Easy Time Management for Copywriters and Other Freelancers

I don't do well with time management. I admit it.

I'm a freelancer, and I have to work to get paid. There's no salary to back me up. I "eat what I kill." But I still let myself waste away hours of my workweek checking email, chatting through IM, browsing Google News, and more.

That's sent me looking through time management system after time management system … But I always find they're too complex, not rewarding, and I don't stick with them.

So I've spent the last few months thinking about how to solve my time management problem:

  • What about some time management system that works well for me?
  • What can I borrow to make my own system?
  • How can I keep it easy so I'll keep doing it?
  • And how can I keep myself motivated to stick with it?

And I've come up with a time management system that really seems to work.

It works especially for me as a freelance copywriter because I often have a lot of smaller tasks in my day. Yeah, there's the latest big project I'm working on. But there are also emails, articles, smaller space ads, landing pages … The list goes on. Plus, there's all that other stuff of managing my business. Tackling my email inbox, sending invoices, doing contracts, etc.

There's a lot to do, and if I don't stay on top of it, my income falters.

And that's simply unacceptable.

So this system accomplishes a few things:

  • It's easy to understand and use– there's no software to learn, no complex planner to master, nothing in the way of complexity to hold you back
  • It's cheap– it involves scrap paper, printing one piece of paper off once per month, and buying just one common office supply every couple of months … Plus, maybe a one-time optional purchase (or you may have this in your kitchen already)
  • And it's fast– you could start using it today, and it takes just seconds of your time every day to use

So what is it?

My Easy Time Management System for Freelancers

Here's how this works.

  • You need a pad of paper. Scrap paper will do.
  • You need a pen, of course, but you should have one of those handy!
  • You need a blank monthly calendar you can print off. To get this, go to Google Image Search and search for "blank calendar." I like the ones with lots of writing space.
  • And you need to go to Staples, Walmart, or your local office supply store to pick up some little stickers. I like the foil star labels – but you basically need something small that will stand out on the paper.
  • OPTIONAL: One more thing. A kitchen timer. It makes the whole system work a bunch better, so it's recommended you get one. But if you have one in your kitchen or office already, you can use it!

Simple tools, right? I told you, this is easy!

Now, here's how to use these tools to create my easy time management system for yourself.

  1. Start with the blank calendar. Print one off for this month and maybe next month as well. Fill in the month name and all the days of the month. Now look at all the deadlines and due dates you have for the month, and fill those in. If you need to use highlighters to color code them for different clients, you can. Also, fill in any big events that prevent you from working on specific days. Vacations, etc.
  2. Now grab your pad of paper or a piece of scrap paper. Look at what you need to have done in the next couple of days. Based on those deadlines, write a list of specific tasks you need to accomplish.
  3. Pick a task. Maybe it'll be the most important one. Or one you've been avoiding. Pick one and only one. Set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes, and press start. Spend the entire 30 minutes only focused on the one task you picked out. Do as much as possible in those 30 minutes.
  4. Once your 30 minutes are up, put a sticker on your calendar for spending 30 minutes uninterrupted on a task. These stickers are just to tell you how much uninterrupted time you spent working – not to denominate a task – so it doesn't need to go next to a specific item.
  5. Then, before you start with your next 30-minute period, take a stretch break. Refill your drink. Use the restroom. Don't take too long (just a couple minutes), but do what you need to do so you'll be ready for another 30 minutes.
  6. When you finish tasks, cross them off your to-do list. Then move on to the next one.
  7. Spend as many 30-minute periods as you can throughout the day focused solely on one task from your to-do list, without interruption. If you let yourself be diverted or interrupted, you can start the timer again at 30 minutes or simply don't give yourself a star for that 30-minute period.

I challenge you to get six stars in a day. That's three hours of uninterrupted working. You'll be amazed with how hard it is.

Yet still, you'll be amazed with how much this simple time management system helps you focus on important tasks you need to accomplish. You'll be amazed with how much you get done.

And as a freelancer, you'll be amazed with how well this helps you focus on income-producing activities and how much more you can earn as a result!

And what about all those other things you need to do, like checking email, running to the bank, etc.? Well, give them a spot on your to-do list. Give them their own 30-minute period. Contain them so they don't take over your day.

If you try this sincerely, I'm convinced you'll improve your time management habits. And it's fun – getting more stickers every day may seem like a challenge from elementary school, but it's strangely motivating!

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Published: June 13, 2011

3 Responses to “Easy Time Management for Copywriters and Other Freelancers”

  1. I love this system, it sounds great!

    But...

    I can't keep track of my pad of paper or scrap paper. And I can't remember to look at a to-do list on my computer.

    I'd need to create a new list of tasks every day which actually wouldn't be a problem but within just a few days, my calendar becomes "invisible" to me, I don't see it any longer.

    Maybe a stickie note on the frame of the inside of my laptop so that every time I open my laptop I see it and will remember my calendar... :)

    Thanx!

    DianeD

  2. I’ve been using Replicon for the past several months and overall I'm quite happy with this time recording product. Plus, it has a user-friendly features for freelances like invoicing and billing.

    Guest (Shenoi)


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