13 time management tips for a freelancer

Discover freelancer's tips to optimize time and maximize productivity as a freelancer. Stay focused and achieve more

13 time management tips for a freelancer
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Hey freelancer, ready to make your workdays smoother and more productive? Freelancer time management is crucial for balancing project deadlines and personal commitments.
So we've got 13 easy tips just for you. From setting goals to taking breaks, these tips will help you stay on track and enjoy your freelance journey even more. Let's get started!

1. Set clear goals

Setting clear goals is crucial to stay focused, motivated, and on track. One effective way to set goals is to use the SMART criteria:
  • Specific Clearly define what you want to achieve. For example, instead of saying "increase client base," you could set a specific goal like "acquire three new clients in the next two months."
  • Measurable Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward your goal. This could include metrics like the number of new clients, revenue generated, or hours worked on a project.
  • Achievable Ensure that your goal is realistic and attainable. Setting overly ambitious goals can lead to frustration and burnout. Consider your current workload, resources, and skills when setting your goals.
  • Relevant Your goals should align with your long-term objectives and overall business strategy. They should be meaningful and contribute to your professional growth and success as a freelancer.
  • Time-bound Set a deadline for achieving your goal. This creates a sense of urgency and helps you stay focused. For example, you could set a goal to "complete a professional development course within the next three months" to enhance your skills.
Before you start setting your goals, take some time to reflect on your long-term vision and what you want to achieve in your freelance career. Consider what success looks like to you and what steps you need to take to get there.
When setting your goals, make sure they are challenging yet attainable. Setting goals that are too easy won't push you to grow, while setting goals that are too difficult can lead to frustration and burnout. Find a balance that works for you.
Examples of SMART goals for freelancers could include:
  • Increase monthly income by 20% by the end of the year through new client acquisition and rate adjustments.
  • Complete three professional certification courses related to my field within the next six months to enhance my expertise.
  • Launch a personal website showcasing my portfolio and services within the next two months to attract new clients.
By setting clear, SMART goals, freelancers can effectively plan their actions, measure their progress, and ultimately achieve greater success in their freelance careers.

2. Create a daily schedule

As a freelancer, you are not just a creative professional, you are also a skilled time manager, ensuring every task is completed efficiently. And you cant do it without having a structured daily schedule. By planning your day in advance, you can prioritize tasks, allocate time for important activities, and ensure that you're making progress towards your goals.
Benefits of a structured daily schedule:
  • Improved productivity A schedule helps you stay organized and focused, allowing you to complete tasks more efficiently.
  • Better time management By allocating specific time slots for each task, you can make the most of your day and avoid wasting time on unimportant activities.
  • Reduced stress Knowing what you need to do and when can help reduce feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.
  • Increased accountability A schedule holds you accountable for your time and encourages you to stay on track with your goals.
When creating your daily schedule, it's important to consider your personal work style, peak productivity hours, and the nature of your freelance work. Some freelancers may prefer to start their day with their most challenging tasks, while others may prefer to tackle easier tasks first to build momentum.
While it's important to be ambitious with your goals, it's also crucial to set realistic expectations for what you can accomplish in a day. Overloading your schedule can lead to burnout and decreased productivity. Instead, focus on setting a few key priorities for the day and allocating your time accordingly.
There are some tips for creating a schedule:
  • Start with prioritization Identify the most important tasks for the day and prioritize them. Use techniques like the Eisenhower Matrix (will talk about it later) to categorize tasks based on urgency and importance.
  • Allocate time blocks Assign specific time blocks for each task or type of work. This helps you manage your time effectively and ensures that you have enough time for everything.
  • Include breaks Schedule short breaks between tasks to rest and recharge. Taking breaks can help prevent burnout and improve overall productivity.
  • Be flexible While having a schedule is important, it's also essential to be flexible. Allow room for unexpected tasks or changes in priorities.
  • Review and adjust At the end of each day, review your schedule and assess what worked well and what could be improved. Use this feedback to adjust your schedule for the next day.
Experiment with different scheduling techniques to find what works best for you. Some freelancers may thrive on a strict, minute-by-minute schedule, while others may prefer a more flexible approach. Listen to your body and mind to determine the schedule that allows you to work at your best.
By taking the time to create a structured daily schedule that works for you, you can optimize your productivity, reduce stress, and achieve a better work-life balance.

