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Time Management for Freelancers: How To Find Extra Hours for Earning More


Everybody wants to earn more money.

And as we’ve established, often the most straightforward way to do that is to start freelancing in addition to your nine-to-five. Ideally, you can even make that work something you already enjoy—like teaching a fitness class or creating designs—so it feels less like work. In other words, become a part-time freelancer in your chosen field.

There’s only one problem. Freelancing requires one precious resource that everyone seems to be lacking these days…

time!

Even full-time freelancers have a hard time with time management. But if you’re already working a full-time job, have other activities you enjoy, need time to take care of yourself, and especially if you have a family, finding time to work on a freelance business can seem impossible.

It doesn’t have to be.

I asked a number of successful freelancers how they make time for their work. Read about the strategies and systems they use below, and you can be more productive and earning more money in the coming year. 

FINDING TIME

Unlike money, we can’t make more time, we can only free up the time we have. To find more time, you have two options:

  • Identify blocks of uncommitted time in your existing schedule.
  • Change your schedule to create blocks of uncommitted time.

I’m a newbie freelancer myself, and I’ve found that using pockets of empty time during the day has been critical to my ability to get everything done.

Identifying uncommitted time.

I know what you’re all saying:  “But I don’t have any free time!”

Exactly. None of us do. We’re all busy. Most of us have a 9-5 that we have to report to five days a week. However, this is why you need to use your time wisely by utilizing uncommitted chunks of time scattered throughout your day, instead of, say, surfing YouTube or watching another Family Guy marathon (I’m guilty of both).

For example, I’m a full-time accountant who works five eight-hour days per week, and here are some of the pockets of free time I can identify in my schedule:

  • My lunch-hour (Here’s a great article for maximizing your lunch hour.)
  • Waiting for meetings/teleconferences/training to start
  • While I’m making dinner (I do this often!  I prop my laptop on a counter or breakfast bar.)
  • Waiting at the doctor/bank/car shop/in line/etc.
  • After dinner, on nights I don’t have plans.

Of course, I don’t have children, but I do have other activities that require my attention in addition my full-time job.

As you can see, my “free” time are usually short periods of time—just five to 30 minutes here or there. The key is using these times instead of wasting them. Rather than mindlessly browsing Facebook; use these times to e-mail a pitch, build on an idea you jotted down earlier that day, or finish a project. You have to stay focused.

Want to help other readers out? Think about uncommitted chunks of time in your day that you could use more productively and share them in a comment.

Creating free time.

What if you can’t think of even one time slot where you could spare a minute for freelance work? It’s time to sacrifice something else.

“I find that I can either stay up late or set my alarm at an ungodly hour to get things done.  If I alternate nights of sleep, no-sleep, sleep, no-sleep, I can get by.”  – Phil Villarreal, author and freelance writer for The Consumerist

Phil’s quote nails it—as a full-timer and a dad, he is seriously crunched for time. He had to create time slots to make freelance work fit into his life. He wakes early or stays up late. Everybody can do this. At some point, you simply need to decide which is more important: sleep or work.

This takes sacrifice. That’s the question that you have to ask yourself before you embark on your freelancing journey: Are you willing to sacrifice time or other things you enjoy to do work that you love?

If you’re not willing to give-up some shut-eye, here are some other possibilities:

  • Outsource chores or other work (hire someone, recruit family members, or swap tasks with others)
  • Get organized so your days become more efficient (see below)
  • Say “No”; drop activities, groups, and recurring social events that don’t add value to your life
  • Clear time sucks from your day like browsing Facebook or watching excess TV. (Several years ago, the Web’s wine king, Gary Vaynerchuk, said it best: If you want to find time to work on the side, “…stop watching fucking LOST!”)

Although finding decent time blocks you can dedicate to freelancing is most important, there are other things you can do to optimize your time management.

GET ORGANIZED

“Try creating a freelance schedule to make sure you’re using your time most efficiently. Use an egg timer to help you stay focused.” – Krystal Yee, freelance writer and designer

Disorganization. It’s plaguing our nation. Shows about hoarding are an extreme, but how many of us suffer from some kind of clutter and disorganization?

