2 tips for busy freelancers

I run a one person business. My name is in every box on the org chart. Each week I juggle multiple lines of business, working both ‘in’ and ‘on’ the business, all while working at home with a partner who also works from home, integrating work/home responsibilities throughout the day. Oh, and I have a dog I love deeply but is sometimes a high maintenance diva.

How do I get anything done?

Notice I didn’t say ‘how do I get it all done.’ There is no such thing. There’s always more to do. New day, new list. The trick is to get important things done (at least most of the time.)

Here are 2 key strategies I’m using to wrangle my chaotic freelance life.

Tip 1: Blocking

Specifically, calendar blocking. The strategy: block off certain days for the different work you do as a freelancer.

Some work requires interaction and collaborative activities. Things like project meetings, coaching sessions, networking events, and workshops fall into this category for me. An example of calendar blocking would be to schedule all collaborative events on Mondays and Tuesdays only.

What falls under collaborative events in your business? How many and which days would allow you to block enough time?

Other work requires deep, focused, uninterrupted time. Work like research, reading, writing, analyzing, strategizing, creating are all things that fall into this category. Not only do we need to block days or times for this, we need to make sure the location is right for the work. Blocking for deep work may include allocating Wednesday through Friday with time at the library for quiet focus.

What part of your business falls under the deep work category? How many and which days would allow you to block enough time to accomplish what’s important? What environment do you need to do your deep work?

Suggested Tool: to support calendar blocking, I use an online scheduling system: Acuity Scheduling (affiliate link). It allows me to identify appointment types and associated times and locations for collaborative work, leaving the remaining times and days open for deep work.

Blocking isn’t a foolproof strategy. It’s a tool used to help create boundaries. Holding those boundaries is both a mindset and behavior to strength.

Tip 2: Allocating

Carefully allocating time. The strategy: schedule only half my available work time leaving room for the unexpected and necessary.

As you’ve gained experience in your freelance career, you’ve developed a sense of how long projects and tasks take to complete. The trouble begins when we try to scale our efforts and stack these time blocks together.

I’ve seen it firsthand. Just because I can write a thousand word article in an hour, doesn’t mean I’ll be able to write 8 articles in one 8 hour day. And 8 hours of coaching sessions is an unreasonable expectation, especially if I want to be fully present and prepared for each client.

  • Reality one: nothing goes as planned every time.
  • Reality two: a full schedule is not sustainable.

How much of your day is scheduled?

Nothing goes as planned.

Reality rarely follows the plan as it’s laid out. I’m not suggesting we stop planning. Planning is critical. It’s the expectation that everyone and everything goes as planned that is flawed.

You’ve experienced it. A client arrives late to a meeting. Your computer gets a virus. The printer thought you said next Thursday. Your family gets the flu. There are endless possibilities.

If you don’t build flexibility into your plan, into your schedule, one of these things will through you off track. A recipe for stress, anxiety, and probably make you prone to mistakes – compounding the issue.

How much of a buffer do you allow in your plan? How much time do you allow within a single day to deal with the unexpected? Or do you add hours to your day, working 10, 12 hours or more?

Full schedule is not sustainable.

Your calendar is lying to you.

Imagine you’ve added a buffer between your appointments in your 8 hour day. You’re no longer surprised by the unexpected and are confident in your adaptability knowing you can handle whatever may come your way.

But that’s not the whole story. Lurking off to the side somewhere is your to-do list. Remember? All the things that are not appointments and are not on the calendar yet still need to get done? Yep, that list.

If I’m not careful, I can easily schedule an additional 10 hours of work from the to-do list. Way too many times, I’d review my list at lunchtime and realize I’d still have 10 hours of work left to do – not including the appointments on the calendar. It became a daily cause of stress that I knew had to change.

That’s when I changed how I scheduled my day.

If I have an 8-hour workday planned, I schedule only 4 hours of work. The 4 hours includes both appointments (calendar schedule) and tasks.

If these combined commitments only take 4 hours, I have a long list of other things I can jump right into and continue to work. Most of the time, however, that 4 hours of work is the right amount, plus I’ve added other tasks and appointments that were unexpected and necessary.

Suggested tool: To help me manage my tasks, I use Remember The Milk. It allows me to schedule when a task is due and the time to complete. So when I look at today’s tasks and it says 7.5 hours estimated time, I know I need to move things to another day.

How are you allocating your day? Are you including your appointments and tasks? Do you have a handle on the time to complete your tasks? Do you feel stressed and overwhelmed because you over-schedule yourself?

Blocking and allocating in this way helps me manage my work, my motivation, and others’ expectations. It’s allowed me time to think and work on today’s tasks and plan for future work.

How would blocking and allocating help you enjoy your indie life?