By Jonathan London on 23rd June 2015

How best to manage your workload

When you’re working freelance, the ability to manage your own workload can be one of the most appealing aspects. Theoretically, you can take on as much or as little work as is appropriate for your situation, set your own timetable and work at a pace that suits your skill set and lifestyle, rather than the desires of a demanding boss.

As any self-employed person knows, though, it’s not always that simple in real life. Especially when you’re starting out, it can be easy to let the lack of a fixed timetable take the focus out of your working day and allow inefficiency or structurelessness to creep in; similarly, it’s often tempting to take on all the contracts you can get, only to realise later that you don’t have enough hours in the day to fulfil them all.

Workload management problems such as these are understandable, but they’re not really forgivable from a client’s perspective if it harms the quality of the service for which they’re paying, so it’s important to give some thought to the best way of approaching these issues before it becomes a problem.

Although the best way of organising your workload will vary depending on your trade, there are a few common tips, tricks and tools available that can help alleviate some of the more universal issues that freelancers might encounter.

Create a schedule
This is something all freelancers should know to be doing as a matter of course, but it’s always worth restating. Simply put, without a well-considered schedule that you’re prepared to adhere to, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to succeed in the world of freelancing.

You need to take a good look at all of your current projects and personal responsibilities, and create a timetable that accounts for both in the most efficient way possible. Don’t leave anything out; make sure you know exactly what it is you need to be doing at any given time of the day, and ensure that your clients and collaborators know it too, so everyone will be working in sync.

Get organised
Clutter and disorganisation invite sloppiness and mistakes, so don’t let them creep into the way you run your business! Keep your work area tidy, your email inbox well-ordered and your to-do list up to date; failure to do so will only make it more likely that you’ll overlook a key detail, forget about an important task or miss an urgent message from a client.

Set priorities
All the work you do as a freelancer is important, but there are only so many hours in a day; as such, it’s unavoidable that you’re going to have to figure out a way of assigning priorities to your various tasks, determining which need to be done as a matter of urgency and which can be placed on the backburner if necessary.

How you prioritise your work will depend on a number of factors, including the value of each contract, the pickiness of the client and the time-sensitivity of the projects themselves. Don’t forget to include your own personal needs in this analysis, and to keep your clients and colleagues informed of any changes to the schedule that might be necessary.

Figure out where time is being wasted
Over the course of a busy day, it’s easy to underestimate how much time gets eaten up cumulatively by overrunning tasks or inefficient processes; this, in turn, makes it hard to actually address the problem.

As such, it may be worth keeping a diary or log of how long your various activities actually take, before comparing them to your initial estimates to figure out where time is being unwittingly wasted. This will inform your future planning processes and help you get a more realistic idea of what you need to do.

Maintain realistic expectations
Some clients will want the moon on a stick, burdening you with unrealistic expectations that nobody could hope to meet; others won’t demand this, but will be promised it anyway by naive freelancers who let their eagerness to please outstrip their actual capacity to deliver.

Setting the right expectations will help tackle both of these problems. Once you’ve developed a good understanding of your own schedule, capabilities and working pace, you need to be able to convey this accurately to clients, and turn down the work if they’re not willing to accept it. Rejecting work may not be ideal, but it’s preferable to failing to deliver on something you’ve agreed.

Use all the tools available to you
There are all sorts of tools available online to make workload management a much more intuitive, automated and collaborative process; many of them are cheap to use or even free, so there’s really no excuse not to at least check them out.

For example, task management apps such as Google Tasks and Wunderlist can be a real lifesaver, providing an at-a-glance look at everything you need to do, while the online collaboration tool Trello is a must for freelancers working as part of a team who depend on being able to share files and information in real time.

Other helpful tools include the filesharing service Dropbox and the social media management platform Hootsuite. There are many more besides, so make sure to have a browse; you might find an app that solves your biggest organisational headaches with a single click!

Jonathan London Written by Jonathan London

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