Freelancing and time management


This is a guest post from Chris Brown. Chris is a freelance publishing professional with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. Chris has worked on a variety of print and digital products at all stages of the publishing process from commissioning through to development editorial and production. He is also an Associate of Just Content.

If you’ve been a publishing freelancer you’ll identify with the tumbleweed times where nobody is calling or emailing, and the hectic busy times when three project deadlines converge at the same time and force you to work evenings and weekends until the work is done. Neither of these situations is ideal!

For all of the other benefits that come with it, my choice to work freelance was only made on the grounds of being a viable way of making a living. With hard work I’ve been able to make it sustainable, indeed successful. I have the usual financial commitments: A mortgage to cover, utility bills. I’m a husband and father. I need to try my best to earn enough money to cover the bills just like us all. But once you have found a way to make money from freelancing, there always still remains the issue of not becoming a slave to it; always waiting on your contacts to let you know project schedules, putting off holidays because you don’t want to turn down work, or working antisocial hours because you are not sure when the next job might come along.

When I first began as a freelancer I had a tendency to be so grateful for finding the work that I would never stop to question the schedule or the deadline. I would take on the project and run with it until it was done and only then worry about what came next, a hand to mouth existence. The new career path I had taken was a novelty and I felt proud to have enough of a reputation that people wanted to work with me. Ad hoc freelancing can work well, but over time more often than not, you will pay the price in your own personal life for not asserting control over your own schedule and availability.

So what can you do to try to achieve a balanced and sustainable workload?

In no particular order, here are some things I do, in an attempt to manage my time as a freelancer:

• Ask for a schedule or a deadline up front. It is easy to just say yes to a job and ask questions later, but at the very least try and get a rough deadline.
• Quantify the job. This is often tricky, as the in-house person contacting you could well be bringing you in because they are too busy to even think about the work. However you need to know how many estimated days or hours the piece of work might take – otherwise how do you know you will be able to take it on?
• Keep a schedule/plan of your own workload. To my shame I’ve only started to do this recently myself but it pays off. Have a document of some kind that lists the work you have on now and what is on the horizon. Update it often. In my experience the jobs that come along can vary from 3 days of proofreading to 8 months of project management so always look at new work in terms of the bigger picture of what else you have on your plate.
• Ring fence holidays. I’ve always struggled with this one. How can I book a holiday 6 months away when I don’t know what project I might be doing at the time? What if I have a deadline that clashes with my holiday? We all need time off. Book that holiday, and always tell your contacts when you are away. Set up an Out of Office on your email. Why should a freelancer be any different to anyone else when it comes to time off? Your clients will understand.
• Be adaptable. Adaptability it the key to freelance work in general. Change and variety is part of freelancing. It is part of what keeps it interesting too! Even now I can go into a week thinking I have one set of tasks, then by the end of it, a client’s schedules have slipped, another job has come along and I’ve switched up my days to cover accordingly.
• Push back. If a deadline does not work for you, suggest an alternative time frame that does. You will be surprised how amenable the client can be; after all they need your help to manage their in-house workloads too.

In summary I wish I could be telling you that if you follow the above steps then you will be able to become the boss of your freelance diary. I’m afraid this is not the case. Time management still eludes me after years in the business, but I’m getting better at it, and you can too. I’ve worked in-house in my career and gone to managers when I felt overwhelmed, to hand off projects. However it was those same managers that also told me what projects I could and couldn’t work on in the first place. Time management might be difficult, but the beauty of freelancing is that you take back the power to choose what you do for work, and in my book feeling empowered in your profession is worth the extra effort.

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