Successful freelancers will have a boatload of commitments with any number of clients, meaning that managing freelance tasks effectively is crucial to both efficiency and focus (and, of course, your profits). However, there’s more to managing freelance tasks than just laying out a calendar and hoping everything falls into place, and ensuring you have the right tools and scheduling skills to hand will go a long way towards your success. Let’s dive into the essential skills for freelancer task management.
So, to help you get a better idea of how to rock the freelance lifestyle, we’ve compiled all the information you need to manage your freelancer tasks efficiently and effectively. Below, we look at why task management is so important, what makes task management tougher for freelancers, how to implement useful scheduling strategies, and some simple ways to improve freelance task management in 2021.
Why is Task Management so Important for Freelancers?
Everyone does some sort of task management every day. Make breakfast, put on clothes, get in the car—these are simple tasks that we deal with without even thinking about them. However, when it comes to managing tasks as a freelancer, things can get a little more complicated.
A freelancer’s whole world is broken down into clients, projects, and tasks, and as you take on more work and bigger projects, effective task management becomes increasingly important. The clients, of which there are (hopefully) many, are completely unaware of the other commitments you might have, resulting in lots of deadlines and requests all coming at the same time.
This process can quickly lead to problems unless you have a few freelance task management best practices in place. In fact, getting organized with your tasks and projects is the first step to focusing, allowing you to compartmentalize the looming deadlines and outstanding emails and focus on the job at hand. Put simply, good task management is what allows freelancers to minimize distractions and deliver high-quality work that meets deadlines.
Strategies for Task Management as a Freelancer
Every freelancer has a task management style that suits them, and there are plenty of frameworks and methodologies to try out until you find the one that’s right for you. Some that you might want to get started with are:
- The SMART methodology — this is based around creating goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
- The Getting Things Done System (GTD) — breaks workflows down into five key stages: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage.
- Zen to Done (ZTD) — partially based on the above GTD system, is broken down into four core elements: Collect, Process, Planning, and Do. However, it is more about building good habits.
How to Improve Task Management as a Freelancer
Regardless of the methodology you use (if any) there are many ways to improve your task management as a freelancer, here are a few that can be worked into your routine in 2021.
Break Down Projects Into Tasks
The first thing to realize is that the project or job you’ve just landed is not the actual task. As a freelancer, you have to break down that project into tasks—small, manageable pieces that you can work through without being overwhelmed. This should ideally be done before you pitch or price a project since it will give a better idea of the time (and cost) of the work.
Whenever you do it, the best way is often using one or more to-do lists, which takes us on to our next important tip on managing freelancer tasks.
Create Prioritized To-do Lists For Freelancer Task Management
To-do lists are as old-school as it gets, and they’re tried and tested for a reason, being one of the most powerful tools in a freelancers task management arsenal. They’ve come a long way from scribbled notes on scraps of paper, however, with the best modern to-do lists living in the cloud, where they can be accessed from any device, anywhere. Digital to-do lists also offer a broad range of features to organize your tasks, such as color-coding, collaboration with team members, and the ability to mix media.
Making to-do lists increases performance, which is important for any project, but has also been shown to reduce the anxiety created from tasks not yet done. According to research, these tasks-in-waiting can distract people from the work at hand. This is especially important for freelancers with multiple clients/projects since there will always be tasks you’re not working on.
That said, a list of everything you need to do for a project isn’t helpful unless you know how to tackle it, which is why you must prioritize. Look at which tasks need to be done first in order to achieve your deadlines and mark these out, then go through to the second most important to do the same, and so on.
Lists help freelancers see what needs to be done, but for the best freelance task management, you should also consider when it needs to be done, according to your prioritization. One idea for your lists is to rank the required energy level on a scale of 1-5, so you’ll be able to decide what’s important based on the energy level you have.
Schedule, Snooze, And Set Reminders
Sitting in front of a whole pile of tasks can be daunting for any freelancer, which is why it is important to schedule a task according to when it is needed, then file it away. Get a robust calendar that integrates to-do lists and tasks, and layout your tasks according to when they need to be done. This tip is important for those working alone, but even more so if you collaborate as part of a team as it keeps everyone on track. Setting start dates and times, as well as individual deadlines, for each task will reduce the likelihood of being distracted or procrastinating and also enable you to effectively balance multiple projects as well as your leisure time.
Take Your Tasks One Step At A Time
With the what and when of a task sorted, it’s time to actually tackle the work. However, most of the time even small tasks can stretch over days, be interrupted, or require input from multiple people. This is why it’s important to track within a task as well, enabling you and any collaborator to know when it has started, underway, and finished.
You can do this within any list, but there are also dedicated task management tools for exactly this. For example, Spike offers tools that will allow you to set tasks as Open, In Progress, Stuck, or Done. Just like lists, this allows you to stay on top of a task even when you have to step away for some time. Marking tasks in this way is especially important when working with others as it keeps everyone on the same page and projects running smoothly. Which brings us on to our next point…
Communication is key for good freelancer task management whether working alone or with other people. If you are collaborating on a task, consider using a real-time chat app, which will help with quick updates and changes to the current work. If more than two people are involved, look at creating virtual groups to collaborate and talk in real-time.
Additionally, freelancers need to find effective ways to communicate with their clients about their tasks. This should start with setting realistic expectations about what you can do, how quickly and at what cost. If a client asks you to get something back to them in a week, but you know it will take a month to do well, then make this clear to them (and yourself!).
While it can be hard to turn down work as a freelancer, clear communication and good task management includes knowing when to say “no”. A clear line of communication throughout the life of a project is also important since it will enable you to bounce individual completed tasks off the client and collaboratively adapt work and deadlines if needed.
Clear communication as a freelancer will also help you avoid ‘scope creep’ where what you originally signed on to do expands ever so slowly without increasing the understanding of what your role is set up to do.
Leverage All The Amazing New Technology
While many of the points above have technology in mind, it should be said explicitly: Freelancers need to explore task management software!
We live in a golden age of task management and productivity technology and almost all of these important task management principles have been folded into powerful software to help freelancers work more efficiently. What’s more, many modern productivity apps have free options, which means that even if you’re just starting out on your freelance career, you can build your task management on a good foundation.
Task management is one (very important) part of being an effective freelancer, but there are plenty of other ways to up your game. Find more on the Spike blog or let us know how you manage your freelance tasks at @SpikeNowHQ.