Most freelancers go out on their own for the freedom and independence that accompanies running a business. You choose your projects, set your rates, and pick your working hours. But the lack of structure and new levels of responsibility can lead you to confusion and disarray rather than empowerment.
Freelancers need to find their groove with productivity and project management practices that enable them to juggle multiple clients and high expectations. These tried-and-true methods can help you to master a full client roster with skill and ease:
Create Daily Rituals
Daily rituals help you to find your rhythm, creating a healthy level of structure in an otherwise amorphous schedule. Start by creating a supportive work environment that reflects your personal preferences even if you’re just clearing the kitchen table. Do you prefer a community environment? Pop into a coffee shop or sign up for a coworking space.
Next, begin each day with a ritual that hones your focus. I start with Julie Cameron’s morning pages — freewriting for 30 minutes clears my mind before I start creative projects. If you work from home, consider going outside for a walk or a run.
List Your Goals
Most successful freelancers embrace a golden rule: work on projects before you dig into emails and manage the logistics of running a business. Start by identifying your three MITs (Most Important Tasks), which act as guideposts for your day. These tasks are non-negotiable, must complete commitments that ensure you’re always serving deadlines. Remember that for your goals to be empowering, they need to be realistic. If your tasks are more like projects, break them down into subtasks using this tool from the Harvard Business Review. Giving yourself a clear path toward your destination can taper the knee-jerk tendency to procrastinate.
Many freelancers use project management software like Trello or Asana to organize these kinds of tasks and goals. I use Asana to track deadlines — they make it easy to split my client work into different projects, and still view my deadlines a comprehensive calendar. I also write down my MITs at the beginning of each day by hand and leave them out on my desk.
Exercise Strong Boundaries
Balancing the needs of your clients can leave you feeling like you have 10 bosses. For a lot of former employees, the switch to self-employment requires a mental shift — a sense of accountability to the self rather than others — and stronger boundaries. Start by establishing productive guidelines with clients through clear contracts and transparent communication. Always honor the original scope of your commitment and tactfully educate clients about your boundaries.
Instead of interrupting your work (and leisure time) to respond to emails, flag non-essential communication to respond to them at specific times throughout the day. It’s not uncommon for freelancers to burn out when letting their projects slowly overwhelm their personal lives. Decide on and communicate your available hours, and try walk away from your work at the end of the day. Planning an evening activity— dinner with friends or a yoga class — brings momentum to your afternoon and creates a natural close to your day.
Freelancing offers the flexibility to move beyond traditional limitations and craft your own workday. With more power over your schedule comes the responsibility to recognize your distinct needs.