The definitive guide to going Freelance.

By Kyle Racki and Ross Simmonds

Managing Time

Chapter 9. Managing Time
Stopwatch with to do list

To keep clients happy and keep steady money rolling in you need to manage your time effectively. This can be a challenge when you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder throughout the day.

As a freelancer, you’re going to have days that are filled with sunshine and lollipops but also those days that are filled with thunder and lighting. It’s your mental toughness that will help you get through those days and it’s your mental toughness that will help you become a successful freelancer.

Dr. Suess once wrote, “I’m afraid that sometimes you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ‘cause you’ll play against you.” For the most part, the mental fight with yourself is the biggest fight you’ll encounter in the freelance world. It’s you vs. the person you see when you look in the mirror. It’s you making decisions that will either help move your business ahead, move your business back or ensure that your business stands still.

One of the biggest internal battles that freelancers have to face is time management. It’s the idea of managing time. When in reality, the idea of managing time isn’t really a great descriptor as time is a constant and cannot be managed. As a result, I like to look at it as self-management. It’s the idea that you need to manage yourself and not blame it on the limited amount of time you have in a day.

The reality is that being productive as a freelancer is a major challenge. You have 24 hours in a day and it’s on you to decide what you’re going to do with them. You have to decide whether or not taking a lunch meeting with a prospect is worth taking. You have to decide whether or not you should be doing marketing instead of working on clients work. It’s all of these things that impact your business and all of these things that determine your success. In this chapter we’re going to talk about some of the productivity hacks that will you keep your eye on the ball.

Do The Hard Things First

One of the biggest productivity killers and stress builders is the pile of tasks we create for ourselves by procrastinating the hard things. Whether you read an email and decide to come back to it later or you leave a sales meeting with a plan to follow up later, dealing with things that matter as soon as possible, is the best approach to sanity.

Susan O’Connell understands the power of dealing with important tasks as they happen. She suggests that we “deal with something once. Do it now. Then it’s off your mind, and you can fully focus on the next matter.”

Try applying the “deal with it once” rule to tasks like email, voicemail, meeting requests and other tasks that only take a few minutes to complete. It will help you be more productive and ultimately get closer to achieving your goals and the bigger tasks.


It can be really difficult to prioritize your daily tasks as a freelancer compared to when you were working at an agency. Back then all you had to worry about was completing the tasks assigned to you by your project manager. It was easy to figure out what needed to be done first because you had other people managing your schedule and assigning due dates for various deliverables.

You’re on your own now. That means no one is holding your hand or riding your ass to complete a project (except your clients, and if they have to ride your ass they won’t be clients for long). On top of client deadlines you have your non billable tasks that can’t be neglected, like sales, proposals, bookkeeping, and blogging. None of those things should be pushed to the back-burner. If you keep pushing off something like blogging because you’re too busy with client work, it just won’t happen and you’ll never reap the rewards of regular blogging. If you put off sales because you’re too swamped with deadlines then you might have no work coming in next month.

You need to be really tough with yourself and block off time for tasks that—while they may not be billable and they may not be associated with a client demanding they get done–are important nonetheless. Some freelancers choose to block off one day a week for non client work. They may choose Friday as their day to get all of the essential administrative tasks out of the way, such as logging their expenses, sending out and collecting on invoices, and writing a blog post for the following week.

Other freelancers may find it hard to concentrate all of that into one day so they instead spread those tasks throughout the week and pick one task to be done first thing in the morning, such as writing a blog article before moving on to client work for the rest of the day. Whatever approach you go with make sure that it suits your work style and it’s something you can commit to on a regular basis.

Under Promise & Over Deliver

If you can have it done by Tuesday, say you’ll have it done by Thursday. Then, deliver it on Monday. It’s not dishonest, it’s smart and keeping your clients expectations in check.

A lot of things can come up in the process of a project and I’d rather someone give me realistic expectations of when it will be done than a speedy timeline and them not deliver. It’s understandable that things will come up but in those situations you need to be up-front and immediately offer an apology.

Offering your clients a timeline that is stretched longer than you expect gives you a buffer to get the work done right. It doesn’t mean that you should procrastinate just because you can; the “over-deliver” part is where you thrive.

If you promised to have the design finished by next Thursday, you should aim to deliver that design by next Tuesday. Obviously you have to ensure that the quality is there but delivering the finished product in a faster timeframe will ensure that your clients look at you in a positive light.

Remember, a timeline is essentially a promise. It’s your commitment to getting a job done for your client. A study by Dutch Researcher Manuela Vieth, found that broken promises cause us to want to punish and seek revenge upon the promise breaker. That’s not the type of feeling you want your clients to have towards you.

Leverage Calendar Apps

Populating a calendar and using it are two different things. In addition to your scheduled meetings, add your project deadlines and personal commitments.

Use your calendar to control your day, track your output and keep you on target with respect to your productivity. Start each day by looking at your calendar to get a sense of what your day (and the rest of your week) looks like. Visit your calendar every day and edit it as new projects come in and tasks are completed.

