One simple way to enjoy life as a freelancer more is to plan your time in a way that works for you–instead of letting your schedule “happen” to you. If you want to have afternoons off to go for a run, volunteer, meet friends for coffee or hang out with your kids, be pro-active about protecting that time. Here are three steps to help you.
1. Limit your availability. When setting up appointments with clients or other business contacts by email, suggest two or three times that work for you on the first email, instead of asking what times they would prefer in the next week. I’ve found that this eliminates endless rounds of back and forth. Unless I’m trying to set up an appointment with someone who travels constantly or has very limited availability, I usually find that they will accept one of the times I’ve suggested or one that is close to my ideal time range. Folks who are extremely busy usually have administrative assistants; it’s typically quickest to talk with their admins by phone to find an available time.
2. Save time figuring out time zones. You’ll waste time if you suggest a 5 a.m. call to someone who is three time zones earlier than you, so I usually try to figure out someone’s location through Google or by looking up their area code before offering my availability. A business contact recently told me about a nifty tool that has helped me save a lot of time in scheduling calls: Meeting Planner tool on WorldTimeServer.com. It lets you view the entire day’s schedule in your time zone and the other party’s time zone simultaneously. I’ve found it to be just as helpful in scheduling calls in the U.S. as it is when I’m talking with someone in, say, Malaysia. If you need to include 5 people in separate locations on a conference call, you can view all of their schedules at the same time. And you can save certain locations as your favorites, so you don’t have to re-enter them.
3. Add appointments –and details–immediately. My inbox gets very full. I’ve found that if I don’t add appointments to my schedule as I set them, I usually slip up somehow and forget to add one when I try to go back to this task at day’s end. Similarly, if I don’t add phone numbers to my Yahoo calendar, I wind up wasting time digging for them prior to a call, so I am trying force myself to do that more, too. BlackBerry offers a free downloadable software that syncs my Yahoo calendar with my Blackberry calendar, so I try to do that frequently. It took me about an hour on the phone with a tech to get it to work, but once I did, I was glad. Now, if I’m between appointments and have a few minutes to spare, I can work on scheduling, instead of having it cut into my “creative” time spent writing and editing. Folks who use the Blackberry under an enterprise contract can sync their calendars without plugging the Blackberry into their computer, according to the tech who helped me, but indie professionals who buy one will need to plug it into the PC using the power charging cord.
What other calendar/scheduling tricks work? Do you find email reminders and alerts useful for you?