3. Use time management tools

Managing your time effectively as a freelancer can be a game-changer. Luckily, there are many tools out there designed to make this easier. These tools can help you stay organized, prioritize tasks, and collaborate with clients and team members more efficiently.
  • Trello Visual project management tool that lets you organize tasks into boards, making it easy to see what needs to be done at a glance.
  • Asana Comprehensive project management tool that helps you plan, organize, and track tasks and projects with ease.
  • Todoist simple yet powerful task management tool that allows you to create, organize, and prioritize tasks across projects.
  • Google Calendar Versatile calendar app that helps you schedule appointments, set reminders, and manage your time effectively.
  • Evernote Note-taking app that allows you to capture ideas, organize notes, and collaborate with others seamlessly.
By incorporating these tools into your daily routine, you can take control of your time, boost your productivity, and ultimately, achieve more in your freelance career.

4. Minimize distractions

Freelancers often struggle with distractions, which can hinder productivity. Minimizing these distractions requires a combination of strong time management and organizational skills, including setting clear boundaries and using technology to block distracting websites
Distractions are a constant challenge for freelancers, often leading to decreased productivity and missed deadlines. Common distractions include the allure of social media, the never-ending stream of emails, the temptation to multitask, and the various interruptions that come with working from home. These distractions can derail your focus and make it challenging to complete tasks efficiently. But this is how you can minimize them:
  • Set boundaries Establish clear boundaries between work and personal time. Designate specific work hours and communicate them to family members or housemates to minimize interruptions.
  • Use time blocking Schedule dedicated blocks of time for focused work and eliminate distractions during these periods. Turn off notifications, close unnecessary tabs, and create a conducive work environment.
  • Limit social media usage Use apps or browser extensions to block or limit access to social media platforms during work hours. Set specific times for checking social media and stick to them.
  • Prioritize tasks Identify the most important tasks for the day and prioritize them accordingly. Focus on completing high-priority tasks before moving on to less urgent ones.
Implementing these strategies can help you minimize distractions, stay focused on your work, and ultimately, achieve greater success in your freelance career.

5. Practice the Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is a popular time management method that can help freelancers improve their focus and productivity. It involves breaking work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Here's how you can use the Pomodoro technique to manage your time more effectively:
  1. Choose a task Select a task that you want to work on. It could be a project, a client task, or any other work-related activity.
  1. Set a timer Set a timer for 25 minutes, which is known as a "Pomodoro." During this time, focus solely on the task at hand and work diligently.
  1. Work on the task Use the Pomodoro to work on the chosen task without any distractions. If you think of something else you need to do, jot it down on a piece of paper and return to your task.
  1. Take a short break Once the Pomodoro is complete, take a short break of 5 minutes. Use this time to relax, stretch, or grab a drink.
  1. Repeat the process After the short break, start another Pomodoro and continue working on the task. Repeat this process for four Pomodoros, then take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
  1. Track your progress Keep track of how many Pomodoros you complete for each task. This can help you understand how long tasks actually take and improve your time estimation skills.
Implementing the Pomodoro technique requires discipline and time management, but it can greatly improve focus and productivity. By breaking your work into manageable intervals and taking regular breaks, you can improve your productivity and avoid burnout.

