Some of the biggest perks of independent work are freedom from corporate nine-to-five days and the ability to create your own schedule.
Without a set routine, however, time management can be challenging as a self-employed professional.
Here are five tips to help you efficiently manage your time while still maintaining the freedom of setting your own schedule.
1. Set Realistic Goals
Because working as an independent professional often means wearing many hats, you may find yourself with a fairly long to-do list. It can be tempting to make it your daily goal to tackle the entire list.
While long days are sometimes part of an independent’s job description, it’s important to be realistic when planning your day. Don’t set expectations for yourself—or make commitments to clients—if you aren’t sure you can meet them. Ambition is a great thing, but giving yourself enough time to complete tasks to the best of your ability is more important than rushing through tasks just to check them off a list.
2. Overestimate Available Time
When thinking about how long a task will take you, it can be easy to underestimate in the hopes of gaining back an hour in your day or surprising a client with an early delivery. However, creating a tightly packed schedule with no room for error can lead to additional stress.
When creating your daily or weekly schedule, add in an additional 20% of “time padding” to the amount of time you think a task will take. It’s also a good idea to leave a few open appointment slots in your schedule to allow for last minute emergencies or a responsibility that slipped your mind. If you do end up with a free hour, catch up on administrative tasks, work ahead on another project, or take a well-deserved mental break.
3. Budget Time for Predictable Tasks
Because your workday is unpredictable and may vary from one day to the next, time management is a must. It can be hard to set your schedule too far in advance, and a common mistake people make when creating a schedule or to-do list is only considering or accounting for major items they need to complete.
While you may not have a typical day to structure your schedule around, there are many important routine tasks that remain a constant part of your daily, weekly, or monthly activities. These tasks may include reading and responding to email, monthly invoicing, or even taking a break. Because these tasks occur regularly, it can be easy to forget to make time for them. In order to more efficiently manage your overall schedule, be sure to add in time for more mundane tasks.
4. Prioritize What’s Most Important
When faced with a lengthy list of tasks, prioritizing becomes a valuable step in making smart and efficient use of your time. While items with fast-approaching deadlines should come first, how you structure your day should depend on your personality and working style.
One time management strategy some experts recommend is to work on difficult or time-consuming items first to get them out of the way early, while others suggest starting with quick and easy tasks so you can warm up your brain and start crossing items off your list. The best option, however, is to recognize your own working style and identify the time of day when you are the most productive. Then, schedule tasks that require the most amount of focus during these productive periods.
5. Set Boundaries
Without a strict work schedule, your personal and professional time can often blend together. Because of this, strong time management skills are essential for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Without them, you may feel unmotivated, unproductive, or that you’re burning out entirely. Emergencies and extenuating circumstances aside, set a consistent time to end your workday. Communicate your hours to clients, friends, and family, and be sure to stick to them.