In the context of freelancing, time management is often talked about in terms of balancing your work with distractions. While this is defiantly something that can be a problem if left unchecked, managing projects can also be a trying experience. Wether you’re just mismanaging the time you set aside for work, or you’ve taken on far too many projects, you can’t perform at your best when you’re overwhelmed.
Feeling overwhelmed by your projects will hinder your enthusiasm, and also affect the quality of your work. You can find yourself rushing through tasks, making mistakes and missing the little details. Nobody can be expected to produce their best work under constant crunch, so you need to step back.
This is definitely a trap I have fallen into many times, all the way back to when I was growing up. In high school I often over-encumbered myself with a multitude of things. I was volunteering to organize the school library, trying to learn programming, making movies, playing music, and trying to start an after-school gaming club. Suffice to say, I didn’t do any of those well. As I’ve grown I’ve become more able to look back and see what I should have done, and I try to apply those lessons today, to varying degrees of success.
There are always projects that are more important than others. A project with a client that has a fast-approaching deadline is clearly a higher priority than the t-shirt you’re putting together to sell on your website. But it’s not always so clear-cut, there are many factors to consider when determining how a project should be prioritized.
The first, and most important rule to follow when deciding the most important projects is to prioritize commitments to other people. Then consider project size, larger projects that could take more time should take priority over the ones you can do in an hour. Finally, you need to consider when your project needs to be done. One thing that can help if you’re more of a visual person is to open a to-do list app or text editor and make a list of everything you need to do, then reorder that list based on priority.
Make a Plan
Now that you know what to prioritize, you need a plan of attack. Start scheduling out time to work on your projects. Give more time to the bigger, more important projects and stick with your schedule. Rather than sitting and wracking your brain for 4 hours, stick with that project for 3 hours and work on something else for the last hour. This not only ensures that you don’t get overly frustrated with one project, but also that you aren’t cutting out early and giving yourself more work later.
The exception to keeping to your schedule is if you’re “in the zone” as I like to say. If you’re working on a project that you’re enamored by, don’t cut it off for a lower-priority project. When you come back you may not be feeling as inspired, and you probably won’t be quite as productive the next time around.
Cut the Cruft
Not every project needs to be done. Obviously if you have pre-existing commitments there is no question that you should honor those, but you can afford to be a little choosy over what you decide to start working on. Saying “no” is never easy, especially if it’s a project that you’re excited about, but saying “no” when a project is going to push you over the top is a valuable skill.