How to carve out time as a freelancer

Feb 15, 2018

In 2008, I was working full time as a university department chair at a university that was up for reaccreditation. In addition to teaching, hiring new faculty, advising, and engaging in a university-wide self-study, I was actively involved in my church and with the alumni chapter of my sorority. My life was, to say the least, very busy.

Paradoxically, it was during one of the busiest points in my life that I started actively freelancing. A local content creator asked me to contribute to a national, multicultural resource curriculum. My first thought was to decline because the idea of adding one more thing to my schedule seemed impossible. But the project was so compelling that I eventually said ‘yes.’ It would end up being one of the most comprehensive and rewarding freelancing projects that I have ever done.

Fast forward to 2018 and a dear friend from graduate school recently reached out to me on Facebook. She’s a full-time professor who loves to write and she wants to explore freelancing. However, she’s not sure how to fit it into her life. So, not surprisingly, shortly after catching up, she asked me: How do I make time to write?

Good question. After working a 40 to 45-hour work week in addition to one’s other responsibilities, it may be incredibly difficult to see how freelancing can fit into an already busy and hectic schedule. Realistically, we can’t manufacture more time, so how does one find time?

Not only is this a fair question, it’s not necessarily an easy one to answer; however, there are some pragmatic steps that most people can take to integrate freelancing into their lives.

Be realistic about your other time commitments

Most of us are creatures of habit, which makes it plausible to forecast the amount of time that we spend on our various commitments. Because freelancing can (and should) be something that you enjoy and find value in doing, you don’t want it to compete with your pre-existing commitments.

I highly recommend that you start with smaller freelance projects that I affectionally call ‘one and done.' This simply means that you commit to one project at a time until you can get a sense of how freelancing fits into your life. As you get acclimated to meeting deadlines and unpacking the complexity of freelancing projects, you can either increase or decrease the number of projects that you commit to doing.

Carve out time just for freelancing projects

I often tell my mentees and clients that you have to set aside time to write. If you think of it as an ongoing commitment like a university class, lesson, or an event then there is a greater possibility that you will show up.

At first, this may be difficult, but over time, you will find that you can actually reclaim more of your time because you are not overscheduling or overcommitting. For example, I don’t schedule any appointments or sessions for Monday because that is my day to write. I have committed myself to a writing day and even on days when I am unmotivated and uninspired, I still write.

A full day may be unrealistic when you first start freelancing, so you may want to start in smaller increments like an hour or two. Whether it’s daily, weekly, or bi-weekly, the key is to block out time on your calendar and work the rest of your schedule around your set-aside freelancing time. This will lead to greater consistency and discipline. In turn, it will free you up to take on additional projects.

Just say no

If you are seriously committed to launching your freelancing career then you may have to give-up or sacrifice something else. The good news is that you don’t have to make a life-altering change, you just may need to rethink how you are parceling out your time. And this may simply boil down to saying no.

As simple as it sounds, saying no, especially for those of us who are entrepreneurial in spirit, may be difficult. Yet, it is often necessary. As I think back over how I manage my life back in 2008, I realize that I started to be more protective of my time.

Being successful as a freelancer was important to me and I wanted my work to reflect that. As such, I literally had to prioritize freelancing over some other activities. Freelancing compared to some of the other things in my life was not only enjoyable, but it also brought value to my life. This, in turn, meant that I had to let some of those other things go.

From that first major project in 2008 to 2018, what, at one time, seemed to be impossible not only became possible but an intricate part of my life.

Although these are small steps, over time, you should be able to dedicate more time to freelancing.

Tyra Seldon

Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.