If you can’t focus day after day in your little home office without watching TV or playing video games for 10 hours, then perhaps the freelance life isn’t for you. And I mean, it is definitely not for everyone. Treat it like you’re “going to work” even if it’s only a stroll down the hall. Get your head wrapped around work and not around play. And when the clock strikes 6, try to unwind as you would before. Hey, we all know night and weekend work happens - but try to enforce a policy against that.

Rina Miele Freelance Designer
Honey Design

Don’t Be Afraid To Say No

Learning to say ‘no’ is one of the most powerful tools a sales professional can have. In fact, a study demonstrates that those who learn to say ‘no’ effectively live a more productive life. According to the study, there is a right way to say ‘no’. The most effective way to decline is to say, “I don’t”. Whether you’re saying no to distractions, temptations, clients or co-workers, the best approach is to use “I don’t”.

Once you put these words to use for you, you’ll be able to keep focused and accomplish your goals. For example, “I don’t check my email in the morning”, “I don’t work more than 10 hours a day”, or “I don’t make meetings on the weekend.” are all easy ways to say no. Empowering yourself to say no will give you the time you need to focus.

To further convey the importance of saying no, take this quote from Stephen Covey: “You have to decide what your priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.”

If you’re able to identify your goals and have a real passion to achieve them, it becomes easier to say no.

Block Out Distractions

While the internet is great because it gives us instant access to everything, it can be a productivity killer for precisely that reason. Imagine trying to work on a difficult client project that requires concentration while you have your email client open, Skype chat on, Facebook and Twitter tabs open in your browser and your cell phone on. All of these methods of communication are constantly buzzing with notifications and each second you break your concentration to check these things eat your hours and leave you with unfinished tasks at the end of the day.

The most productive way to deal with email is to make time to do it and then ignore it. Try dedicating two to three pockets of time in your day just to reading and responding to emails. This way, you’re not being pulled from other tasks each time new mail hits your inbox. Also, avoid copying multiple people on emails if you’re not sure that the content is relevant or important for each recipient. This can be distracting to others and can result in a reply-all tsunami.

When you decide it’s time to get down to work on a project, close down email and Skype along with any tab in your browser that doesn’t relate to the project you’re working on. Turn off your cell phone and tell anyone around you that you need to concentrate so please don’t disturb you. Then spend 2 or 3 hours focused exclusively on the one task you need to finish and only when that time is up should you turn your email (or any other distraction) back on.

Using a time-tracking app like Harvest or Tick is really useful, because as soon as you turn the timer on you feel under the gun to work solely on that one project and avoid jumping around to multiple tasks.

Lists. I use a ton of lists! I like to plan out each day on paper in my sketchbook. I love checking tasks off my list, but truthfully, it's a rare day if I'm able to strike them all off!

Geri Coady Freelance Illustrator

Working From Home With Family Around

Working from home can take getting used to, not only for yourself but also your family. If you have a spouse and/or kids they aren’t used to you always being around, and they’ll naturally be excited to have instant access to you throughout the day. It can be really tempting to drop what you’re doing to sit out on the back deck with your partner and have a coffee, or help your daughter beat a particularly difficult level on her Playstation. While this seems awesome at first (because it is) if you don’t set clear boundaries with your family you’ll watch your productivity, and revenue, go out the window.

Establish clear rules with your family so they know what to expect. For example, if your office door is closed they know not to call for you or even knock unless it’s a life threatening emergency. Just that one simple rule is easy to follow and it ensures your family isn’t accidentally robbing you of precious time you’ve allocated to earn a living.

Leverage Productivity Tools

Do you ever get tired of searching through emails, sticky notes and notepads for notes on what your next steps are and to-do’s for projects? Struggling to keep everything in order is one of the biggest challenges that freelancers face but one that can be solved with applications like Solo, Harvest or Basecamp.

Unlike Basecamp and Harvest, Solo is made specifically for freelancers. The software is filled with features freelancers need to keep you on track, ranging from planning, milestones, timesheets, to-dos, invoicing and contact management. As a freelancer, keeping accurate track of projects and time is an important part of business. You can also use a system like Basecamp if you need to store client messages, calendar events and files in one place.

Wondering what else you can do to stay productive? Here are my five favourite productivity articles:

I'm a part-time entrepreneur... so it forces me to be efficient and manage my time.

Preston D Lee Freelance Designer & Marketer


  • Limit distractions by creating a to-do list and not checking social media or your inbox while tackling specific projects. It’s a mind game but one that you can win if you put in the effort and keep your eye on the end goal.
  • Use tools like Solo to keep yourself in check as it relates to timelines and project deliverables. This kind of technology will send reminders and notifications that will ensure you stay on track.
Cover of the E-Book

Download The 116 page E-book for free

Leave your name and email address and we’ll email you a link to download all eleven chapters of “The Definitive Guide To Going Freelance” in a beautiful e-book format, plus other helpful content.