6. Delegate tasks

Delegating tasks is a skill that can significantly benefit freelancers, allowing them to focus on high-priority projects and manage their workload more effectively. By assigning certain tasks to others, freelancers can streamline their workflow and ensure that each task is completed by the most qualified person.
Effective delegation involves identifying tasks that can be delegated without compromising quality or efficiency. These are often tasks that are time-consuming, repetitive, or outside the freelancer's area of expertise. By delegating these tasks, freelancers can free up valuable time to focus on more strategic and creative aspects of their work.
Communication is key when delegating tasks. Freelancers must clearly communicate the task requirements, deadlines, and expectations to the person they are delegating to. Providing any necessary resources or information upfront can help ensure that the task is completed successfully. Additionally, freelancers should choose the right person for the task, considering their skills, knowledge, and availability.
Tips for effectively delegating tasks:
  • Identify tasks to delegate Find tasks that are time-consuming, repetitive, or outside your area of expertise and consider delegating them.
  • Communicate clearly Clearly communicate the task requirements, deadlines, and expectations to the person you're delegating to. Provide any necessary resources or information to ensure they can complete the task effectively.
  • Choose the right person Delegate tasks to individuals who have the skills, knowledge, and availability to complete them successfully. Consider their workload and availability before assigning tasks.
  • Provide support Offer guidance and support to the person you're delegating to, but avoid micromanaging. Trust them to complete the task effectively.
  • Follow up Check in regularly to monitor progress and offer assistance if needed. Provide feedback and recognize their efforts to encourage future collaboration.
If you're not delegating your repetitive tasks, you're missing out on enhancing your productivity, streamlining workload management, and propelling your freelance career to greater success.

7. Use a time tracking tool

Being a time tracking freelancer means meticulously logging and managing your work hours to ensure optimal productivity and client billing accuracy. Time tracking tools can provide freelancers with a sense of accountability and motivation. Seeing a visual representation of their time can be a powerful motivator to stay on track and avoid distractions. It can also help freelancers set realistic goals and deadlines, based on their actual time usage rather than estimates. This can lead to a more balanced workload and a reduced risk of burnout.
Here are some of our favorite time tracking tools:
  • Toggl It is a user-friendly time tracking tool with a simple interface, making it easy to track time spent on different projects. It offers detailed reports and integrates with various project management tools.
  • Harvest It is a comprehensive time tracking tool that also includes features for invoicing and expense tracking. It has a clean interface and integrates with popular project management platforms.
  • Clockify It is a free time tracking tool with basic features that are ideal for freelancers on a budget. It offers time tracking, reporting, and invoicing features, making it a versatile choice for freelancers.
If you're keen on discovering more, be sure to give our article about tracking your time as a freelancer a read.
Using time tracking tools can help freelancers manage their time more effectively, improve their productivity, and ultimately, succeed in their careers. By implementing these tools and strategies, you can take control of your time and work more efficiently.

8. Learn to say no

Saying no can be challenging, but it's a crucial skill for freelancers to master. It's about setting boundaries and prioritizing tasks that truly matter to you. By learning to say no, you can focus on what aligns with your goals and values, leading to a more fulfilling and productive freelance career.
It also helps you avoid overcommitting and burning out, ensuring that you can maintain a healthy work-life balance. Saying no can also lead to increased respect for your time and expertise, as others will see that you value your work and are selective about the projects you take on.
Tips for politely declining requests:
  • Be honest Explain your reasons for declining the request honestly and politely. For example, you can say, "I'm currently focusing on other priorities and won't be able to take on this task."
  • Offer alternatives If possible, offer alternatives or suggest someone else who may be able to help. This shows that you are still willing to assist in some capacity.
  • Express gratitude Thank the person for considering you for the task and express your appreciation for their understanding. For example, "Thank you for thinking of me. I appreciate your understanding."
  • Be firm While it's important to be polite, it's also important to be firm in your decision. Avoid over-explaining or apologizing excessively.
By learning to set boundaries and say no when necessary, you can focus on tasks that matter most to you, avoid burnout, and ultimately, achieve greater success.

