Probably the hardest part of working at home, especially when you’re working for yourself without a boss or supervisor looking over your shoulder, is time management. You alone are responsible for ensuring you get things done when they need to be, and that’s a challenging thing to do even if you’re the most motivated person in the world. Being able to plan your time effectively is a vital skill for freelancers, or really anybody working from a home office.
Many people believe in practicing task management philosophies like “Getting Things Done”, and while that’s fine for a lot of people, I don’t beliieve there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing your work. Think of it this way; a design solution that works for one client’s brand isn’t going to work for another’s. You’re not going to take the same approach for a bakery’s logo as you would for a software company.
That being said, I’m sharing my system not because I think it will work for you, but because I hope that it will at least inspire you to roll your own solution.
Keeping a Calendar
My main use for a calendar is to keep track of where I should be at a given time. Although some people advocate for planning out what you’re doing, I only enter things that involve other people. On an everyday basis though I plan out when I should be working at my desk. It helps me with knowing when to work, and when to stop in order to help maintain a healthy work/life balance. I do treat my calendar as a living document however, and I allow myself to extend my work time if I have a project that needs to get done.
As for calendar entries that involve other people, I always put those in as well. If I have a meeting or an event to attend, that goes into my calendar. Even if it’s a Skype call and doesn’t involve me even leaving my office. If I have to meet someone somewhere, I create an alert by figuring out how long it would take me to get there and adding 15 minutes. If it’s a remote meeting I set an alert 15 minutes before the call so I can finish up what I’m doing and get myself set up. What I’m saying here is I take every precaution to not be late, it’s important to value other people’s time as well as your own.
I also like to organize my calendar entries into categories. In Apple’s Calendar app, as well as Google Calendar, you can create seperate calendars and name them whatever you want. While you could get very granular, I like to organize my events in broad categories like “Personal”, and “Meetings”. I also work a part-time job in addition to freelancing, so that goes into it’s very own category. The reason I do this is for the color-coding you can assign each calendar, and it allows me to see at a glace what my week is generally looking like.
Managing To-Do Lists
For me, to-do lists are the next level down from the calendar. I use lists for specific tasks that I want to accomplish. Things like writing posts for this blog, or finishing up a project for a client go here. I organize tasks by context, for example my website, larger personal projects I’m working on, and individual clients.
Every task that goes onto one of my lists gets a due date, and sometimes I’ll set an alert to remind me the day of, or occasionally the day before. A due date serves many purposes, like holding myself accountable for a task, or reminding me when a client needs the final product. Strangely enough, I don’t generally like to put due dates in my calendar because I don’t generally like redundancy but that’s a stance I’m considering revisiting since the software I use can pass through to Calendar.
There are a lot of to-do list apps out there, and I have tried many of them. The one I use primarily is Wunderlist, which is actually a pretty great piece of software considering it’s free. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that something like Omnifocus has, but it allows me to do 90% of what I need. I am able to sort my lists into folders, which allows me some great granularity, and it gives me an overview of the week.