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Embrace the Chaos: Time Management as a Freelancer During Busy Periods

4 Minute Read

Freelance creatives are all-too-familiar with those “feast periods.” Albeit lucrative, those times when assignments come rolling in can be chaotic and stressful. Working long hours, you may find yourself prone to burnout and struggling with time management.

Instead of trying to to achieve the ever-elusive work-life balance during these extremely busy times, it can be best just to embrace the chaos, points out Carrie Smith Nicholson, founder of Careful Cents. In other words, adapt to these busy times instead of trying to tame them.

Here are some ways freelancers can manage those peak productivity periods so they can consistently deliver quality work and maintain their sanity.

Use a Project Management System

Freelance scheduling can be a beast. Not only can it feel like you have multiple bosses, you have bosses who don’t speak to each other, making it that much more challenging to manage your schedule. To champion time management as a freelancer, use a project management system—and stick to it. Smith Nicholson uses CRM (customer relationship management) software to keep track of deadlines, client info, and assignment details in one place. “Since this system helps me stay on top of everything, even when I’m inundated with work, I can usually work my way out of it within a week or so,” says Smith Nicholson.

You can also use a system that integrates with Google Calendar. Smith Nicholson shares her calendar with her husband, other team members, and clients, which makes it easier to coordinate schedules and projects. Popular systems include Trello and Asana, both which have free versions. There’s also time-tracking software such as Toggl, which can help you gauge if you should outsource certain tasks (which we’ll get into in just a bit). You might also experiment with bullet journaling to stay organized and keep your goals top of mind.

Separate the Negotiables From the Non-Negotiables

It’s easy to get overwhelmed staring at a seemingly endless to-do list. To stave off paralyzing bouts of overwhelm, figure out what absolutely has to be done in a given day and what can wait until tomorrow. For instance, while you aren’t able to push back on a deadline, you could potentially wait until later in the week to send that invoice. Separating your “non-negotiables,” or what must get done, from the “negotiables” will add some breathing room into your packed schedule.

Hire Help

To free up some time, consider outsourcing tasks. For instance, you can handle the creative work, such as designing and writing, and farm out some of the more time-intensive parts, such as hiring a virtual assistant for research or a production artist to scour the Internet for images. The benefits of hiring some help during these peak periods in your business could offset the costs.

Just be sure your clients are okay with your farming out some of your tasks. Some clients require that 100 percent of the work, including research, is done by you. This may be included in your contract, so check beforehand.

self-care freelancer

Image attribution: Hernan Sanchez

Do Periodic Business Reviews

When you’re burned out, all you want to do is quit working and get your life back. But that usually doesn’t keep the bills paid, so you feel trapped, points out Smith Nicolson. To avoid falling into that trap again in the future, Smith Nicolson recommends doing quarterly check-ins of your freelancing business. To avoid burnout from happening again, see if it makes sense to increase your rates, drop a few clients, or offer additional services.

Carve Out Time for Self-Care

Maintaining self-care is essential for ensuring your well-being isn’t being jeopardized. Squeeze in short, ten-minute breaks where you enjoy a cup of tea, go for a stroll around the neighborhood, or stretch on a yoga mat in your living room. Take full advantage of the perk of working from home, and schedule in a hot, midday bath. While it may be hard to leave your computer, doing so will help you recharge and maintain your productivity. Plus, your mental health will thank you.

Maintain a Positive Outlook

Remember to think positively about your heavy workload, suggests Smith. “I remind myself that things may look entirely different in a month or two,” says Smith Nicholson. “Income and work as a freelancer is never guaranteed, so when do you have a lot on your plate, it’s important to have a positive perspective.”

One way to go about this is to reward yourself after things die down. This can come in the form of a nice dinner, a well-deserved weekend getaway, or maybe a gadget you’ve long had your eye on.

While time management as a freelancer during the busy times can be challenging, integrating a few tips can help you get through the chaos and ensure you don’t suffer from crippling burnout.

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Featured image attribution: Andrew Neel

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Jackie Lam is a money writer and content marketer who's worked with both Fortune 500 financial companies and clients in the fintech space such as Chase, Discover, KeyBank, Fidelity, SoFi, Acorns, Simple Finance, and Swell Investing. Her work has appeared in outlets such as GOOD, Business Insider, and Forbes. She blogs at HeyFreelancer.com and tweets about her many projects at @heyfreelancerco. In her free time she likes to help cultivate community for freelancers, write fiction, and volunteer feeding the homeless.

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