How do I manage to get everything done as a freelancer? What is my system? What are my secrets for time management for freelance writing?
Freelance writing work is not the only thing I do. I have a podcast, I sell courses, I do coaching. I have a lot of moving pieces in my business. I am very fortunate to be able to be full time; it’s a lot of fun!
I’m going to let you in on a few of my secrets, specifically, my calendaring secrets.
The Ivy Lee Method
I’m able to get so much more done now than I ever was before. But in the years before I went full time, I worked with “I have one hour here, two hours there,” and I had to know exactly what I was working on. I had to have a completely reduced to do list because my working hours were very small, my capacity was very small, and I had to be super focused!
It took me a long time to figure out how do I get anything done with my limited time, until I came up with a modified version of the Ivy Lee method. This method was pioneered by a guy named Ivy Lee; basically, at the end of your workday, you make a list of the six most important things that you need to do the next day, and prioritize them. When you show up the next day for work, you only do those things.
Now, six things was too much for me to handle with my limited time, so I modified it to three. Hey, worked for me!
You do not do anything else until those three things are done and then you can do other stuff. At the end of the day you know what needs to happen next, you know what needs to move forward, and you make your list of three things to do the next day. And so on.
This method really worked for me for a long time because the only thing I had was client work. I would know exactly what I needed to do to move forward the next day.
But when I transitioned to running an entire business, there were too many moving pieces. I majorly floundered.
If what you’re doing is fairly straightforward and/or you feel pretty confident in what you need to get done each time you sit down to work, that’s one thing. I think making your daily list of three things will help.
But when you’re working with big chunks of time as a full-time freelancer or you’ve got a few things you need to move forward, what might work for you is what is working for me right now–planning out my whole week at a time, a variation on batching and time management.
This might be applicable for you, for example, if you are doing client work, actively looking for new clients, working on building a website, and also trying to build a social media presence. Those are four different projects and they are all things that you need to be advancing at the same time. If you have two hours of work to do today, how are you going to advance all of those things? Is it even possible?
I want you to think about the different sort of “projects” that you have going on at any given time and consider if this calendar approach might work for you.
Plan a Week at a Time
Here’s what I do. I picked up this method from Julie Stoian, my business coach and one of my favorite people on Earth. She sits down on Sunday night and plans out her whole week. She takes out her calendar, puts in the appointments, puts in like an hour of email each day, figures out where her family needs her to be, and then takes a look at all the stuff that she knows she needs to get done this week. There are screenshots on her website.
I found my way of doing this that has really worked for me. I offer this to you so that if you have sporadic chunks of time or if you have a lot of time and you have multiple things going on, maybe this will work for you too.
On Sunday nights, James (my husband) and I get together. James is a stay-at-home dad and he is the home manager now. I work and then I help him the way he used to go to work and come home and help me.
We look at my calendar and I point out any appointments or client calls that I have and he tells me what’s going on with him and the kids, if we have a handyman coming or a big delivery coming or if the kids are going to the dentist, if someone is going off to someone else’s house for the afternoon, anything like that. We get clear on what are the existing pieces that we need to fit our days around. Then I’ll say, for example, well I need to record four podcast episodes this week.
I’m looking for a good three-hour chunk where the house is quiet. If the kids have an appointment, I will try to schedule my recording during the time that they’re gone. If we think this appointment might take an hour and a half and I need three hours, James will plan to also take them to the park afterward or take them on errands. Or maybe we’ll go to the pool that day. He will plan for them to be out of the house for the rest of that time so I can get my recording done. We sort of flow it. I’ll look at my Trello board of all the stuff I’m doing. (You can use Trello, or Asana, Basecamp, even Google calendar. Whatever works for you.)
For example, this past Sunday I was like, I need to finish all the bonuses for Client Bound and for Know What to Write. I need to re-record all of the Clips Camp lessons and do my batch podcasting for August. I had a couple of major client projects that I needed to finish and wrap up. And I have my everyday stuff like sending emails and my coaching group Q and A.
This week I wanted to focus on revamping all my courses in addition to getting the client work done so that next week, and for the next three months, I can focus on the new course that I’m planning. I’m also taking care of my clients and I’m managing the business in general.
Then we put our heads together and figure out when I can do the things that require a quiet house. How much recording do I need to do? How many hours of quiet house do I think I need for that recording? He looks at their schedule to see when he can fit things in. When he can get them out of the house. It’s summertime right now so it’s really easy to go to the pool for a few hours. They’ll have lunch, then our son Elliot has his nap, then they go to the pool, and I have three hours to myself to do the recording.
Batch Tasks and Work Ahead
If you have two hours here, two hours there, maybe four hours on Saturday, and then you have one hour of nap time every day where you can get stuff done, maybe what you do is try batching.
Spend the hour on Monday researching clients to pitch. Spend the hour on Tuesday composing those pitches, and spend the hour on Wednesday composing the rest of the pitches. Then the nap time hour on Thursday is when you do your social media scheduling. You can use an app like HootSuite to preschedule your social media. On Friday you spend the hour working on moving your website forward, or whatever your other projects are.
Then you have two hours in the evenings or four hours on Saturday and you can use that time specifically to get your writing work done. So work in advance of your deadline.
If you have something due on Friday, try to have it done by Monday or Tuesday so that if something goes wrong, you still have some buffer for the rest of the week. If you have a big chunk of time to work on Saturdays and you have deadlines next week, use that Saturday time to work ahead and get all your writing work done for the following week so that you can focus and use those smaller chunks of time for the kinds of things that lend themselves more to smaller chunks of time, like pitching.
I think when you have these like windows, these blocks of time, this idea of batching might be really helpful because you’re not switching gears so much and you also need to plan for a little bit of administrative work every day. You need half an hour to check your emails and do your books and look at this new course you’re thinking about buying or listen to the courses that you’ve already bought. Plan that stuff in, don’t just let it happen.
Take control and assign your hours, assign your minutes.