Recently we have explored the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a freelancer. And let`s assume that we have taken the leap from the office job and started a solo career. No matter the domain, one of the recipes a successful freelancer will give you is to be organized.
Let`s see what that means and how it`s going to make us more efficient and happier about ourselves.
1. Keep a schedule of your daily activities
When you have a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily job it`s easy to set the alarm clock at 7 a.m. every morning and plan an outdoor activity with your friends for 7 p.m., let`s say. However, when you`re working from home, you can often lose yourself among projects of all sorts and find yourself in quite a pickle when you discover a whole day has passed and you`ve only taken care of 2 tasks of the 5 you had planned. Sometimes when my cats are in the mood for playing, I am tempted to take five. Or if one of my unemployed or freelance friends happens to call me, she actually doesn`t realize that I`m working (even though I`m at home). Keeping a schedule of all your jobs and project days ahead will help you be more productive and avoid the frustrations that come with having to postpone jobs and refuse clients.
2. Learn to prioritize
Even if your friends or family think you are available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. just because you`re at home, that doesn`t mean you don`t need a clear delimitation to make them understand you are actually working. It my personal experience, there is always someone – a brother, a father, a neighbor – who needs you to run some errands `since you`re free`. You need to make yourself clear in these cases, especially because some days are just crazy. Some days, all the tasks you have are urgent, all the clients need you now and all the projects need to be delivered as soon as possible. Then how is it possible to prioritize? Well, first try to distance yourself from the situation in order to see the bigger picture. Take 5 minutes to have a cup of tea, look outside the window or play with your dog. I assure you 5 minutes won`t jeopardize your business. Then, try to identify which tasks will require less time and which will take more work. Compare your forecast against the deadlines that your clients are requesting and start with the one you are prone to be most efficient at. Don`t kid yourself into multitasking. When under pressure, you`ll learn that this practice is both inefficient and leads to the silliest mistakes you`ll ever make. Eventually and if needed, you can decide which client you have that kind of relationship with that will allow an extension of deadline. Don`t be ashamed to ask for one, you`ll discover clients are human, too!
3. Only take on the tasks you`ll be able to handle
A few years ago I was constantly struggling to joggle all the work I had taken. It was exhausted, always missing deadlines and ended up losing a few clients. In the rush to make more money or please more clients, you might easily make a pretty serious mistake – take on so much work that you couldn`t possibly handle. Moreover, you may find yourself in the situation where you need to turn down a great job because you said yes to 10 other jobs, obviously less profitable ones. You might want to consider putting aside a few days a month just in case the million dollar client comes knocking in your inbox!
4. Find a good client management system
Sometimes we tend to rely too much on our memory to remember all the client names and contact information we need; or maybe we are sure we`re going to easily find them with a quick search in our emails. Well it`s not uncommon to lose or misplace information right when we need it the most. To avoid these situations, you may use online client management tools or a good old notebook. Personally, I like Insightly, it`s cheap and professional enough for starters.
5. Reply to emails as soon as possible.
You might find it useful to put this activity in your daily schedule – half an hour to one hour to reply your emails every morning, before you start any actual work. This might help you have a better view on the jobs you will work on for the day and for the next few days as well. Also, it will help you prioritize better, depending on the clients` demands. For all other emails received during the day, make it a general rule to reply in the first 10 minutes after you receive it – if only to say well hello there and thank you for the message, I`ll get back to you in a couple of hours with all the info you need. Your clients will really dig your promptness! Lately, I have explored a new work tactic – it`s called MIT, or Most Important Tasks. Basically what you need to do is identify your most important tasks for the day, start with those and don`t stop until you get them done. MIT it`s actually something I will write about soon in more detail, so keep close!
6. Keep track of your finances
And not just the week you need to hand in the papers to your accountant. You will find it useful to dedicate some weekly time to this assignment. This way you will not lose touch with whatever is going on in your account and you won`t be surprised by some huge tax bill that`s going to ruin your plans for a few good months. If you make some research, you will discover there are plenty of online programs that can help you organize your income and expenditures. For me it was really hard to get used to taking care of my own finances – it took some research and a few mistakes along the way, but I discovered that if I`m organized and focused enough, it`s not as difficult as it seems.
7. Don`t push yourself until you… break!
Give yourself breaks! Between emails, deadlines and calendars, you might start to feel a bit tired if you don`t remember to take breaks and plan some well-deserved vacations. With all the available technology today, we can easily find a way to remind ourselves to take a break. Personally, I like to use a desktop application, set up to trigger a funny alarm every 2 hours and turn my screen dark so that, for 5 minutes, I got nothing else to do than get up from my chair and walk around. I also found a nice mobile app – Calm – which notifies me every day at 12.00 that it`s time to put on the headset and relax with fresh, nature sounds, such as ocean waves, birds chirping or rain falling in the tropical forest. So don`t forget to take breaks, they are essential because they will keep you calm, healthy and excited about going back to your work.
So we’ve swiftly gone through some of the steps we believe are important on our way to being better organized, better prepared, better professionals. But this is merely the start, the rest is up to you!