers Union and would like to see an International Freelancers Union.

John is currently working towards developing a suite of software apps to help freelancers with financial issues. You can find out more about these issues by subscribing to his newsletter and reading his Amazon Kindle eBook "How to Self-Employed : A Freelance Work from Home Guide" by clicking here.