What to Do When You Have too Much Work

We all strive to be there–we want to have so much work we never really have to advertise or cold call or do much marketing ever again. We want enough clients so that we can pick and choose the best ones with the best projects. But what happens when you actually make it there?

Personally, I have a tendency to overschedule myself–which is normally a good thing because clients usually take longer than they think they will to get the project to me. However, every so often it seems everyone does decide to start their projects on time and I end up working 15 hour days with little sleep.

No one likes working overtime, least of all a freelancer, so what do we do when we have too much work? How do we get our schedules on track?

Plan Your Day

When I have a normal or a slow week, I tend to be more relaxed about my schedule. While I always have my calendar filled with each client I’m going to be working with each day, I don’t normally ever plan an hour-by-hour schedule.

However, when I’ve found that there’s way too much work for one week, I plan my day out in the shower (make use of all the time you’ve got!). I simply decide which projects I’m going to work on first until lunch, and which are going after lunch. I try to get the small, quick projects done first and out of the way, so I can send them off to the client while I start on the larger projects.

I don’t like starting a new site in the middle of each of my two slow work times (before and after lunch), so I’ll make sure to plan a brand new project first thing in the morning, or right after lunch.

Shut Off Everything

You probably don’t realize how much time you spend every day on apps that interrupt your work. These normally include IM clients, Skype, Twitter, Facebook and Apple’s Mail app. I’ve found that I can be a lot more productive by turning off everything (unless I’m waiting for a client call) except my mail.

I don’t like closing my mail app, because I use it way too often and I like to pop in every once in a while to check it. However, I found that by constantly hearing the “ping” noise Apple mail makes, and seeing the red circle icon with “600” new messages, I simply couldn’t get any work done. I favor a clean inbox so I would immediately answer my emails.

I found that you can hide the red circle notification and remove the new mail sound in preferences. I also decided to only check my mail a couple of times a day, and I really only answer them in the evening or right before lunch. While this has slowed my response time to clients, it’s allowed me to get a lot more work done.

Find Good Music

The type of music I’m listening to also seems to affect both my concentration and speed of coding. Even though I prefer to listen to rock, I’ve found that by turning on some bubble gum pop or poppy rap music, I actually code faster and am in a better mood. If I’m stressed out I’ll turn on classical or techno, but these actually tend to calm me down too much–and consequently I work at a much slower pace.

The same music may not work for you, but it’s worth it to try and listen to different genres and figure out how they affect the way you work.

Work Longer

Working longer hours and on the weekend can’t always be avoided, so this may need to be something you think about. It also seems like you can get a lot more work done during the evening, simply because you have less┬ádistractions. Often a project I’m dreading on starting gets finished really quickly when I start it after dinner.

If you do need to work longer hours, try to get up and take a two to three minute break once an hour. While this seems counterproductive, it actually allows your mind to rest and allows you to concentrate better when you get back to work. Plus, sitting for 15 hours straight isn’t exactly healthy, so it’s good to get up and move around, even if just for a bit.

Give It Away

If there’s simply no way you can get all of the work done, you can always outsource it. It’s up to you whether to inform the client that you’re doing this. If it’s a new client, it’s probably best to let them know you’re bringing on some help. If it’s a client you know well and you know they won’t mind as long as the quality’s the same, you can probably skip telling them.

Your Thoughts

Have you ever overscheduled yourself? How did you make it through? What tricks helped you to get work done faster?

Image by Dru Bloomfield – At Home in Scottsdale