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How to Manage Work Overload as an Independent Contractor

   |   MBO Partners   |   February 23, 2018

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Clients are a crucial part of your business success as an independent professional. Without clients, you would have no work, and therefore no income. Sounds like you should work with as many people as possible, right? Not so fast. There are two reasons why having too many clients can be a problem.

  1. Taking on too many clients hinders your ability to meet the terms of your contracts with current clients and can negatively impact the quality of your work.
  2. Over-promising yourself or making claims to clients that you will be unable to deliver on not only hurts the client but can damage your reputation as well.

As an independent, regardless of workload, there’s only 24 hours in a day and you can only dedicate a finite amount of that time to client projects. The final deliverable and your reputation ultimately depends on you.

To keep everyone happy, it can be tempting to throw yourself into work and dedicate every minute of your free time to finishing tasks to meet client expectations. But while this strategy may help you meet deadlines and stick to contracts, it can have negative effect sin other areas of your life. A big part of independence is being able to integrate your work with your life. This balance is crucial to preventing burnout, remaining healthy, and maintaining a happy family and social life.

Having more clients than you are prepared to handle can harm both your business and personal life. If you find that you’re juggling too much, follow these five simple solutions to better manage your time and the quality of your work.

1. Streamline Your Schedule

When your workload suddenly becomes overwhelming, establishing a highly organized and streamlined schedule can help ensure that every hour of your workday is used in the most efficient way possible while this may mean working at a more intense pace than you’re used to or comfortable with, it’s important to make the best use of your time in order to meet client expectations and uphold your professional reputation.

There are a number of excellent time-management strategies, so find the one that works for you and stick to it religiously.

2. Be Flexible

No matter how well you plan, you can’t always control the changes or missed deadlines of outside parties. Therefore, it’s important to prepare for the unexpected by factoring flexibility into your schedule. Tactically, create your schedule in a way that you will be able to rearrange tasks without losing productivity.

For example, if you blocked two hours to work on a project for Client A, but can’t proceed without revisions that haven’t arrived yet, you should be able to seamlessly switch out this block of work for the two hours you’ve scheduled for Client B tomorrow.

3. Keep Project Scopes in Check

Under normal circumstances, scope creep—which occurs when a client attempts to expand a project beyond initial agreed-upon parameters—is generally a mild annoyance that you can work through. However, when you’re overbooked with too many clients, scope creep can result in a destructive chain effect.

Tasks that aren’t accounted for in your schedule will fall by the wayside. In this circumstance, be firm with your client when they try to increase the scope and just say no.

4. Look for Areas That Can Give

An overbooked schedule doesn’t mean you have to resort to cutting corners. Maintaining professionalism and delivering top-quality results should always be your goal. However, there are tasks that can be pared down or done different for the sake of efficiency.

For instance, you might have a client that you create daily reports for when a more comprehensive weekly report would suffice. Or, video conferencing could replace or supplement face-to-face meetings to save on travel time. If you have a good working relationship with a client whose project has some flexibility, consider approaching them about adjusting deadlines.

You can also make some personal adjustments—save time by making or bringing lunch rather than going out, keep your office organized, and look into apps that can automate daily tasks. If you have duties that can be altered without affecting your ability to meet your standards for excellence, they may be worth changing.

5. Bring in Help

Teaming up with other independent professionals is a great way to stay on top of your workload. Whether you engage them as subcontractors to handle specific aspects of projects that fall within their area of expertise, or form a type of partnership, turning to other independents for help can help ease the burden of too many clients, and provide valuable professional advice and assistance along the way.

MBO Partners