5 Time Management Tips for Freelancers

Do you find that you’re constantly up against the clock? Is managing your work / life balance an ongoing battle?

Freelancers frequently find the main barrier to developing and growing their client base is their own time.

William Penn, businessman and philosopher said “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst,” few of us would argue with this sentiment.

Even in this day and age of technological advancement, no one has yet discovered a way of fitting more than 24 hours in one day, so here are some tips designed to help us maximize the benefit of the hours we have available to us.

Here are five tips to help you manage your time.

Tip 1: De-clutter

This may not apply to everyone, but if your workspace is a mass of post-it notes, scribbled to-do lists and scraps of paper with phone numbers and names on them, then a cleanup is in order. Clear your desk of everything that you don’t use every day–you don’t need to throw it all away, but either file it or put it in a drawer.

Author Karen Kingston wrote, “Being clear of clutter is one of the greatest aids I know to discovering and manifesting the life you want.”

Tip 2: Make a List

It is a good idea to take ten minutes at the start of your day and create a list with everything you need to do on it, then prioritize the tasks by evaluating whether they have to be done today. Some tasks may not be high priority, but can be completed while in the car, on a train or waiting in a queue somewhere, so keep your list with you wherever you go.

When you complete a task, cross it off your list–You’ll feel like you’re making progress and it will give you a sense of satisfaction. I’ve even been known to add a task that I’ve already completed to the top of my list, and then cross it out straight away, just so that I feel as if I’ve already started!

Tip 3: Set a Deadline and Stick to It

Managing how long you allocate to particular tasks is key in retaining control of your time. Be realistic when setting a deadline. If you give yourself one day for a task that will take at least two, you’ve already set yourself up to fail, either in the quality of work you produce–because you are rushing, or in managing your time successfully. While it is true that a task takes the exact amount of time allocated to it, you can control this by respecting your deadlines.

Tip 4: Manage Interruptions

Once you’ve prioritized your tasks you can focus on completing them and crossing them off the list– if only it were that simple! Phone calls, emails, task reminders, the list could go on and on, there are numerous interruptions that will steal our time and limit productivity, so what can we do about them?

In his renowned book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr Stephen Covey introduced the concept of the time management matrix, consisting of four quadrants representing where we spend our time.

  • Quadrant 1 is important and urgent tasks–such as pressing problems & deadline driven projects.
  • Quadrant 2 is important but not urgent tasks such as relationship building, planning and recognizing new opportunities.
  • Quadrant 3 is not important but urgent tasks including activities deemed to be interruptions (i.e certain calls or emails).
  • Quadrant 4 is not urgent and not important tasks such as trivia and time-wasters.

The key to being able to use this tool to help us is to identify in which quadrants we spend our time. We all have tasks that fall into quadrant 1 that must be done, they are part of life.

The essence of Covey’s message is we need to control the activities we spend our time on, and he suggests that if we make time for quadrant 2 activities, they will add the most value to our time and also reduce the number of activities that fall into quadrant 1.

Activities from quadrants 3 and 4 are to be avoided wherever possible. If you don’t know where your time goes, draw up your own version of the matrix and be honest with yourself, it could help you identify those things that consume your time but don’t add any value.

Tip 5: Collaborate

If you find yourself in the fortunate position of being offered more work than you can manage, instead of reluctantly turning it down, why not build relationships with other freelancers and get them to carry out the work for you. This is a win-win situation. Chances are, they will be delighted at the opportunity to work for a new client (You!), you will be able to retain your client and receive an income from a project you didn’t complete. You’ve also increased your network with the added benefit that your new freelance partner might even direct some work your way in future.

I’ll leave the final word to American author H. Jackson Brown who said, “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

What About You?

How do you keep from wasting time?

Share your answers in the comments.

Image by servus


  1. says

    Lists are so important to me! I used to have a weekly calendar where I kept my lists, but then threw them away each week. This year I got a list-making calendar so I could make my lists, check everything off, and see what I’ve accomplished. It helps shut up the voice that tells me Im not doing enough!

  2. says

    Thanks for this post.

    Managing time effectively is crucial for freelancers or anyone that needs more of it. I am in the middle of reading Dr Stephen Covey’s book now and I am learning lots from it. Quadrants are a great way to manage everything and I use them in everything I do.

  3. Ruth says

    Your last quote reminds me of a favourite fo mine from Tom Lehrer:
    “It is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.”

    Thanks for the tips – I look forward to trying to apply them usefully.

  4. says

    This has more to do with mind set to manage your time, being less scatter brained. Freelancing as Web/Print Designer, I dress to impress each and every morning. This creates a differentiation from your pajamas that you would love to wear all day! :) When you put the business socks on… its business time! I dont change til my work is all done for that day. Leaving a sense of competition to my day. Otherwise working in my pj’s I will personally get distracted & act like it is my day off and want to browse the internet, kayak, bike, anything besides what I should be doing. :^D

  5. says

    The best time (for me) to make a list is the night before. I find that I save myself about an hour of procrastination if I make that list and declutter the desk before bed. Also a huge tip is to write the number of minutes you think each task will take next to the item. Then, get a timer and go to town on the list when you wake up. Days when I do that are usually the most productive for me.

  6. says

    I like quadrants too, but I also find the following helpful: Important suff = good things happen when you do something. Urgent = bad things happen when you don’t do something!

  7. says

    I find e-mails can be a big distration, I now only open important ones during working hours, client enquiries, replies to proposals etc. I use the message rules in my organiser application to sort them into folders, I check the rest of my emails at the end of the work session. I also do my todo list the night before, so i can get down to work straight away.

  8. says

    I agree that time management skills are vitally important when you’re a freelancer. Especially when you do a lot of the work yourself; you are the limiting factor in the grand scheme of productivity. So having the right time management skills are really key to your success as a freelancer, especially for the long run.

  9. Vladislav says

    Thanks for the great article, Ian Greaves!
    We are a small web-design company, and we have a number of freelancers to be managed across the world, personally I (as an executive) had tackled a difficulty of managing my own tasks a long time, until I mastered task prioritization and to-do listing techniques (including Stephen Covey’s quadrants that appear really helpful). We were growing over time, so then we faced another issue – effective organization of the team tasks, including work items for freelancers and office employees (it was really hard to keep all action items and their delivery dates consolidated). Well, collaborative software is what really helped us to resolve the problem and de-clutter – we (the managers and employees) use it daily to coordinate and navigate our priorities and projects to not lose sense of our business time anymore (it actually helps us to keep integrity with multiple geographically dispersed assignments belonging to different projects). If you are interested, I may tell you it is called VIP Task Manager http://www.taskmanagementsoft.com/ – perhaps it is not the best solution for online work, but for long-term freelancers and office employees it works just great, in my opinion… I think you should try collaborative software of your choice to plan and track your work with the customers and co-workers.

  10. says

    Making a list and collaborating everything is fine, but how about using a time tracking tool to track all your time related activities, which will indeed help in using the time in a better way.

  11. says

    I don’t know what I’d do without lists. Seriously, they save my sanity. I’ve learned one great way to manage interruptions is to add things that pop in your head that need to be done into a list in order to say, “I see that you’re there, and I’ll get to you.” Otherwise you spend the day putting out fires – and wonder at the end of the day why nothing got done.

  12. Diana says

    Great post. Thanks for the wonderful tips. Another tip I would like to share is that freelancers should use of online time tracking tools that are easy to use. I would like to recommend Proofhub, asana, wrike, toggl, etc for time tracking.


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