I used to be a master of time management. I’d be asked for tips all the time. I was once even asked to hold a workshop for my colleagues on it.
Gone are those days. Long gone.
As a freelancer, I’m jumping between projects, clients and the people I hire, and handling my own business needs, and time keeps escaping me. Some weeks, I completely lose track of time and no matter how much I achieve, it never feels like enough.
So instead, I focus on keeping my projects under control. I use quite a few tools to do this – no one works on its own for me. I’d love to know how you keep on top of it all, though. I’m keen to learn new ways!
Project management software
I use ClickUp to manage all my client projects. It lets me see the status of everything across projects and clients, so I know things are on track. I like the project-level Kanban boards (think Trello), but also the flexibility of looking at it in a to-do list format.
I also use it to track time so I can make sure my quotes aren’t falling under, tag tasks to see the kind of things I’m working on, and build timesheets for clients I work for by the hour.
Honestly, there’s a lot more it can do that I don’t use, like Gantt charts and collaboration and keeping an eye on where a team is spending their time. Maybe one day, when I have time to explore all the functionality, I’ll discover more buried treasures. And maybe that day won’t come and I’ll be fine with how I’m using it now.
When things get a bit crazy, I turn to my paper planner. It keeps me focused on my main priorities and without it all my life admin – my chores, my physio appointments, my washing – gets left behind and neglected.
I’ve used many planners over the past few years. I’ve tried notebooks and planners like the Full Focus Planner, the High Performance Planner, the EVO Planner, the Butterfly Effect Planner and the Perfect Notebook. None of them has fully suited me, although the Full Focus came close. One of these days I’ll probably create my own, but not yet – I’ve got too much to do first!
Every quarter, I take inventory of my business and set goals. I’ve done this for my personal life for many years, but I’m doing it for my business too because, without them, I’ll neglect it.
I have long-term goals for the next 2-3 years, but I break these down into quarterly, achievable goals which can then be broken down into weekly tasks. Am I always on top of these goals for my business? No, but I have a plan so I can keep moving forward.
When creating my quarterly goals, I try to use the SMART(ER) system: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky (something that puts me out of my comfort zone), Time-bound, Exciting (or else, why bother?) and Relevant.
I can’t do it all, and I chose not to bother trying early. In fact, I had my VA helping me out within my first month of freelancing. Since then, I’ve pulled together a group of people I can happily rely on when I need a hand.
As I get more comfortable with it, I’m outsourcing more. It’s the only way I can keep growing without losing valuable sleep time. I know a lot of people aren’t keen on delegating, maybe because of the cost or the thought no one else can do it as well. However, it can be the difference between growing your business and accepting new, exciting projects or staying in the safe zone.
Some life tasks (like booking a physio appointment) often seem less important during the workday, but they need to be done so you can take care of your whole self. I tried scheduling time in my calendar to make these calls. I tried reminders on my phone. I tried adding them to my to-do lists and even adding tasks in ClickUp. None of them worked for me – I just dismissed them.
You know what does work? Outsourcing my reminders. When there’s adulting I really need to do, I just flick an email to my VA and ask her to keep me on track. She’ll send me an email or message at the designated time to remind me to complete the task. If I don’t do it and tell her I have, she’ll keep messaging, emailing and maybe even start calling. And I hate being nagged. (She’s never actually needed to remind me more than once – that’s how much I hate nagging!)
I’m not very good at this one, but taking a 17-minute break every 52 minutes is optimal for productivity. Our brains naturally work in bursts of high activity that last about an hour. When it turns off, so should we.
In our breaks, we need to stand up, get away from the computer and go for a walk, read (no, not your email!) or chat with friends. When I do have breaks, they tend to be around the 20-minute mark, and I use them to make a coffee, catch some sunlight (if it’s not raining or freezing) and read a book. I highly recommend a good espresso machine for your breaks. (Not every break, though… obviously.)
Starting your day right
I start every day with a coffee and a book (fiction). The calm and quiet start to my day means I’m not racing into my to-do list with anxious energy.
After a chapter or so, I’ll put the book (Kindle… same thing…) down and do a mental walkthrough of my day. I’ve already set my priority list the night before so I know what needs to be done, but this mental walkthrough gives me a chance to reevaluate my list and make sure it’s right. If I’ve not had enough sleep, I might move the brain-heavy tasks to later in the day when I’m feeling a bit perkier, for example. Even if I don’t change anything, those 5 minutes are helpful to keep me focused and on track.
How do you stay on top of everything?
As I said, no one way works for me so I’m always seeking new ideas and solutions. I’d love to hear what works for you.