Time. Oh time. If someone were to ask me what is the number one quality someone needs to have when they are their own boss, I’d say it’s having a command of time and time management. When you work for someone else, time is a little more structured: you show up when you are asked to show up, and you leave either when your work is done or when it’s time to leave. When you don’t have that 9-5 structure in place, it can spell disaster if you don’t know how to handle it.
Scheduling Your Day
The first few months of my freelance career was a bit of a disaster, schedule wise. I’d get up late, wouldn’t start work until the afternoon, I’d be productive some days, be unproductive other days, shower in the middle of the day, eat at random times, sleep late—basically, not good. Because my day was so all over the place, by the time night came, often times I wouldn’t have my day’s work done. This meant working through the night and missing dinner with friends or having time to myself to relax. I quickly realized I stunk at managing my time. When left to my devices, I had little discipline with time and it was taking a toll on my sanity.
I realized I needed to start developing good habits. I started waking up at the same time everyday and sleeping at the same time at night. I started creating a schedule for myself where I showered, ate, and left the house at the same time everyday to go work somewhere out of the house. I started taking proper lunch breaks at roughly the same time and tried to stop working at the same time. Obviously, the joy of working for yourself is the flexibility that comes with it (I happen to be working from my bed and unshowered this morning), but I think that flexibility is a good thing only once you can prove a mastery of time and your schedule. Otherwise the “flexibility” may as well be called the “black hole of time”.
Being Realistic with Time
Another time-related lesson that I had to learn was exactly how long things take and how much I can actually do in a day. There is only so much time in a day— no matter how productive I can be, completing a 20 item to-do list everyday is unrealistic. Espeically when many of them are creative tasks where it’s hard to estimate how long they are going to take. Creating more realistic to-do lists were the key. I recently started using the 1-3-5 rule to make a more manageable to-do list. In short, the 1-3-5 rule means making headway on one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks a day. Sometimes I can’t even get all that done, sometimes I can do more. Sometimes something outside of the list comes up and I do that. At the end of the day, there is always something more you could be doing, so you have to know when to stop.
The biggest eye opener for me was realizing that everything takes longer than you think it will take (especially creative tasks) and you should always add buffer time. Buffer in time for more review rounds. Buffer in time for a client taking longer than you estimated to get back to you. Buffer in time for the extra long lunch you decided to take because the weather was so damn nice outside. I’ve learnt that buffering time is key to not getting stressed out and keeping your focus.
Making the Most of Time
Last time lesson? To make the most of my time when I’m working, I try to have zero distractions. Operative word here is “try”. There have been so many studies showing that we are not as good at multitasking as we think. The best thing that has helped me do this using the famous Pomodoro method. I currently use LiveBooster, but I’m sure there are other apps out there that do the same thing. The best thing about this method is it’s 25 min of focused time at once, then a 5 min break where I can look outside, play Dots, check Instrgram… the list goes on. After 4-5 30 min. sets using this method, I take a longer break. Breaks combined with bursts of focused time has worked well for me. When I’m on a break, I try to focus being on a break and not start thinking about work.
Obviously I’m still working on all the things I mentioned above. Some days are better than others, but as long as I’m striving to have control over my time, I’m a happy camper.
• Set a schedule for yourself! Good habits mean discipline, which then means having time to be productive and have a life.
• You arn’t super human (well, maybe you are, but I’m not) so set realistic, daily goals for yourself about what you can get done. Adding buffering time to everything saves a lot of stress
• Be present with what you are doing. If you are working— work. If you are playing Dots—focus on getting the highest score possible. Then call me and teach me how to get a higher score than 200. Thanks.
• Take everything I have to say with a grain of salt. I’m just speaking from my experience and what has worked for me. Something else work for you? I’d love to hear about it!