time management solutions
A few weeks ago, I reached out to my digital swarm asking advice on time management solutions. I had begun to get the feeling of working lots without much to show for it. When clients drop away, which they inevitably will, you need to know at the drop of a dime how much time you have at your disposal for new client acquisition. (Side note: It is also helpful to know how much money will be coming in over the next few months. This alone can relieve the stress of losing a client.) If you have more than one professional focus, like I do, it is paramount to know how much of your time each project or focus will take. Shifting this time, focusing more on one project rather than another, can lead you to more success. However, to do so, you also need to know how much you can afford to take the focus off of a successful project in order to push another, less successful one forward. All of this led me to realize that planning your schedule and most importantly your professional focus is essential to your success as a freelancer.
The problem is: everyone organizes their time differently. From to-do lists to post-its, from offline bullet journals to online calendars, from project-tracking software to time-tracking apps, everyone has their own personal preference.
So why write a blog entry about something this subjective? Well, because I learned something about myself and freelancing in my search for a way to organize my working life.
It’s not like I hadn’t heard any of this before. When I set out on my freelancing journey, I read books like “Manage your Day-to-Day” and “Maximize your Potential” in order to find a working system for my self-employed self. I settled in on using Apple’s default calendar for appointments and deadlines (simply for the seamless synchronization not a lot of applications offered 5 years ago) and todoist for my to-dos. But this combination is no longer sufficient for my working needs. Why? Read on if you’re curious.
to-do lists, apps and software
My main issue was in working with a digital to-do list, I constantly postponed non-pressing tasks. This led me to feel like I had a constant looming workload. Also, I felt like I wasn’t getting anything done. At all.
I have also found the list character of a to-do list to be problematic. On a list, each item takes up the same amount of space; the only difference is the order of the list. However, as a freelancer, there are items on a to-do list that take numerous steps before they can be crossed off. If these steps can be anticipated, yes, the tasks can be broken down. However, more often than not, things pop up unexpectedly, causing work on a task to be segmented between days or weeks. Progress is being made, but in a simple to-do list, this is not reflected until the final checking off of the list. All in all, a simple list—however effective, or useful as an app it may be—simply does not do a freelancer’s schedule justice. At least not this freelancer’s.
Now, you might think most freelancers work with tracking apps and software. This may even be true. However, tracking apps—much like their name suggests—offer solutions for things that have already happened. Though useful, my main concern is planning tasks rather than tracking them after they’ve happened.
projects vs. work
So what I was really looking for was a system in which I could make my long-term projects clear—most notably, to myself. The main goal here was to find a system of documentation that would help me to understand the various steps that would need to be taken for each project, not just the timeline of one, which is often quite clear due to a deadline or alternative projects keeping you from working on one singular one.
Planning “regular work” is not nearly as challenging. Usually, clients provide a timeframe for milestones, or a deadline. This results in quite a straightforward plan for day-to-day work. The difficulty lies in planning both: long-term projects without hard deadlines and those with deadlines or foreseeable milestones.
journal, calendar or list?
A very knowledgeable friend of mine reached out after my swarm request via e-mail, recommending a journal rather than a calendar. She claimed the focus on positive and negative events resulted in more clarity for future projects.
I found this prospect quite interesting, although it was clear to me I wanted to focus on planning rather than revisiting past events. Also, I have been down the road to bullet journals once before. Don’t get me wrong, they’re super creative ways to organize your time. I just don’t have the time to come up with a system and apply it to each week. Also, as a hand-lettering artist, I would get lost in all the lettering possibilities such an empty journal offers. This, however, is not the point: I’m not looking to flex my creative muscles; I want to find a system in which to organize my time.
Nevertheless, the slower aspect of noting down goals and deadlines offline intrigued me. Once it’s on the page, there it is; there’s no key combination that allows you to move a whole project months into the future because you’re ‘just not motivated right now’. After perusing the internet for what seemed to be days, I stumbled across an offline business planner. It’s like a calendar, but it also includes project lists and timelines, empty pages for notes, a weekly calendar, a monthly calendar, and most importantly quarterly planning pages for week-by-week project planning. I find these few pages most useful, as they aren’t as vague as a yearly project plan but they’re more long-term than a monthly plan.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking, ‘Great, so she found her system of planning. How does that help ME?’ Well, it probably doesn’t, to be honest. This particular system works for me, but it might not work for you. And it also might not have worked for me 5 years ago.
I’m sure this sounds like a lot of unnecessary thinking, maybe even overthinking, to some. But to me as a freelancer, these thoughts are on my mind. All. The. Time. Putting these thoughts on paper has silenced the buzzing in my mind quite a bit.
And that is the most significant takeaway I have from all this: Having catalogued the long-term goals and projects where they should be, in lists and project timelines, it has become clear that I have quite a bit of free time, if I plan my projects accordingly. The last thing I want is to waste this time thinking about work without getting any work done. Life is too short for that.