15 tips for a better time management

Published on: 27 Apr 17:39

A day has 24h. For children that is a lot of time, but as soon as you’re an adult you realize how quickly a day can pass by. Sometimes, we have so many things to do that we wish a day had at least twice as much hours.
A study was released in the Harvard Business Review saying that especially freelancers and creative people are having trouble with the management of time because they don’t have fixed working hours. Compared to employees, they can organize their day however they want – which can be difficult for some. But what exactly does time management mean? And what can freelancers do for not losing the fun for their independence and autonomy?

Kevin Ku

1. Build a routine:

Unlike employees, freelancers have less routine in their everyday life, due to not having regulated working hours. Many of them really appreciate this freedom and flexibility, because having a routine and an everyday life can be boring and monotonous. Nevertheless, it can also be very fulfilling, helping to be more productive. The body gets used to a certain routine, to work and to take breaks at a certain time. If every day is different, it is more difficult for us to concentrate and to focus, when there are so many other things we could do instead.

2. Respect your biorhythm:

Right now, it is very trendy to get up at 5am and to start the day watching the sunrise. That might be a good hint for early birds, but not for people who innately stay awake and sleep longer. If they would get up at 5am, it would probably take them hours to wake up properly and to be productive. In the worst case, this person will be tired the whole day and won’t be able to concentrate at all. Everybody has a different biorhythm, some can work the whole morning and afternoon, others can’t concentrate in the morning at all and only work in the evening, others can work in the morning and evening, but definitely not in the afternoon, and so on. As a freelancer, you have the privilege to work only when you are really productive and to take a break when you need it.

3. Avoid distractions:

A big problem of our today’s culture - not only freelancers – is the huge amount of possible distraction around us. Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, etc. can attract our attention whenever sending us a new notification or message. Investigations have shown that we spend 2,25h on social media per day! Switch off your smartphone while working and check your e-mails and messages only at specific times, for example twice a day (but not in the morning after waking up and in the evening before falling asleep!). Apps like Appblock, Stay Focused, Your Hour, Flipd and App Off Timer can block the use of social media in certain time intervals that you choose. Maybe it’s worth a try?

4. Tools for time measurement:

Comparable to the social media block apps are time measurement tools like RescueTime, identifying timewasters and optimizing work steps.

5. Out in the fresh air during breaks:

Instead of using your breaks for watching funny clips or answering Whatsapp messages, do some exercise, go for a walk in the nature or cook something yummy and healthy. Take a break from digital devices and screens, it will help you and also your eyes to relax (see the blogpost “…”).

6. Benefit from unexpected breaks:

Breaks you didn’t choose can be spent usefully. You can for example read a book while waiting in a waiting room, check your messages while sitting in a bus, listen to a podcast while being stuck in a traffic jam, learning a new language while waiting at the train station or just meditate while sitting on a plane…

7. Plan buffers:

It’s easy to write a to-do list, but it’s not so easy to stick to it. There is always something unexpected coming around, “stealing” the time we planned for other things. Therefore, it is important to plan some buffers in your list for not getting stressed when something intervenes.

8. Say "no":

Many freelancers don’t want to refuse any offers in the beginning of their career because they want to gain both valuable experience and a network of contacts. Nevertheless, accepting too many tasks at the same time will affect the results (not enough time for every project and feeling pressured) and thus, impact the contacts rather than improve them. That’s why it’s recommended to only intend to do 4-5 tasks per day and to reject orders which are bad or late paid and not motivating.

9. 72-hours-rule:

If you can’t decide which orders to accept or deny, apply this rule. It states that every project you accept should be started within 3 days. If that’s not the case, the chance decreases to ever implement this project. Usually, if a project is really motivating and fun, you’d start immediately with the realization. But if not, you start procrastiniating it. That’s the hint for not accepting those deals.

10. Step by step:

Finish a task first before starting with another one. Interruptions disturb the concentration process and it will take longer to complete the project. Go through your to-do list step by step, singletasking is more effective than multitasking because by having too many thoughts at the same time you’ll lose the thread and the focus. Start with small and easy tasks so that you’ll only have a few big ones left and the feeling, that you’ve already done a lot. But don’t forget to prioritize!

11. Set priorities:

Do you know the matrix of Eisenhower? It is a method to categorize tasks into “important and urgent”, “important and not urgent”, “not important and urgent” and “not important and not urgent”.

12. Abc method:

Similar to the Eisenhower Matrix is the Abc method. Every task with a high priority gets classified with A. Less important things get the letter B and C. A should be done by oneself and soon, while B and C can be delegated or automatized. Nevertheless, delegating is not a common thing amongst freelancers, because usually they don’t have employees. In that case, note down the amount of time you will need and a deadline for every single task.

13. Smart method:

This method helps to set the right goals. S means specific: the goal should be determinated concretely and precisely, but also not too excessively. It should be possible to summarize the goal in one sentence concisely. M stands for measurable: it should be possible to determine the ressources and time needed for achieving the goal. If the goal is a higher turnover, the goal can be the following: 50% increase in sales within one year. A means attractive: an unattractive, not motivating goal will never be implemented – see 72-hours-rule. R like realistic: for avoiding problems and frustration, the goal has to be feasible. T stands for terminated: it should be possible to attain the goal within a certain amount of time. Some people can finish their tasks in a timely manner and without time pressure while others need this pressure for finally getting started. If there’s no deadline, the goal can be procrastinated for a long time and will probably never be achieved.

14. Pomodoro technique:

By applying this method, you’ll work fully concentrated in short time intervals without any interruptions or distractions (that’s how this blogpost was written). It doesn’t matter if you work 25, 45 or 90 minutes in a row, as long as you don’t answer your phone or messages, or get a snack in the kitchen, etc. After the time period you should take a short break (5-20 minutes) before starting with the next interval.

15. Salami technique:

Imagine eating a whole salami within 15 minutes. Not that yummy. A salami tastes way better when it’s enjoyed slice by slice. It’s the same at work: thinking of the whole amout of work you have to do, you’ll feel pressured and overwhelmed. By splitting the work into many small tasks which can be done step by step, the mountain doesn’t seem that big and insurmountable anymore.

Only you know, which of these tips fit best to you. If you have trouble with lists, try another method for not getting frustrated. If you are a night owl, don’t fore yourself to get up at 5am and if you’re vegetarian, try the zuccini method instead of the salami technique. Whatever you chooose, do it your own way, because that’s why you became a freelancer!