Time flies while you are having fun, or so they say.
Well, actually, time is one of the greatest assets that you can have as a freelancer. But if you're not careful, it really can be easy to lose track of time or not account for your time wisely while you're engrossed in your work.
Thankfully, there are apps, devices, and techniques that you can use to improve your time management skills.
The ones that I describe here are ones that I have used, but keep in mind that there are many others that may be just as beneficial to you throughout your freelancing endeavors.
Toggl: Each task that you complete takes a certain amount of time. If you have successfully completed versions of a task before, then you probably have a pretty clear sense of how long it will take you so you can plan accordingly. But let’s say you have decided to take on a new project that takes you into unknown territory or that you have decided to work with a partner or on a team.
It’s critically important that you manage the total amount of time that you spend on a project because time allocation can make the difference between realistic and unrealistic deadlines. For example, it may take you 3 hours to do something and you’ve only set aside 1 hour. Isolated, this may seem inconsequential, but if you multiply that by 5 to 6 projects then you have a real problem.
An app called Toggl is an excellent resource to determine exactly how long a project will take, but it’s more than just a timer. As the name implies, you can toggle from task to task. There is also an analytic function that can be used to share data/results with others. Toggl not only helps you manage your individual time, but it keeps track of how long it takes the entire team to finish a task.
Phone Calendar Alerts: Are you overbooking or forgetting appointments? Even though missed appointments are often simple oversights, they don’t bode well for sustaining and growing your clientele.
Smart phone calendar alerts can be a life saver when you are trying to manage your time. I admit that they can be annoying, but I am sure that many of us can attest to the fact that a calendar reminder made the difference between missing an event or making it.
Email calendars like Outlook and Google sync with smart devices, so gone are the days when you had to write down your appointments in multiple locations. For some of us, our phone is our virtual assistant and it helps us to not only organize, but to keep track of how we are spending our time.
A Dry Erase Board: Yes, this is old school, but there is something about seeing your own handwriting that gives a task great urgency and importance. So how will this help you manage your time? Well, things tend not to come off the dry erase board until they are completed.
If something remains on the board beyond its projected due date then that’s a signal that you may want to rethink or reevaluate the amount of time that you are dedicating to that task. Conversely, are you spending too much time on another task?
Placement of the board is also important—don’t hide it in an obscure room, put it somewhere where you have to see it and its contents. Psychologically, there’s some built-in pressure to finish something that you can’t ignore. [I have a portable one that goes with me and lives next to a dresser in my bedroom]. Lastly, there is that great satisfaction of erasing something on a board because it signals that you have successfully completed a task.
Self-Progress Report: Although we may not have liked them, there was a reason why we received progress reports throughout our K-12 education. And in hindsight, they probably helped us, or our parents, monitor our academic progress. Well, progress reports can also be an asset when it comes to time management skills as an adult.
Here's what you can do: For one entire week, keep a journal or log of where you spend your time. Be honest and see this exercise as a self-assessment. After you have logged your time for a week, go back and look over the results. Ask: Where did I experience time misalignment?—or time spent doing things that were not a priority or not of importance (note, I intentionally did not use the word waste). After identifying where you spent your time, then shift and ask yourself why did I spend time engaging in that activity? Was it productive? Did I accomplish my end goal(s)?
If you take this report seriously, you will be amazed by what a week of self-reporting reveals about your current routine. Most importantly, you can use it to gage whether or not you are using your time effectively. If not, develop a plan and execute it accordingly.