My friend Tom called me to have lunch and catch up. As I always mention, spending some time out of your home office and catching up with other freelancers is a must.
I arrived a few minutes later and Tom was already sitting at a table waiting for me. I didn’t even finish saying “hey, how are you?” when he interrupted me and said “how do you manage to keep up with everything, I mean EVERYTHING?”. After a long 1 hour and 45 minutes I realized that time management was affecting him; such a huge part of being a successful freelancer.
After about 3 years of working from home Tom was all over the place. He had a decent number of projects on his plate, but not that many to be absolutely worn out. I don’t think that was the problem. I´d say he has enough to stay busy and at the same time comply with deadlines and make enough money, but not THAT many to be exhausted.
After looking at his calendar all I saw was one meeting after another, visiting different clients and spending so much time commuting. During day time he was completely over booked which forced him to work at night. At the same time this made him oversleep every morning. He is skipping meals and sometimes only eats dinner; not to mention the fact that he abandoned all his personal activities like going to the gym, which makes him feels absolutely out of shape (apparently he gained 20 pounds). You could tell how overwhelmed and worried he was and to top it off his wife was telling him to spend time with the kids and go back to working an 8 hour shift at an office.
To my understanding, the list of problems Tom mentioned was summed up in two main things: lack of time management and learning how to prioritize his responsibilities. We started talking about his clients’ meetings and what the outcome is. Only in a couple of cases I noticed a true meaning in visiting the client and having a face to face conversation. But for the rest of the cases, the reality was that he could have Skype conversations. This way he’d avoid all the hassle of driving to the office, hoping the client was punctual, later driving back home or to the following meeting he had scheduled, which by the way could be on the opposite side of the city. Truth be told, commuting is one of the main reasons why many of us chose to be freelancers, how on earth do you not take advantage of that? That change brings on so many advantages and the rest begins to unravel on its own.
I also told him that assigning meetings only on specific days of the week has helped me a lot. For example I book all meetings on Monday, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. That means that for sure two days of the week, I could concentrate on getting work done and not being interrupted by anything else. Also, I try to group all meetings during the morning or afternoon. Basically, following the same criteria and looking for the same objective, I dedicate as many hours in a row to get work done and not interrupting it.
Another suggestion is to force yourself to work a certain shift and unless an aggressive deadline is requiring it, try to stick to those working hours. When freelancing it’s easy to fall in the habit of working extensive, long hours and never reaching the stopping point.
Also, writing a to-do-list to organize your day is very useful. Once you are finished for the day you can go through your list and cross out what you’ve done. This gives you a sense of accomplishment and also gives you an idea of what has to be done the following day.
With those small changes, I think Tom will notice a great impact in his daily routine. How do you manage to free up some time? How do you fit everything in your agenda?