9. Take regular breaks

Taking high-quality breaks is crucial for freelancers to prevent burnout and maintain productivity. While we've already discussed techniques like the Pomodoro technique and scheduling breaks, focusing on the quality of your breaks can further enhance their effectiveness. Here are some tips for ensuring your breaks are rejuvenating and beneficial.
Quality break tips:
  • Move around Physical activity can help relieve stress and improve blood flow, boosting your energy levels. Consider stretching, going for a short walk, or doing some light exercises during your breaks.
  • Disconnect Use your breaks to disconnect from work completely. Avoid checking work emails or messages and instead, focus on activities that help you relax and recharge.
  • Engage your senses Engaging your senses can help you relax and refocus. Consider activities like listening to music, enjoying a healthy snack, or aromatherapy with essential oils.
  • Meditate or practice mindfulness Taking a few minutes to meditate or practice mindfulness can help clear your mind and reduce stress. Focus on your breathing or use a guided meditation app to help you relax.
  • Socialize (if possible) If you're working in a shared space or have family or friends nearby, take a break to socialize. Connecting with others can help improve your mood and reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Get outside Spending time outdoors can have numerous benefits for your mental and physical well-being. If possible, take your breaks outside and enjoy some fresh air and sunlight.
Incorporating these tips into your break routine can help you avoid burnout, maintain productivity, and improve your overall well-being as a freelancer.

10. Set deadlines

Setting deadlines is a critical aspect of freelance work, helping to structure projects, maintain focus, and drive progress. Deadlines create a sense of urgency and accountability, motivating freelancers to prioritize tasks and manage their time effectively. They provide a clear roadmap for project completion, breaking down larger goals into manageable milestones. By setting deadlines, freelancers can maintain momentum, avoid procrastination, and ensure timely delivery of high-quality work.
To set effective deadlines, freelancers can follow these tips:
  • Break down tasks Divide projects into smaller, more manageable tasks with their own deadlines. This approach helps prevent overwhelm and allows for better time estimation.
  • Use the SMART criteria As we discussed earlier, the SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) are essential for setting effective deadlines.
  • Consider dependencies Identify tasks that are dependent on others and factor in these dependencies when setting deadlines. This prevents delays caused by interdependent tasks.
  • Allocate buffer time Allow for some extra time in the deadline to accommodate unexpected delays or revisions. This buffer can help manage risks and ensure on-time delivery even in challenging circumstances.
Setting deadlines is just the first step, the real challenge lies in meeting them.
Meeting deadlines often hinges on the prioritization of freelancer tasks, ensuring that the most crucial activities are completed first to stay on track and deliver projects on time.
Prioritization freelancer tasks is essential for effective time management and project success. By focusing on high-priority tasks first, freelancers can ensure that they are making progress on the most critical aspects of their projects and meeting their deadlines efficiently. Using techniques like the Eisenhower Matrix can help freelancers prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance, allowing them to allocate their time and resources effectively.
Eisenhower Matrix divides tasks into four quadrants:
1. urgent and important
2. important but not urgent
3. urgent but not important
4. neither urgent nor important
This method helps users focus on tasks that are both urgent and important, while also highlighting those that can be delegated or eliminated.
While it's important to set realistic deadlines, meeting them requires diligence, focus, prioritization, and effective time management.
Here are some strategies to help you meet your deadlines consistently:
  • Break down tasks Once you've set a deadline, break down the project into smaller, more manageable tasks with their own deadlines. This approach makes it easier to track progress and stay on schedule.
  • Use time blocking Allocate specific blocks of time to work on each task, ensuring that you dedicate enough time to meet your deadlines. Avoid multitasking, as it can lead to inefficiency and missed deadlines.
  • Prioritize tasks Focus on completing high-priority tasks first, especially those with impending deadlines. This ensures that you're making progress on the most critical aspects of your projects.
  • Set interim deadlines Instead of focusing solely on the final deadline, set interim deadlines for key milestones along the way. This approach keeps you on track and allows for course correction if needed.
  • Stay flexible While it's important to meet deadlines, sometimes unforeseen circumstances may arise. Stay flexible and be willing to adjust your deadlines if necessary, communicating any changes promptly to stakeholders.
Meeting deadlines requires discipline and a proactive approach to time management. By implementing these strategies, you can increase your chances of meeting your deadlines and delivering high-quality work consistently.

