One of the most visible aspects of the changing job landscape is the rise of the gig economy. Whether it’s by choice or necessity, more and more of us are working as freelancers — sometimes juggling multiple jobs at the same time. According to a 2016 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, approximately 162 million workers — or around or 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population — in the United States and Western Europe work as independent contractors.
Regardless of whether or not we’re freelancers, time management is something we all have to master in order to thrive. But it’s an especially important part of being an independent contractor. We asked the freelancers in the Thrive Community for their best time-management tips. They had some great strategies. Here are some of our favorites:
Find your rhythm
“Do your most important work at your optimal time of the day or night based on your circadian rhythm — if possible.”
—David B. Grinberg, strategic communications consultant, Washington, D.C.
Get good at scheduling
“I am an independent HR consultant and time can slip away so easily! I use Toggl to track my time and I get creative with my calendar. I book out slots when I’m most productive to work on time and energy intensive projects, I keep that time free of meetings so I can be my most productive. I then schedule in segments throughout my day when I’m ‘free’ and schedule meetings in the afternoon. When I create boundaries around my own time, I can better manage the expectations of others!”
—Tash Pieterse, HR consultant and life & mindset coach, Auckland, New Zealand
Schedule walking meetings
“I go for walking meetings. As a CEO, this is a great time management strategy for me and my team members. We will walk around our office building five to six times and bring along our meeting notes to quickly cover as we walk and talk. Walking meetings help keep meetings short and organized and increase productivity since they get steps in and creative juices flowing. By the time we get back from our six laps, we’re refreshed and ready to sit down and get to work. Usually, we work on the items we discussed during that walking meeting!”
—Deborah Sweeney, CEO, Calabasas, CA
“I have now been maintaining two weekly task lists: one for official work and the other for personal. Being a mom to a 6-year-old, these task lists do help a lot by keeping me on track as to where I am in both my lives. I keep this list right on my desk so I am reminded of tasks to finish and when to make a new one. Thanks to my corporate experience, maintaining a log like this sorts me completely. Go on, pen it down! It helps.”
—Aakriti Agarwal, coach, facilitator & image consultant, Hyderabad, India
Maximize your energy
“As a freelancer, the best time strategies I use are: 1) working in sprints — usually no longer than two hours at a time; and 2) getting into energetic alignment before starting any activity.
Working in sprints optimizes my creative energies and helps to avoid content fatigue. Taking breaks is an essential part of refreshing my perspective and reigniting my enthusiasm. Getting into alignment before starting any task helps me focus my intentions and facilitates a better connection to my inspiration. These two strategies add to my productivity and quality of work.”
—Michael Thomas Sunnarborg, career coach and author, Minneapolis, MN
“With a passion for my own leadership growth and the leadership growth of those around me, I have long committed to embracing Adam Grant’s people-centric approach to being prolific. The idea that attention management, as opposed to time management, allows an organic flow into a productive and creative state additionally brings into focus the people, projects and the sequence in which to prioritize what we value most. For me personally, this approach not only gives me more control over how I plan my work, hence producing higher quality deliverables, the outcome of this method consistently pays dividends.”
—Ana-Maria Visoiu, international program manager, New York, NY
Focus on your purpose
“One of my biggest challenges is overwhelm, when too many things are coming at me at once. That’s the nature of the beast when you are a freelancer/consultant — it’s feast or famine, and when it’s feast, you have to figure out a way to make it work! In addition to keeping a detailed to-do list, I ask myself this at the beginning of each work day: ‘What is my purpose today?’ There might be a jillion work-related things to do this week, but maybe today my purpose is to deliver that research project, finish the first draft of that grant proposal, focus on my social media presence, or make connections at that networking lunch. If I ask myself what the priority is, the answer is often ‘They are all priorities!’ But if I ask myself what my purpose is today, it helps me clear the mental clutter and get things done with a sense of purpose.
—Lauren Brownstein, fundraising consultant, Silver Spring, MD
Use an actual physical planner
“My best friend bought me a planner for Christmas and it changed the way I manage my days. Planners aren’t a new organizational tool or a modern phenomenon. I’ve used planners since the ‘90s and scribbled random to-dos with no structure or strategy. I used to be overwhelmed and would never look back at the intimidating lists. It wasn’t until January of this year that I decided to try a different approach that increased momentum. I committed to only planning 24-hours ahead. My priority is to show up and be my personal best each day. So, before bed each night, I jot down three (maximum three!) goals for the following day. But here’s the vital truth: There’s a lot more than three tasks to complete every day. But, by starting with three goals, I can celebrate this mini-list of accomplishments which elevates my mood and increases confidence.
—Natasha Nichole Lake, business plan designer, Las Vegas, NV
“Shape a flexible work day. As a writer on global topics, interviewing global scientists, I reset my work day (and my biological clock) for the hours of the native country. I arranged my day job to give me three mid-week days off. My favorite workday is England/Africa. The back-and-forth emailing starts at about 10 p.m. I calculate that everyone glances over email a couple of hours before work and I shoot for the top of their inbox. The less attached I am to a ‘regular schedule,’ the easier my work days become. Australia is a tough one, though. The day itself is fine — it goes from about 3 p.m. to midnight. But when speaking of deadlines and scheduling out timelines, I always have to remember they are in ‘tomorrow.’”
—Marianne Messina, tech writer, New England
Figure out when you are most productive
“I found I’m actually most creative and productive between 6 and 10 a.m., I have a 3 p.m. slump in motivation. And I’m better at administrative work in the evenings with some diverting television in the background. Knowing my productivity rhythms helped me to remap my day. Now I wake up at 5:30 a.m. to meditate and journal, write, create, and prospect till 10. Then I take a brain break work out before lunch. I schedule client meetings for the afternoon when I need a boost. And I leave my expenses, calendaring, etc. till after dinner when I can listen to Alex Trebek and prove to my husband how smart I am while watching ‘Jeopardy’ and balancing my accounts.”
—Jen Thurman, executive coach & speaker, Denver, CO
Have short- and long-term plans
“We can’t manage time — we can only manage ourselves against time. That and what we choose to do with it. It helps to have a plan — for the day, the week, the month, the year and maybe the next five years. It tells us where we want to go and what we need to be doing to get there.”
—Bill Ryan, consulting partner, Charlotte, NC