If you can’t keep your life organized, fitting in freelancing will be difficult. This isn’t an organization or cleaning blog, but I suggest you start by creating a clutter-free workspace. If you’re life is organized, you will be a better freelancer and be able to make more time for your work. But, it will be impossible to create top-notch work if your “freelance life” isn’t organized either.

Here are some things that you’ll need to keep organized when you start freelancing:

  1. Administrative items. Keep your hours billed and invoice records in one place. (If you bill more than a couple clients and/or need to track your hours, Freshbooks is a billing app that may help.) Similarly, store tax-related items in one place (you’ll be happy you did this come tax time).
  2. Contacts. Thanks to today’s tech, this is an easy task. Make Gmail or your smart phone apps work for you.
  3. Your Work. I like to seperate my freelance work by clients. I have a seperate folder and notebook for each client. That way I don’t make an embarrassing gaffe like sending a draft to the wrong client.

CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK

“Learn to accept some chaos. Focus on one or two major goals per day. Prioritize. Be gentle with yourself. Oh, and coffee. Lots of coffee.”   – Kelly Gurnett, freelance writer for Brazen Careerist

Once you get into the habit of freelancing, you can become even better at this “job” if you change the way you think.

Remember how I mentioned that you can create time in your day for your freelance work? Once you get that habit down, take the idea a bit further. Start living your freelance work.

Let me explain.

A majority of freelancers are doing this kind of work because they enjoy it; often, it’s a hobby that turned into a side business. For this reason, we tend to think about our freelancing more often than our traditional 9-5 job. This is good; this can help you become a better freelancer.

When I’m starting to write an article, I often start writing it in my head. I usually do this while I’m on the way to work, getting ready in the morning, working out, or doing other thoughtless, mundane tasks. Once I get the idea to paper, I’ve already written the opening paragraph. Things flow much more smoothly after that.

But, this idea isn’t just for writers.

By letting your mind wander and thinking about your freelance work throughout the day, you can become inspired by your daily activities. Keep a notebook handy or use an app like Evernote to record ideas that come to you throughout the day as it relates to your freelance work. Here are some examples:

  • Do you do design work on the side? Take pictures or record thoughts for new designs.
  • Do you develop apps?  Use conversations with your friends for tips on refining or creating your next project.
  • Do you coach basketball at night?  Use team experiences at work to create team exercises on the court.

Once you get into the habit of regularly thinking about—or “living”—your freelance work, you’ll find you can really be inspired throughout your day. It can jump start your tasks when you get to them that evening (or the next morning, if you’re an early riser).

Do you work on the side? How do you make time? Share your best tactics in a comment.

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About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @ambergilstrap.

Comments

  1. Commuting! Hours of my week are spent on a bus/subway.

    • That is a great one Gina! Here in the DC metro area, a train ride can take just as long as sitting in rush hour traffic to or from work. Get your Ipad, smart phone, etc and get to working! Love it! Thanks for sharing.
      Ciliny

      • Commuting is a huge one! Well, if you take public transportation or carpool, anyway. :) My commute isn’t bad — about 25 minutes each way — so I can’t jot down any thoughts. But I do use the time to think about freelance work!

  2. Another free time, that many of us dread, is an hour or two before we wake up to begin getting ready for our 9-5. Some may use this time for the gym, but this may be a valuable hour to use on freelance work. Just a thought.

  3. When I worked shifts, it was pretty much impossible to block out regular chunks of time for freelancing. I often did work in quiet periods of downtime at the office, jotted down notes in my phone on the go, and stayed up late at night (I’m a night owl).

  4. Jeff Crews says:

    “Outsource chores or other work (hire someone, recruit family members, or swap tasks with others).” I am a firm believer of this. You should always make sure that you are dedicating your time to the highest $ value project.

    • I hear you, Jeff! Whenever I feel the urge to start cleaning or endlessly researching something I have people for, I try to remind myself that I could be working and making money. And if it costs less to hire someone (say, a tax person, or cleaning lady) than it would take me to do myself, I need to just do it!

      I work from home, so the temptation of doing house work when I should be working is huge.

  5. Jeff Crews says:

    Right on. It is something that took me a while to learn. Luckily, I am adding 5 more people to my staff, so I can make sure I continue to do the highest $ projects.

