Freelancing frequently means you’re both always working and always looking for a new job. That’s the dilemma of the contract life: feast or famine. Work is unpredictable, but that doesn’t matter to your client.
As far as the client is concerned, you’re only working for them.
But what happens when all your hard work looking for work pays off while you’re already working? What about those times when your feelers come back with assignments that are all due on the same day?
Yes, you could start drinking, but that might not be the best way to maintain a high standard of productivity.
Instead, you can learn from the tried and true methods of project managers. I didn’t know that every time I finished writing an article, closed an issue of a magazine, or hit “publish” on a blog post that I was, in fact, a project manager. That is, until I became the managing editor for ProjectManager.com.
In this role (where I still work as a freelancer), I’ve learned the secrets of project managers and how to think like them; I’ve learned to apply some of their tricks to my trade.
Here are a list of eight surefire tips to keep your own freelance projects manageable, no matter how big or small they are.
1. Make Lists
It may sound obvious, but you can’t get anything done until you know what has to be done. A list helps you organize your workload, which is especially helpful when you’re working on multiple projects simultaneously. But don’t just jot notes down on Post-Its and loose papers: manage your to-do list. If you manage those tasks, your lists will help you navigate even the most stressful waters.
2. Add Deadlines
Now that you have managed to list what you need to do, the next step is to detail when you have to do it. Think this through and make a determination as to what is needed when. Without a deadline, a task is open-ended and can get away from you. You don’t want to discover the most crucial element of your job has been left undone when it’s too late to do anything about it.
It’s all well and good to have a list with clearly defined deadlines, but are some tasks more flexible than others? By prioritizing your task list, you can get the most critical work done first. You may not get everything done, but the important stuff will get taken care of.
4. Get Rid of What Doesn’t Matter
Okay, you’ve prioritized. You have a clear picture of the most important items on your task list. Now look again at the tasks you have put at the bottom of your priority list. Are they really necessary? Be brutal and delete all nonessential tasks. You probably don’t have time for them anyway.
5. Set Up Reminders
The bigger the project, or if you’re working on multiple projects at once, then the more you’re going to need to set up a tool to keep you on task and on schedule. You can set up something that we in the project management business call milestones. These are significant events in the duration of your project, like phases or client meetings or key deliverables. In a project management tool, you can define these distinctly (they show up as little diamonds on your project timeline). But you can also just set up an online calendar with alerts to notify you of upcoming deadlines to keep you on your toes.
6. Break Things Down
If you still find yourself getting bogged down, then maybe you bit off too much to chew on your task list. Reexamine your list and see if any of the tasks are too big and need to be broken down into smaller, more manageable ones. You don’t want to be overly ambitious; you want to get the job done under the parameters given.
7. Set Boundaries
You have to do the work, but there’s your client who may, depending on their temperament, be looking over your shoulder. If you have contracted with a micro-manager, it’s best to set clear expectations with them—and also boundaries. If you don’t, you’re going to get texts, emails, and even phone calls at all hours. You may freelance, but you’re not working 24/7.
8. Have a Workspace
Finally, make sure you have a dedicated and quiet workstation setup, if you don’t already. If you’re working on the kitchen table, surrounded by roommates, your spouse, or your children, then you’re never fully concentrating on your work. You’re only adding to your stress. Unless you put “nervous breakdown” on your task list, this is never optimal.
Well, there you have it. By learning the secrets of project managers, who have tackled projects ranging from web development to building bridges and tunnels, you’ll find you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can work more efficiently. That means you can take on even more assignments.
Oh boy, get back to that list…