As a creative freelancer, you’ll usually find yourself working with more than one client at a time. Successfully juggling simultaneous jobs requires a system that can handle all aspects of project management without slowing you down. If you routinely find yourself sliding down the rabbit hole of lost time and slowed productivity, try these project management best practices to get yourself back on track.
Start Managing Your Time
Freelancing has a way of taking over your life, so the first thing you should do when approaching project management is set aside a daily block of time every day as working hours and stick to it. Whether it’s in the morning when you’re fresh or at night when the kids are in bed, make these the only hours you dedicate to freelance projects. Making yourself available all the time and letting work creep into your personal life leads to burnout that can be difficult to recover from. Include regular breaks during work time so that you can disconnect, recharge and return to your work with a fresh perspective.
Find the Right Apps
Thanks to cloud technology, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of apps available to handle every facet of creative freelancing. It doesn’t take long to find a range of options if you browse Google for:
- Time management
- Content management
- Customer relationship management
- File storage, organization and sharing
The majority of apps include multi-platform interfaces so that you can take your work with you and update from anywhere. You should be able to find free trials of most, if not all, of the apps you come across. Try out various offerings until you find what caters to your personal creative flow. Avoid apps that come stuffed with features that you don’t need, since having an excess of options can slow you down just as much as not having enough.
Apps are meant to increase productivity, but if you get too many, you can find yourself having to bounce from one program to another to locate the information you need for your projects. Apps that integrate into complete systems prevent this problem by allowing you to manage projects from start to finish through a single interface or dashboard. After one initial entry, data is instantly available in every app you’re using. This allows you to move smoothly from one job to the next without sacrificing precious paid time or getting hung up wondering what task to handle next.
Collaborate When Necessary
Part of being a freelancer is acknowledging when you’re not the best person for a job. Should you run into trouble with a project, it’s better to ask for help from someone with more advanced skills than to waste hours trying to muddle through on your own. Get in touch with experienced colleagues, team up and use the collaborative tools provided by your suite of apps to keep each other updated in real time.
Outsourcing other tasks, such as bookkeeping and taxes, is also helpful when you’re trying to focus on multiple projects at once. If your budget allows, consider hiring someone else to handle any part of your freelance business that takes up time that could be better spent focusing on your clients.
Have a Working System
The point of integrating apps, learning to collaborate and having others handle distracting detail work is to build the most efficient system possible. No two freelancers are alike, so don’t be afraid to play around with your system a bit until you find a workable solution that suits you. Whether that means using sticky notes in addition to your apps or working at the local coffee shop instead of in an office, you need an approach that keeps you focused every day.
Talking to clients in person means time lost driving to and from meeting places. Using the phone can be just as problematic if a needy client monopolizes your time. Keep communication strictly to email, however, and you’re in control of when you answer and how much time you spend on each reply. Clients will stop expecting immediate responses, and you’ll be able to work with fewer chances of interruption.
Know When to Say No
The word “no” is just as essential to your project management toolkit as your favorite apps. It helps you set clear expectations and boundaries with clients and prevents you from taking on too much work. Productivity suffers when clients spring last-minute changes on you that weren’t in the original project description. Set the scope of each job from the start, and you’ll be able to say “no” if a client tries to extend the work beyond what is reasonable. There’s also nothing wrong with refusing a job when you have more than enough to do, because even the best time and project management strategies can’t help you when you try to do more than is humanly possible.
Freelancing can be a tough gig, but with the right tips and tools, you can master the processes necessary to achieve success with every project. Play around with apps and systems until you find what works for you. Sticking with the best methods reduces stress, increases efficiency and helps you move easily from one paying job to another to make every day as productive as possible.