Instead of working as an employee for a company, you may have considered venturing out on your own as a consultant or freelancer. In recent years, freelancing has become a popular career choice for many professionals, with nearly 60 million people doing freelance work in 2020 alone, according to Statista. Although the thought of being your own boss and making your own hours may seem liberating, certain challenges come with becoming a freelancer. One of the biggest is learning how to structure your workday.
When you’re working as someone else’s employee, you are often given a list of tasks, meetings and deadlines you must follow. However, as an independent worker, you are responsible for effectively managing your own time. Your workday needs a sharp outline and underlying structure to reach peak effectiveness. Learning to manage your time effectively will enable you to complete higher-quality work in less time.
Why structure is important for freelancers
When you freelance, you are in control of your own goals and tasks, which can be freeing. However, without the proper structure in place, you may run your independent business into the ground before you even get started. A lack of structure can cause you to lose track of projects, miss deadlines and burn yourself out.
If you want to make money (ideally, consistent money) and earn repeat business, you will need to structure your day. Understand your own working habits as well as your strengths and weaknesses, and then structure a day that works best for you and your clients.
Bottom line: Having a set schedule can help you keep track of projects, adhere to deadlines, improve productivity and efficiency, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and earn repeat clients.
How to structure your day as a freelancer
If you want to create a lucrative freelancing business, follow these tips to improve your time management skills and add more structure to your workday.
1. Eliminate distractions.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of working at home is managing or eliminating distractions that compete for your time and focus. You might be tempted to steal a glance at your phone or finish up some chores. If anyone else is at home with you, like a family member or roommate, they can also become a distraction when you need to focus on your work.
Here are a few ways you can eliminate potential distractions:
- Unplug from all social media (unless your work revolves around social media).
- Set your team chat, instant messenger or texting app status to “do not disturb,” and deliberately avoid those apps until the task is complete or you’re on break.
- Work somewhere that allows you to focus. Some may need the absolute silence of an empty room, while others might prefer the white noise of a coffee shop.
- Take regular breaks. Giving your mind a rest will help prevent you from getting burned out too fast.
Tip: When you have kids, working from home can be challenging, whether you are a remote employee or an independent worker.
2. Create a schedule.
Your efforts to eliminate distractions will be reinforced by scheduling your tasks and workday. A well-structured day allows time for breaks, lunch and even a walk outside to clear your mind. Scheduling can make a significant difference in your productivity and sense of accomplishment for the day.
Scheduling might not sound fun, but even the best-laid plans can still fall to the wayside without careful self-management. Fortunately, there are several ways to structure your workdays:
- To-do lists: Make a list of all of your to-do items for the day. You can do this via computer, an app, or even good old pen and paper. Choose whatever is most comfortable and convenient for you.
- Work breaks: Break up your tasks into digestible blocks of time with breaks in between. Your mindset will shift when you realize your list of tasks is not impossible. You only have to focus on each step for a short time.
- Routines: Remember your daily routines. Just because you’re working at home today doesn’t mean you should skip out on brushing your teeth and getting dressed. You’ll feel a lot better throughout your day if you take the time to get ready.
- Spaced-out projects: Give yourself wiggle room. As you plan your schedule for the week, the key is to balance your tasks. When your calendar is jampacked, you lose the ability to roll with the punches, so give yourself room to breathe.
Discipline is a practiced skill. The more you strive to complete your tasks according to schedule, the less stressful the process will become.
3. Accomplish urgent tasks first.
When you’re creating your daily schedule, list your most urgent tasks first. If you push these until the end of the day, you risk running out of time. This can lead you to miss your deadlines, feel unfulfilled with your day, or work overtime and burn yourself out.
Similarly, it can be helpful to accomplish your most dreaded tasks first. Procrastinating will only cause you to spend more time thinking about them, which can hinder your mood and productivity. Get them out of the way early on, so you can spend the rest of the day doing tasks you enjoy.
4. Group similar tasks together.
People like to think they can multitask, but research has consistently shown that focusing on multiple tasks at once can hinder productivity and efficiency. Instead of switching back and forth across various projects throughout the day, group similar tasks together. This can help keep you focused on one thing at a time.
One example of this is email. Set aside a certain portion of your day to respond to all of your emails at once. Establishing a designated time for this task will keep you from switching over to your Outlook inbox every time you get a notification.
5. Take advantage of technology.
While some technology can be a distraction, many platforms can help you structure and track your day. For example, you might need great website design software to help you build a professional online portfolio, or perhaps you can rely on a project management platform to help you keep track of your projects. If you are working on an hourly billed project, you also may want time-tracking software to record how many hours you work.
Tip: If you’re looking for software to track how many hours you work, check out some of our favorite time and attendance systems on the market.
6. Set aside time to find new projects.
Accomplishing your current tasks is essential, but so is thinking about the future. Freelancing does not come with the guarantee of future work. Set aside time to look for new projects to take on. This is especially important if you are new to freelancing and don’t have a consistent client base established.
7. Track your success.
If you can measure it, you can improve it. Each successful job you complete becomes another feather in your cap. Every article you write, every proposal that’s accepted, and every other success you score will become the fuel that drives you to keep up the good work.
Keeping track of your progress not only serves as motivation but also helps you drown out that inner critic who fills you with apprehension and distracts you from the task at hand. As you complete each element of your project, you’ll get a Pavlovian satisfaction from checking off another task on your list.
Tracking your success also helps you benchmark your performance. As you rack up successes, you’ll discover which tasks are easier or more difficult to focus on. Completing work more effectively will open up time in your schedule for other things.
FYI: Not every freelance gig is a good use of your time and talents. Sometimes the job itself is the real distraction, and if it’s sapping your energy, that’s a sign you should focus more on projects you’re passionate about.
Learning to manage your time is a skill, and you will continue to improve as you remain mindful of how and where you spend your time. At the end of the day, the rewards of effectively managing your time are well worth the process.
David Kirby contributed to the writing and research in this article.