Freelancing Tips: Effective Time Management

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.
~Benjamin Franklin

Time is money.
~Bejamin Franklin

One of the best things about freelance work is that you set your own schedule, and you work at your own pace. Some of us are early birds, while some of us are night owls. If you prefer to spend your time burning the midnight oil, that is totally up to you. At the end of the day (or night), however, freelancers need to be very diligent about budgeting their time in order to ensure that they get paid. Here are a few tips to help you manage your time wisely.

Set a billing quota for yourself. One of the best pieces of budgeting advice I ever got came from the novel Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl, by Tracy Quan. As you might have guessed, the novel’s protagonist is a call girl named Nancy Chan. Nancy doesn’t understand fellow sex workers who struggle to make ends meet. After all, Nancy sets a quota of the number of clients she needs to service in order to make and invest her money. By sticking to her quota, Nancy lives pretty flush as an escort, who works via referral only – no street walking or internet porn for her! Who knew that a hooker could provide such sound financial advice?

In order for a quota system to work, freelancers need to set a realistic number for themselves. Do you know how much money you need to make every month in order to pay your bills and put money into savings and investment accounts? If not, you’d better sit down and do some math, or you won’t last long as a freelancer. In her book My So-Called Freelance Life, author Michelle Goodman has a great formula for establishing your hourly rate based off of your expense calculations. She has excellent points to consider, such as paying yourself first, and purchasing health insurance.

Once you know how much money you need to make each month, set a billing quota for yourself, then structure all of your time around meeting that goal. I need to bill a minimum of 40 hours per month in order to meet my quota. Anything I bill on top of that is gravy. But you can’t budget effectively if you don’t know the minimum amount of money you should be making each month.

Keep track of your time. In my article about setting up an invoice system, I told you that I track my time on an Excel spreadsheet. I track my billable time for clients, but I also keep track of my time that is not going to be compensated, such as time spent researching and writing my novel. I have a goal of spending 30% of my time working for other people, and 70% of my time working for myself. Sometimes I don’t always meet that goal. And when I start to feel like I am not spending enough time on my own writing, I can always go back to my spreadsheet and see where all my time has been spent.

Here’s the rub: you have to be honest with yourself. If I put a note on my spreadsheet that I spent two hours researching an article about the suffrage movement, how much of that time was spent on research, and how much time was spent on Facebook or Twitter? Don’t lie to yourself. Account for every minute of your work time. You’ll be surprised to see how quickly time adds up when you start paying attention to your day.

Set time limits for yourself. There are two aspects to this equation. First of all, no client should dominate your time, unless they are paying you a boatload of money to do so. A good rule of thumb is 25%. Think of time management in the same way that you think about money management. You would diversify your investment portfolio, right? That same logic needs to be applied to your client base. If you allow one client to dominate your income stream and that client disappears, you need to have enough of a cushion to prevent that from totally ruining your quota system.

Additionally, set limits on how long you’ll work each day, and give yourself plenty of breaks. Research has shown that people are actually more productive when they work in shorter stints. Work for one to two hours at a time, then take a break. When I say break, I don’t mean check your matches on your favorite dating website, or retweet the latest from @feministhulk. I mean you should actually walk away from your computer. Go throw a load of laundry in the washing machine, go check the mail, whatever . . . just do something that helps your brain switch out of work mode for a while.

It’s also important to stop working at the end of the day. My goal is to wrap everything up at 5:00, but the absolute cut off for me is 6:00. That’s when I cook dinner, and then sit down to TV or a game of Scrabble with my partner. I will admit that this is the hardest part of working from home for me. It is very tempting to go back to work after I eat dinner. I am a self-proclaimed workaholic. When I’m on deadline, I often feel the need to get back on my computer after dinner. However, my goal is to set evenings aside for my family. That, after all, was one of the major reasons I decided to be my own boss.

Time management is honestly a topic that deserves its own Queercents series, and I’m only giving you a nutshell version of the topic. But I hope that these very basic tips will help you balance your time in an effort to help you be a successful, and profitable, freelancer.

What are some of your time management tips and tricks? I’d love to hear your advice.

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