Time to take a page from the book of Balance and look at it in greater detail.
In the last post, I threw out some thoughts on balancing focus and openness in your life. One answer is that it is different for everyone, and even for one person, it changes all the time. Well, that is too vague of an answer for me, so why don’t we talk about time? In particular, how to schedule time.
Time Management for the Self-Employed
“Westall’s [talks] had drawn about him an eager following of the mentally unemployed — those who, as he had once phrased it, liked to have their brain-food cut up for them.”
Edith Wharton, The Reckoning
As a traditionally employed 9-to-5-er, I had no problems scheduling time. I had an external goal set in front of me, an external deadline, and used mostly-external resources to achieve the goal on time. Or at least close enough to escape culpability. My brain-food was indeed cut up for me.
But in the self-employed world now open to me, there is the petrifying case of too much time to spend. As Barry Schwartz argues in The Paradox of Choice ,* there are times when the freedom to do absolutely anything (legal) with your time can paralyze you into doing nothing with it.
So, for everyone who has made the freelancer leap and ended up staring at the wall, their brain exploding in too many directions and unable to take a single step (or some less drastic scenario), here is the process I now use.
Set the Scene
Just like with a budget, put down your most intransigent commitments of time, whether that is taking care of kids, traveling time, weekly meetings, church, whatever makes you YOU and can’t be cut. Try sketching out a week. (For me, this is my part-time job, 20 hours a week.)
Now that you’ve got the scene set for your week’s commitments, make a list of the tasks you’re trying to accomplish. Think big-picture, like “Get new video up on blog” or “Plan next holiday trip” or “Evaluate marketing strategy” — something that will take several steps and leave you feeling like you made some progress toward your life and freelancing goals.
Finally, take an honest look at all those tasks and goals, and prioritize. Do you really need to connect with five new contacts? Do you really need to make reservations for a hotel you’ll visit in 5 months?
Remember to factor in external deadlines here as well. One important outside motivation for me in June was using up a coupon for Amazon’s CreateSpace: I absolutely had to get a full version of my book in before the deadline to get the free proof copies. Therefore, other things could take a back seat for the last few weeks before the deadline.
Play the Game
Now for the fun hands-on part! You’re going to want to break up your tasks into chunks that will fit around your available time slots. So if this is every Monday and Friday morning, great. If it’s the weekends, great. If it’s your weekday lunch hour except Wednesday when you have to listen to your CEO give a pep talk, great (and sorry!).
Approach this like a battle, where you have territories under fire (your time) and your armies that can fight for you (you, completing tasks like a MoFo!). Now get out a piece of paper and draw out all the available time in the next week or two. Make it like a calendar, with days and X’s and open space. Almost ready…
Up to this point, you could have done this by yourself. But here’s where I’ve got some opinions I’m not afraid to share, on what has helped me a lot over the past few months in keeping productivity and morale high around here: keeping faith with The Schedule.
Here’s how I use this process: in preparation, as you’re going through each day, and reflecting on how you did.
Tenets of the Scheduling Faith: In Advance
Think in 2-hour blocks of time. This allows for transitions, focusing, unexpected interruptions, finding flow, what-have-you, without having to completely write off the attempted task.
Assign your armies to the fields of battle with the end of the war in mind. This means sequencing tasks so that when it comes to writing the article, you’ve done your internet research. When it’s time to decide which publishing house to go with, you’ve done the research and interviewed as many people as you need to feel comfortable.
Try to keep some internal balance in each day, so that you have a variety of activities and are using a variety of skills. (Don’t try editing for more than 5 hours.)
Do not exceed 4 tasks per day, Superman. No, really. Trust me on this one.
Tenets of the Scheduling Faith: Each Day
Be patient and kind and encouraging. If something does come up that makes you unable to perform a task, just circle it and draw an arrow to the next open slot. Or juggle a few tasks to make it fit in before a deadline.
Add social outings when needed. At least, this is my approach. Your mileage (or need for these) may vary, especially for any extroverts out there. For me, opportunities arise spontaneously. When they don’t, but I really need to be among friends, I schedule one in as a Mental Health task. Duh!
Tenets of the Scheduling Faith: Check Back
Checking back with your scheduling habits and accuracy can help you to see how you can be a better scheduler of your own time. Some examples:
Right size of tasks. If that 5 hours of editing did you in for the informational interview you were supposed to have on the phone, learn. Two-hour chunks, and schedule the interview when you’re fresh.
Right balance of activities. Did you end up feeling more drained after two social outings than you did after a whole day of writing and editing tasks? Learn to mix them up so that you feel like all the sides of you are getting a workout: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual … and fun!
Remember the accomplishments. In times of stress, we often see what we haven’t managed to achieve yet. This calendar-ing of tasks is basically a visual for checking off tasks on your to-do lists. Now you’ve got a living record of how you function best, and everything you’ve accomplished along the way to the big goal (this will make assembling your presidential library all the more simple).
Once you get the hang of this system, maybe you don’t feel so pressed for time. Maybe you realize you ARE getting s*&t done, and don’t allow the guilt to creep in about not doing ‘enough.’ In that case, throw in Bonus Days!
Vacation. Travel. Dinner Party. Fearlessly mark off the whole day on your personal calendar, knowing that you’re making progress toward your goals each week.
Benefits of the Scheduling Faith
This Scheduling Faith is a habit, and therefore can be hard to get started on. But I’m telling you, it’s got some great benefits:
- I feel proactive/ in control of my time.
- I make progress, and can track it (without Excel!).
- I banish feelings of guilt about ‘not doing enough.’
- I don’t get stuck on one task forever, which my multipotentialite/ scanner nature thanks me for.
- I improve on those areas that I always try to avoid, since objectively stating needed tasks, prioritizing them, and breaking them down into bite-size chunks means that there is NO EXCUSE.
So there you have it: who needs a scheduling system, what my system consists of, how it works for me, and what benefits it could have for you. Any questions? How do you work best? Join the conversation…
*Please note this is an affiliate link to Amazon.com. This means if you click through and purchase something from Amazon, I receive a few cents. Thanks for supporting those pursuing their dreams in any way possible!