And as we’ve established, often the most straightforward way to do that is to start freelancing in addition to your nine-to-five. Ideally, you can do something you already enjoy—like teaching a fitness class or creating designs—so it feels less like work.
There’s only one problem. Freelancing requires one precious resource that everyone seems to be lacking these days…
Even full-time freelancers have a hard time with time management. But if you’re already working a full-time job, have other activities you enjoy, need time to take care of yourself, and especially if you have a family, finding time to work on a freelance business can seem impossible.
It doesn’t have to be.
I asked a number of successful freelancers how they make time for their work. Read about the strategies and systems they use below, and you can be more productive and earning more money in the coming year.
Unlike money, we can’t make more time, we can only free up the time we have. To find more time, you have two options:
- Identify blocks of uncommitted time in your existing schedule
- Change your schedule to create blocks of uncommitted time
I’m a newbie freelancer myself, and I’ve found that using pockets of empty time during the day has been critical to my ability to get everything done.
Identifying uncommitted time
I know what you’re all saying: “But I don’t have any free time!”
Exactly. None of us do. We’re all busy. Most of us have a nine-to-five that we have to report to. However, this is why you need to use your time wisely by utilizing uncommitted chunks of time scattered throughout your day, instead of, say, surfing YouTube or watching another Family Guy marathon (I’m guilty of both).
For example, I’m a full-time accountant who works five eight-hour days per week, and here are some of the pockets of free time I can identify in my schedule:
- My lunch-hour (Here’s a great article for maximizing your lunch hour.)
- Waiting for meetings/teleconferences/training to start
- While I’m making dinner (I do this often! I prop my laptop on a counter or breakfast bar.)
- Waiting at the doctor/bank/car shop/in line/etc.
- After dinner, on nights I don’t have plans.
As you can see, my “free” time usually includes short periods of time—just five to 30 minutes here or there. The key is using these times instead of wasting them. Rather than mindlessly browsing Facebook; use these times to e-mail a pitch, build on an idea you jotted down earlier that day, or finish a project. You have to stay focused.
Creating free time
What if you can’t think of even one time slot where you could spare a minute for freelance work? It’s time to sacrifice something else.
“I find that I can either stay up late or set my alarm at an ungodly hour to get things done. If I alternate nights of sleep, no-sleep, sleep, no-sleep, I can get by.” – Phil Villarreal, author and freelance writer for The Consumerist
Phil’s quote nails it—as a full-timer and a dad, he is seriously crunched for time. He had to create time slots to make freelance work fit into his life. He wakes early or stays up late. Everybody can do this. At some point, you simply need to decide which is more important: sleep or work.
Related: Beat Your Fear of Failure and the “Not Enough Time” Excuse
This takes sacrifice. That’s the question that you have to ask yourself before you embark on your freelancing journey: are you willing to sacrifice time or other things you enjoy to do work that you love?
If you’re not willing to give-up some shut-eye, here are some other possibilities:
- Outsource chores or other work (hire someone, recruit family members, or swap tasks with others)
- Get organized so your days become more efficient (see below)
- Say “No”; drop activities, groups, and recurring social events that don’t add value to your life
- Clear time sucks from your day like browsing Facebook or watching excessive TV
Although finding decent time blocks you can dedicate to freelancing is important, there are other things you can do to optimize your time management.
“Try creating a freelance schedule to make sure you’re using your time most efficiently. Use an egg timer to help you stay focused.”—Krystal Yee, freelance writer and designer
Disorganization. It’s plaguing our nation. Shows about hoarding are at an all-time high, and for good reason.
Related: Manage Yourself: 10 Ways to Make Yourself Accountable at Work, in Life, and with Money
If you can’t keep your life organized, fitting in freelancing will be difficult. This isn’t an organization or cleaning blog, but I suggest you start by creating a clutter-free workspace. If your life is organized, you’ll be a better freelancer and be able to make more time for your work.
Here are some things you’ll need to keep organized when you start freelancing:
- Administrative items. Keep your hours billed and invoice records in one place. (If you bill more than a couple clients and/or need to track your hours, Freshbooks is a billing app that may help.) Similarly, store tax-related items in one place (you’ll be happy you did this come tax time).
- Contacts. Thanks to today’s tech, this is an easy task. Make Gmail or your smart phone apps work for you.
- Your Work. I like to separate my freelance work by clients. I have a separate folder and notebook for each client. That way I don’t make an embarrassing gaffe like sending a draft to the wrong client.
Change the way you think
“Learn to accept some chaos. Focus on one or two major goals per day. Prioritize. Be gentle with yourself. Oh, and coffee. Lots of coffee.” – Kelly Gurnett, freelance writer for Brazen Careerist
Once you get into the habit of freelancing, you can become even better at this “job” if you change the way you think.
Remember how I mentioned that you can create time in your day for your freelance work? Once you get that habit down, take the idea a bit further. Start living your freelance work.
Let me explain.
A majority of freelancers are doing this kind of work because they enjoy it; often, it’s a hobby that turned into a side business. For this reason, we tend to think about our freelancing more often than our traditional job. This is good; this can help you become a better freelancer.
When I’m starting to write an article, I often start writing it in my head. I usually do this while I’m on the way to work, getting ready in the morning, working out, or doing other thoughtless, mundane tasks. Once I get the idea to paper, I’ve already written the opening paragraph. Things flow much more smoothly after that.
But, this idea isn’t just for writers.
By letting your mind wander and thinking about your freelance work throughout the day, you can become inspired by your daily activities. Keep a notebook handy or use an app like Evernote to record ideas that come to you throughout the day as it relates to your freelance work.
Related: 12 of the Best Apps for Freelancers
Here are some examples:
- Do you do design work on the side? Take pictures or record thoughts for new designs.
- Do you develop apps? Use conversations with your friends for tips on refining or creating your next project.
- Do you coach basketball at night? Use team experiences at work to create team exercises on the court.
Once you get into the habit of regularly thinking about—or “living”—your freelance work, you’ll find you can really be inspired throughout your day. It can jump start your tasks when you get to them that evening (or the next morning, if you’re an early riser).
Think you can’t have a side-hustle because you just don’t have the time?
There’s always a way free up some time, or at least use it wisely to make a little extra money.
Do you work on the side? How do you make time? Share your best tactics in a comment.
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