    • Awesome thoughts, Jeff! Not many people realize how important it is to outsource the small stuff. Many people think it’s a waste of money. But if you can hire a cleaner for your house for $40 an hour to work on a project that is making you $50 or more per hour, doesn’t it make sense?

      • Jeff Crews says:

        Makes total sense. So glad to hear that someone else is on the same page. I know someone who literally pays for every small task to be completed. He makes way more when he doesn’t do certain things.

  6. Jeff Crews says:

    Nice work on the savings. Looks like you are a person that can help people “Find a financial advisor”. Lol

  7. This is so right! I really hate wasting my time waiting at the doctors or anywhere similar. I’ll always try to use the time, as already mentioned above, to write emails from my iPhone, sort my notes and do as much as I can on my iPhone. Sometimes I really think my iPhone saves me time. But then there is the temptation to get a ‘quick’ look at facebook… but I promised to myself for this year 2012, that cut down my time on facebook! No more unnecessary surfing, just answering messages, saying ‘happy birthday’ and check the notifications. That’s it. Right now I’m on a ‘facebook-diet’. It really gives your more time than you think. Oh, and cut down really useless TV-watching.
    But, and with this I’m strict, enjoy your meals. No working at Lunch- or Dinner-time. One need a break a day to relax and gather some strength to go on.
    So thanks for these tips!

  8. Jeff Crews says:

    Have you read the various books on how smartphones, etc have actually made us more busy?

  9. I started freelancing in October. I’ve learned a lot in the bast 3+ months. One thing that really helps me is to carry a voice recorder (my cell phone has one as well, I’m sure most smartphones do.) If an idea comes to me as I’m driving or busy, I leave myself a message. I’ve dictated blog posts and dozens of ideas then listened to them later on when I’m free.

    I found that I have to set up a very specific schedule and couple it with a timer. My looks like:

    Email/Social Media – 20mins
    Freelance writing – 1 hour
    Break – 1 hour (This is the time to do home stuff like laundry/cleaning)
    Blogging – 1 hour
    Grad School – 2 hours

    I am a blogger, freelance writer, grad student, parent (I have joint custody though so 1 week on, 1 week off) and I work on weekends as a product demonstrator. This type of schedule is essential for my success.

    Great article!

  10. I give guitar lesson on the side for $20/hr. It really works out well because I have dedicated 1 hour to practicing every day since I was in 7th grade. So now I get paid to do what I already love doing. I’ll never strike it rich doing this, but it can cover a bar tab every now and then.

  11. Jeff Crews says:

    Doing something that you love is a great way to earn a little cash. I soccer coach on the side. My job allows me to, and I make some pretty good money.

  12. Great article! Packed full of information.
    I recently started writing about money and other topics. This article helped me a lot.
    Keep up the great work!

  13. John Bartal says:

    Computer repair has always been a hobby of mine. When I was young, I’d download viruses to see if I could take them off. As I got older, I progressed in that area and am at a point where I can do computer repair on the side to make a little extra money. Craigslist is a great tool for freelancers to use to find odd jobs.

  14. Getting organized and cutting out time sucks from your life is so important! I like to bunch similar tasks together so that I can really get into it with my mindset and get a rhythm going.

  15. I do a lot of the organizing and prioritizing in my head, on my morning commute. I make mental lists – use voice to talk on my iPhone to schedule the agenda for the day. Then I just take it one day at a time. Whatever is on this days calendar (no more than 3 projects) that’s what I focus on, and I let tomorrow take care of itself. I find that less things pile up when I look at the task at hand. On occasion, I’ve taken your advice about hiring help or outsourcing, just to get caught up. Then I’m ready to go again!

  16. Awesome article and great perspective on using your time/money wisely. If you’re staying sharp in business even for your hobbies, it will help you think creatively and effectively in your full time job as well. Starting a small business and getting a blog going is actually not that difficult. However, there are too many people who cannot get over the 1st year of little/no profits and lose focus and interest to keep pushing. If you truly love and believe in what you do, you would do it for free…and they money will come as a result. If you focus on $ first and only, then you will never get there.