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So you’re a self-employed or freelance worker. You’re in the company of about 36% of the US workforce.
You chose to be self-employed because you were exhausted from your old job, or you wanted flexibility, or you simply work better without an authority figure looming over you. Whatever the reasons were, you’re here now. You are now your own bookkeeper, financier, project manager, and sales representative.
Being your own boss can be a bane and a boon. As a freelancer, there are some common roadblocks you’ll face along the long, bumpy road. Not meeting project deadlines is one of them. Not meeting the deadlines of multiple projects is another. The point is that playing the multiple roles of Project Manager/Team Member/Omnipotent Superhuman may not always work out.
Reduce the occurrence of setbacks in your projects by following these project management tips:
The number of tasks that you have managed to check off your to-do list does not matter. It is the quality of those tasks and your efficiency in completing them that does. There may be an infinite number of smaller tasks in a day and you could do all of them, but if you miss out on that one really important item on your checklist, you might as well have done nothing that day.
So you have to prioritize. You can do so in different ways. You can tackle the most crucial tasks first, or you can finish non-essential tasks more quickly to leave more time for the more pressing tasks.
This is very common time management advice that holds especially true for project management. A project might seem quite daunting because of its unfamiliarity, its expansive scope, or the sheer amount of work you’re going to have to put in.
Take a breather. And then compartmentalize the task into smaller segments that are less intimidating and easier to tackle. This is like a mini action plan for each ginormous individual task. Broken down into smaller steps, you not only climb each tier faster, you also make sure that no part of the project has been neglected or done hastily. Compartmentalizing will reduce the stress/anxiety associated with daunting projects to a great extent.
Set time limits
In addition to compartmentalizing, you should also set specific time-bound goals for your projects. When a time aspect is added to the way you visualize your project, you automatically devise ways to do it better in the given time frame. Each project goal/milestone should have a start date/time and an ideal end date/time.
You can track your progress in relation to the time you should ideally have taken to complete the task. If you’re feeling short of time, either review your calculations for the ideal time or figure out what’s hindering you from meeting the standard time.
Make use of organizational tools
The future is here and it’s brought mind-blowing organizational tools with it. If you prefer the old whiteboards and sticky notes routine and it works for you, stick with it. But you can also embrace new-age organizational tools. Scheduling, collaborating, team management, personal finance, or organizing email: Anything that you need to get on top of, there’s probably a great organizational tool for it. Take advantage of these tools as per your needs and take your project management game to the next level.
Have a system
If you really want to up your project management game, consider devising a project management system. Once you’ve truly figured out your workflow requirements and have a general attack plan that’s common for all your projects, you more or less know what you need from the system. Based on that, you could choose to go for a free or premium version of project management software that suits your needs. You can try out various tools to see which ones fit best into your workflow. Find the combination that works best for you, and voilà, you have customized project management software in place.
Update your projects diligently
More often than not, chances are that you’re juggling multiple projects at once. In the beginning, the details of each project are crystal-clear in your mental workspace. But as time progresses and you wade deeper into the internal mechanism of each, the details are likely to get muddy.
So, save yourself the trouble and commit to updating your projects in the system diligently. When you finish a task, update it. The due date changed? Update. A new task was added? Update it! Updating regularly will keep you on track and show you exactly where you are on the trajectory you mapped out for each of your projects.
Take a break
Taking breaks at work is criminally underrated and not encouraged enough.
You may think that because you’re a freelancer or are working from home you should attack your projects without stopping. But you’ll find that your body and mind will accumulate fatigue at an exponential rate, leading to an inevitable burnout.
In your workflow, make time for breaks. If you have mapped out a schedule for the day or a to-do list, ensure that you keep sufficient breaks between strenuous tasks. Appropriate breaks have been proven to not only reduce mental and physical fatigue but also increase your motivation, productivity, and creativity–a win-win situation if there ever was one.
In the spirit of balance, this point relates to not taking too many breaks or wasteful breaks. A break that involves being sucked into a social media black hole or watching an episode of Stranger Things that turns into a season-long binge-watch session? That’s not a break; it’s a disastrously addictive distraction.
The internet is full of distractions. Since/if most of the work you do is on the internet, just accept that you’re going to encounter one sooner or later. What can be done to avoid it? Exercise self-control. Also, install a time tracking extension like Chrome Nanny, which limits the time spent by you on your favorite websites to a certain number of minutes per day.
Done is better than perfect
Want to be the real MVP? Deliver an MVP. Jokes aside, MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. It refers to the minimum amount of work that is required to put a sellable product/service into the market.
You might have a tendency to perfect or polish certain parts of a project. If you do this at the end of the project if you still have time left, it’s not a problem. However, if you get stuck on perfecting one single element while you still have twenty more compartments to put together, it doesn’t seem like a very wise thing to do.
Remember that done is better than perfect. It may be very tempting to complete each part of a project so that it’s pitch-perfect, but that’s not practical or realistic. Your focus should be on delivering rather than on perfection.
Remember your lessons learned
Compile a list of lessons learned from your previous projects. Ask yourself what you did right and what you did wrong in these projects. Look for patterns. This can be a great way to find out what mistakes you’re making over and over. If you’re working with a team, ask them to give an objective review of what they feel could have been done better. This ensures that you learn from your good days and your bad days. The point is to keep growing with each project.
Project management is a dynamic, constantly changing function. You might need to trial-and-error your way through different approaches and tools and combinations of the two to find out what works best for you. That’s the system you should stick to.
As a self-employed worker, freelancer, or solopreneur, you need all the help you can get. Hopefully these neat project management tricks manage to do just that.
Fretty Francis is a digital marketing executive at SoftwareSuggest, an online platform that recommends software solutions to businesses. Her areas of expertise include project management software and eCommerce software. In her spare time, she works as a freelance writer and likes to travel around.