Freelancing successfully is all about good time management.
We’ve all heard about the many techniques for managing time and improving productivity, whether it’s the Pomodoro method, work sprints, or an endless array of to-do lists. While these may work for some, the only method that actually helps to get stuff done is physically blocking the time for each task on your calendar.
Time blocking works because it creates time in the day for the things that matter. To implement time blocking, all you need is your favorite calendar app and your list of priorities. In as little as an hour a week, you can plan out when you will work on all of your tasks, schedule your downtime, and master your to-do list, all without disrupting your workflow.
What Is Time Blocking?
Time is the great equalizer. No matter the number of clients you have or the number of projects you’re working on, you always have the same number of minutes, seconds, and hours in which to work. Time blocking happens when you schedule your tasks into your available time.
It’s not uncommon to look at your blank calendar and think, “I’ll work on X on Friday, I’ll have lots of time then,” but when Friday comes around your plate is predictably full. Or, you’re asked to take on a new project and when you see that next week is clear, you quickly agree but then find yourself struggling to meet your deadline. Time blocking helps you to “tell time”, in order to better forecast availability, and finish projects in the midst of all of your competing priorities.
When your time is blocked, you may see a full calendar, but it is one that accounts for all of your most important tasks, makes space for downtime, and gets you closer to reaching your goals.
Why Time Blocking Works
There’s a good chance that the majority of your workday is taken up by tasks that don’t get you anywhere. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that 41% of workers’ time was spent on discretionary tasks that were not goal- or project-related.
Why do we spend so much time on tasks that don’t matter? Blame the to-do list.
As freelancers, your success is measured by what you can get done. With multiple projects on the go, your first instinct is likely going to be to write everything down in a list, maybe sort by due date, and work from there. This is where the system breaks down.
Your to-do list doesn’t account for time, nor does it distinguish between tasks that are important and tasks that are simply urgent. Important tasks are those that are essential to finishing a project or completing a goal, whereas urgent tasks are the little fires to put out during the day, that don’t actually bring you any closer to achieving something.
What’s more, to-do lists stress people out! I’m sure everyone has had sleepless nights spent worrying about the sheer length of their task lists. Productivity is achieved when you work deliberately. When your time is blocked and planned in advance, you don’t need to waste time wondering when you’ll get it done. When you take the time to figure out which tasks are most important, you say goodbye to busywork and hello to reaching your goals.
How To Block Your Time
- Figure out your priorities. At the start of the day or the beginning of each week, sit down and write out what you want to accomplish. Rank these priorities from most to least important, taking into account which of these are most time sensitive.
- Block the most important things first. What is your top priority to get done each day? Schedule this item for when you work best, whether that is morning, afternoon or night. Consider your day a success if you are able to complete this one most important task.
- Set timeslots as short as possible to get more done in the day. Now, don’t create more stress for yourself by allowing only 15 minutes for a task that could take upwards of an hour. Difficult tasks that require deep thinking should be blocked for at least an hour.
- Allow yourself to truly focus. During these blocks, shut down your email and put your phone on silent. When working in a task’s scheduled window, work on that item and that item only.
- Schedule everything! Time blocking only works when you account for everything that makes demands on your time. So, make sure to block time for breaks and time off, as well as family time. Set time to check email and attend meetings. Make sure you also set aside time to plan ahead.
- Guard your time fiercely. Eventually, you will learn to become unapologetic about your time. Let your stakeholders know that you care about them and will be available at the end of your next block. Drawing these boundaries can seem difficult at first, but with clear communication your family, friends, AND clients will respect your limits.
Get On The Time Blocking Train
With time blocking, you gain control of your to-do list, meaning you can get more things done in less time. This method allows for deep focus on the task at hand, and you can rest easy knowing that everything you work on is leading to your goals.
So, time to get blocking!
And if you are looking for a good app to use to help you manage your time, Cushion will help you manage your unpredictable freelance schedule and bring a calm to your unsteady income. 14-day free trial and an extra free month for LocalSolo Freelancers!
Courtney Apps is a freelance writer and business blogger based in Vancouver, Canada. She specializes in creating share-worthy content that helps small businesses succeed. Find her on Twitter or LinkedIn!