Time Management: Do It or Be Destroyed

by Feb 18, 2015

The hands of a clock only go in one direction. Your choices: learn to manage your time or be swallowed up in moments lost forever. As grim as it sounds, those really are your only options. If you decide to cruise on time and not let it get to you, that is time you’ll never, ever, get back. If you freelance in any field, time is your boss. Whether you like it or not; you answer to the clock. One of most important skills anyone can learn is proper time management. Here’s what I’ve learned on my journey through time.

Chicken vs. Egg? It’s still just poultry.

When project launch dates pop up or new projects roll in at the same time, the first step is to determine which one needs to be completed first. No matter what the project is, who the client is (hear me out first), how much money the job will bring in (wait, I’m getting to it), the calendar will always tell you which one to start with.

When you’re starting out as a freelancer, it’s difficult to turn down a job. You take on everyone you can because you don’t have the luxury yet to turn anyone away. It’s less complicated when projects bring in the same amount of money and are about the same amount of time needed to complete. But longer and more in depth projects that take weeks or even months, those need internal calendars themselves. In those big projects, you won’t necessarily be working on it 12 hours a day for the next six weeks solid. There will always be a few lulls when you’re waiting for content or feedback from a client. In those pockets of a few hours, or a few days, you can pick up another short term project.

Make a calendar of everything you’re working on and see what needs to be completed by when. If there is no date for one project, work on the ones that have closer completion dates. If it’s a mix of personal projects vs. clients, give your clients the attention they deserve. Even if they aren’t paying, do their work before your own.

I’ll do it right now, for one million dollars.

Here’s a scenario: you’re up to your eyeballs in one huge project from a long-term loyal client. Every second counts to get it done on time. You’re focusing on just this one project, because you want to do it right the first time and you really love this client. Suddenly, a mystery client sends you an email. They say they’ll pay you an ungodly sum of money for something that would take you less than an hour. You don’t know this client and you’ve never worked for their company before. They’ll even pay you up front the entire amount they promise, just send them your PayPal info and it’ll be done. The only catch is they want the completed work by tomorrow at 8am (and it’s already 1am). Do you take the mystery client’s job at the risk of putting your loyal client’s work behind? My answer: just say no (wait, how much money was it again?).

Hear me out. It’s much more than money here. If you did get the mystery client’s work done, you’re damaging your relationship with an already established client. You have a *friendship, not just a working relationship (*not all clients will be your friend). Being a freelancer, your word is your bond. Would you hurt a close friend just because a stranger with a huge stack of cash told you to? Of course not. In this scenario, you’re not only bound by time but also by your loyalty and reputation towards your work. How you treat their project is a reflection of how you treat them professionally.

Keeping a good reputation means doing good. As in keeping to milestones, keeping clients in the loop when needed, completing things on time, etc. The risk of faltering from a tight schedule might get you a nice pay check, but your loyal client will feel the sting because you put them last. They might pull the plug on the project and never send you additional work. Tainting your reputation and might even steer new clients away from you. Was it still worth that paycheck?

Six degrees of separation.

In the freelance world, it’s far less than six degrees between anything. It’s a giant web with everything tied together, on the same level of importance and need for maintenance. Time is one of those points that it has deep roots within the rest of the web. There is no way to ignore it because it runs with or without you.

Take this blog as another example. I’ve made the tough decision to work on a large client project rather than post twice a week recently. The blog is marked on my calendar, but my client’s work is more important. Sure, the blog would take me an hour or two to think of a topic and jot it down. But my client’s project is more important. Even though the date for the blogs are sooner and more often, I value my client’s work more.