11. Review and reflect

Taking the time to review and reflect on your work is essential for freelancers to improve their skills, efficiency, and overall success. Regularly reviewing your work allows you to track your progress, identify areas for improvement, and celebrate your achievements.
It helps you stay focused on your goals and ensures that you are on the right track to meet them. Reflecting on your work allows you to learn from your experiences, both positive and negative, and apply those lessons to future projects. It helps you identify what is working well and what can be improved, leading to continuous growth and development as a freelancer.
Here are some tips to help you with your review and reflection process:
  • Set aside time Schedule regular time to review your work, whether it's at the end of each day, week, or project. This dedicated time allows you to focus on your progress and make necessary adjustments.
  • Use feedback Incorporate feedback from clients, colleagues, or mentors into your review process. Their insights can provide valuable perspectives and help you see your work from a different angle.
  • Keep a journal Maintain a journal or log of your work, noting your successes, challenges, and lessons learned. This journal can serve as a valuable resource for future projects and reflections.
  • Celebrate achievements Take time to celebrate your successes and milestones. Acknowledging your achievements can boost your morale and motivation.
  • Make adjustments Based on your review and reflection, make any necessary adjustments to your approach, workflow, or goals. Continuous improvement is key to success as a freelancer.
By regularly reviewing and reflecting on their work, freelancers can track their progress, identify areas for improvement, and ultimately, grow and succeed in their freelance careers.

12. Learn to automate

Automation is a game-changer for freelancers, offering a way to streamline workflows and boost productivity. By automating repetitive tasks, freelancers can save time and focus on more critical aspects of their work. There are many tools and software available that can help freelancers automate their work.
For invoicing and project management, there is tool like Onigiri.one, that streamlines these processes, making it easy to create and send invoices using customizable templates that looks so professional, clients will pay you immediately after they receive them!:)
For project management, tools like Trello, Asana, or Monday.com can automate task  assignments, reminders, and collaboration.
Zapier and IFTTT are great for connecting different apps and automating workflows between them.
Financial management can be automated using tools like QuickBooks, Xero.
Customer relationship management (CRM) tools like HubSpot or Salesforce can automate client interactions and follow-ups.

13. Invest in continuous learning

Continuous learning is not just a buzzword, it's a fundamental strategy for freelancers looking to thrive in today's dynamic work environment. The freelance landscape is constantly evolving, with new technologies, trends, and methodologies emerging regularly. To stay competitive and relevant, freelancers must embrace continuous learning as a core part of their professional development.
Why is continuous learning so crucial for individual workers? Firstly, it's about staying relevant. Industries evolve rapidly, and what was cutting-edge yesterday may be outdated tomorrow. Continuous learning helps freelancers stay updated with the latest trends, technologies, and best practices in their field, ensuring that their skills remain in demand.
Secondly, continuous learning is about expanding your skill set. As a freelancer, having a diverse skill set can open up new opportunities and allow you to take on a wider range of projects. By learning new skills or enhancing existing ones, you can position yourself as versatile professional capable of tackling various challenges.
Here are some practical tips for continuous learning:
  • Online courses Platforms like Coursera Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning offer a wide range of courses on various topics. Freelancers can choose courses that align with their interests and goals.
  • Webinars and workshops Attend webinars and workshops to gain insights from industry experts and expand your knowledge.
  • Networking Engage with other professionals, attend industry events, and join online communities to exchange ideas and learn from others.
  • Read books and blogs Reading industry-related books and blogs can provide valuable insights and keep you informed about industry trends.
  • Experiment and apply Apply new skills or knowledge gained through learning to real projects. This hands-on experience enhances learning and improves skills.
Continuous learning is not a one-time activity but a lifelong journey. By investing in continuous learning, freelancers can stay ahead of the curve, expand their opportunities, and enhance their freelance careers.

Wrap up

And that's a wrap! You're now armed with the tools and tips to conquer your freelance challenges like a pro. As you embark on your time management journey, remember: every minute counts, but so does taking a breather. So, go forth, conquer your tasks, and don't forget to take breaks—your creativity will thank you. If you ever need a time-saving sidekick, Onigiri.one has your back.
Here's to a successful and balanced freelance life!

Written by

Ivan Burban
Ivan Burban

Onigiri Co-Founder