Many of us freelance in order to juggle other responsibilities. But sometimes, those other things we need to do can get in the way of work. In freelancing for five years while raising four small children, I’ve experimented with my schedule and other work habits to find out how best to carve out enough time to get my work done and also manage the rest of my life. Here are some time-management strategies that are working for me now. (We’d love for you to post some of your own).
Know what your ideal day looks like. Through trial and a lot of error, I’ve figured out that a great workday is one where I have time to concentrate on–and enjoy–the projects I’ve planned and still have time to do things with my kids in a relaxed way. A bad day is one where I allow myself to lose control over my work time to the point that it spirals to 12 hours–or one where I’ve let myself get talked into volunteering for outside projects I don’t really have time to do. I try to keep this in mind when deciding what I can and can’t do. Saying no, while hard to do, is important if you want to enjoy your life and get meaningful things done.
Plan your work load to maximize your good days. Because commuting to freelance gigs takes time from my other responsibilities,. I have turned down a couple of lucrative assignments that would have required me to work on site. While it was hard for me to say no–I never like to turn away work–I was happy to discover that those same clients still offered me future projects.
Start work early. My day goes best if I get up at 5 am and can fit in two-and-a-half hours of work before I wake my kids up for school–giving me more than 10 hours a week of uninterrupted writing time. I usually work through noon, with the idea that I will be available to clients as needed after that. This gives me about 35 hours a week of work time that I can count on, no matter what. After noon, I check my iPhone frequently so I can respond right away if a client needs me to check one last fact before a page in a magazine ships off to the printer. That gives me time to spend with my kids in the afternoon.
I should add that it helps that my husband a real estate appraiser, works from home, too. He often takes care of our two year old son in the mornings, so I can get my work done before he heads out to his appointments in the afternoon.
Take control of your phone time. If clients need me, I will always make myself available to talk by phone at a time that is convenient for them. However, I generally try to schedule calls for the mornings, so I can avoid having to jump off a conference call early to, for instance, pick up my children from school. I generally don’t schedule non-essential calls for the afternoon anymore. By proactively suggesting times that work for me, instead of waiting for the other party to suggest available times, I’ve been able to keep a lot of time free for my children, which, in turn, lowers my overall stress level.
Share the load. While I do a lot of household stuff like cleaning and laundry–often, I find that it’s during these “mindless” tasks that my best ideas come–cooking dinner really drains my energy. My husband, who comes from a long line of men who love cooking, enjoys it. He’s taken over that task, and it’s helped me free up a lot of energy to do other things that are higher priorities for me.