Tips for Staying on Track as a Freelancer

Ah, the freelance life—you get to set your own schedule, work in yoga pants (ok, who am I kidding? Pajamas is probably more truthful) and sneak out early on Fridays to catch happy hour—but I’d be lying if I said freelancing doesn’t also have its setbacks. One major one? When you work for a ton of different clients, staying on track can be tough. With last-minute fires to put out, daily deadlines to meet and 27 different projects underway all at once, organization and proactivity is the key to staying focused (and sane) when you’re living that #freelancelife. Today, then, I’m breaking down my top tips for staying on track as a freelancer.

1. Dedicate certain days to specific clients.

When you have clients on retainer or clients you work for regularly, your to-do list for them can be never-ending. In other words, there will always be something to do, and it’s easy to let those ongoing tasks overshadow others. 

One of my roles is as the associate editor for a wedding-planning blog, where I’m responsible for publishing one article every weekday. It’s so important that I compartmentalize my work for this client into a single day of the week—otherwise, I could easily end up writing articles for them every working hour of every day.

Every Monday, I sit down and write out at least two weeks’ worth of content for that client. If new article ideas come to me on a day that isn’t that client’s dedicated day, I make note to circle back around to it on Monday. Compartmentalizing your work for certain clients into days is such an important thing to do as a freelancer—otherwise, you’ll find yourself jumping from client to client every single day, and wasting time as your mind works to transition between projects.

2. Minimize distractions to maximize time.

One of the biggest productivity killers as a freelancer is our tendency to “ping-pong” from project to project. We sit down with the best intentions to focus solely on a single project that’s on deadline, but then we get a call from another client who needs our help, and then an email from another, and then a Facebook notification from the business page we manage….and suddenly it’s 4 p.m. and we’ve spent our day tackling one-off tasks instead of honing in on the project we intended to get done. It’s proven (as in scientifically people in lab coats, I’m pretty sure) that our brains take time to transition from task to task—which means “ping-ponging” like this (aka playing mental whack-a-mole with every client request that pops up) wastes time as our brain works to transition from one project to a completely different one.

After six years of freelancing, I’ve learned to remind myself that the sky is not falling (I literally have a note tacked to my office wall that says that).

A client won’t die if you don’t respond to her email or call right away, and the Facebook notification can wait. I make it a point to turn my phone on silent and place it face down on my desk when I begin a writing project. I also close out all of my other browser tabs and maximize my browser itself, so that the document I’m working on visually takes up my entire screen (that way I’m not distracted my random folders or icons on my desktop that remind me of everything else I have to get done). I force myself to wait for my lunch break to go back through my email inbox and check my phone.

3. Use project management tools to stay organized.

With so many great project management tools out there, staying organized as a freelancer has never been easier. As a writer, I love Basecamp—as it allows me to plan out editorial calendars easily. I can attach photos, notes and Google Docs to each “task” (aka article) I create in Basecamp. I also really love Trello and Asana as well. The key to a great project management platform is to ensure you choose one that allows you to attach documents and comment on individual tasks, one that allows you to set due dates (and that will send you reminders if you’d like as those dates approach) and one that visually resonates with the way your brain operates. I’ve tried a few that, for whatever reason, just don’t work well for me because I find the aesthetic distracting or the user experience not so intuitive.

Overall, staying on track as a freelancer can be tough (as in, really tough). But it’s totally possible with a little organization, discipline (close out those browser tabs, people!) and the use of smart, strategic project management platforms.