Time management for the new year

In 2020, there were 64.6 million freelancers working in the United States alone. By 2028, that number is anticipated to grow to 90.1 million. In short, freelancing is becoming a more common way than ever to make a living with freedom and flexibility. The key to a successful (read: lucrative) freelancing career? Effective time management.

Being able to successfully manage your time as a freelancer doesn’t just mean that you’re great at goal setting, however. It also means that you’re logging more billable hours with your clients by keeping track of productive time and reporting that time in a clear, accurate format.

The challenge is that freelancers can often get caught up in unproductive work–whether that’s wasted time on “administrative” tasks (like needlessly checking your inbox), time spent on social media, or inefficient workflows that drain your time and attention away from a truly productive “flow.”

Take a look at our comprehensive list of steps to help you bill more hours in the future – and develop a more successful freelancing career while at it!

9 Steps to Billing More Hours

The key to billing more hours and good time management? Strategy, strategy, strategy.

Here are 9 time-management tips to start applying today to do a better job at managing your time, slaying your tasks, and ultimately, billing more hours with clients.

#1. Track time automatically.

Many freelancers actually miss a lot of billable hours because they fail to use automatic time tracking. Keeping track of time manually will almost always result in an underestimation of billable hours, but automatic time tracking can help solo professionals accurately capture all working hours and minutes with accuracy.

Not only that, but automatic time tracking can help freelancers create more accurate invoices without wasting hours on retroactively checking their work. The end result? More billable hours and time saved on labor and administration.

Timing is an automatic time-tracking platform that automatically tracks all working hours and minutes, no login/logout or manual timers necessary. Timing will not only track hours and minutes; it will accurately categorize those hours and minutes to create an efficient project management tool for freelancers.

At the end of every work day, you can take a look at your Review tab (shown below) to see a) how many hours and minutes you’ve spent on various tasks, projects, and clients, and b) how well you remained on task throughout the day (and when you completed your tasks).

management in practice

Timing automatically generates reports based on time tracking results–creating a convenient, reliable billing system that freelancers can use to report time…and most importantly, get paid (we’ll explain in greater detail in Tip #8).

At Timing, we’re all about excellent time management. We believe that managing your time well doesn’t just start with skill; it starts with implementing the right tools to give you a foundation for success.

#2. Learn to do “deep work.”

Author and professor Cal Newport is the innovator of “deep work”–a theory and strategy behind getting your best work done in a way that’s efficient and productive. According to Newport, “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.”

Newport’s idea for better time management is simple but profound: Rather than getting caught up in intentionally ignoring distractions, simply embrace the opposite. The opposite of being in a distracted state is “deep work,” and in the 21st century, that kind of focus is tantamount to having a superpower.

When it comes to freelancing, of course, deep work can be transformative. By learning to get into a state of deep focus, solopreneurs can achieve their best work in an efficient amount of time–and as a result, produce more billable hours. Click To Tweet

Deep work takes intentionality. Here are tips to getting in the zone:

  • Avoid social media. Let’s be honest: social media is the enemy to good time management. Be willing to shut down your accounts and watch your productivity soar.
  • Practice boredom. Part of the reason that we get distracted is that we refuse to be bored. Embracing silent, distraction-free moments can ultimately help us become better at staying focused at work.
  • Stop switching tasks. One of the keys to deep work is to stay honed in on a single task for a prolonged amount of time. Resist the urge to open new tabs, and stay single-minded on the task at hand.

At the end of the day, mastering deep work isn’t just a matter of being more productive and billing more hours, however. It can also help you achieve a better work-life balance–and even a more fulfilling career.

#3. Eliminate distractions.

Many freelancers work from home, and as a result, can find themselves dealing with a whole host of unique distractions outside of “pings” on their smartphone. Household chores, pets, roommates, and neighborhood noise can all become distractions for the WFH freelancer, posing a significant obstacle to good time management.

To produce more billable hours–and to get in a state of deep work, as described above–freelancers can eliminate distractions using the following strategies:

  • Choose a consistent place to work–preferably as far away from distraction as possible. (Not everyone has a home office but a clean kitchen table and noise-canceling headphones help!)
  • Put your phone on airplane mode while you do your most difficult or challenging work.
  • Block websites or apps that can become “rabbit holes” for you, such as news sites or YouTube (Focus is a great tool for strategically blocking distractions).
  • Take short breaks. Giving your brain short 10-20 minute breaks can actually help you remain more focused for longer periods of time. Instead of looking at your iPhone, however, take a short walk outside or set aside time to stretch.
  • Be vigilant! At the end of the day, staying focused is as much pure discipline as it is strategy. Make a decision not to get distracted and stick to it.

Finally, stay accountable to not getting distracted by checking your time management on Timing. Just as Timing will display your productive hours and minutes, it will also show where you’ve wasted time (i.e., YouTube or Facebook). When you’ve identified specific time sinks, make a plan to eliminate them from the following work day (or workweek). You can even set goals to completely remove those distractions from your work day–creating a work day that’s more efficient and potentially shorter.

If you’d like to read more about how to stay on track while working from home, read our articles on “Using Time-Tracking to Stay Focused at Home” or how to “Boost Your Productivity: Eliminate Time Sinks & Unfinished Projects.

#4. Set priorities.

One overlooked key to better time management is the ability to set priorities.

Too often, we can get swamped with “urgent” but unimportant demands–such as responding to a specific email or making a change to a document. Instead of strategically setting them aside to focus on important tasks first, we allow them to dominate our time usage. By the time we “put out the fires,” we’re left with little time or energy to complete our original goals.

The Eisenhower Matrix is an approach to prioritization that can allow freelancers to divide their tasks into four quadrants: important and urgent tasks; important but non-urgent tasks; unimportant but urgent tasks; and unimportant and non-urgent tasks.

The idea, coined by American President Dwight Eisenhower, is that most people actually get sucked into urgent tasks (described above). By resisting the urge to respond to immediacy rather than importance, we can ultimately accomplish a lot more, and most importantly, do productive work.

For example, when looking at your schedule for the day, you might note the following tasks/projects/responsibilities:

  • Priority #1: Complete Project A for Client X–a high-paying project that needs to be finished ASAP to meet a specific deadline. Requires several hours of “deep work.”
  • Priority #2: Email Client Y about rate increase–a non-urgent but important task; will affect your pay rate next month, so should be completed soon.
  • Priority #3: Organize spreadsheet Z–a nonurgent, unimportant task. Will affect your long-term organization.

Using the Eisenhower approach, you can think through how you want to “divide and conquer” these work tasks throughout the day (in this case, for example, you would focus on Priority #1 first).

By thinking through obligations and responsibilities this way, freelancers can learn to prioritize more strategically–and ultimately, do a better job at billing more hours.

#5. Be strategic about when you check your inbox.

A study published by Forbes made the claim that the average person checks their email inbox 15 times a day. But when that number was reduced to only 3 times a day, the worker experienced reduced levels of stress.

Not only that, but some of the world’s most productive (and successful) people are highly strategic and selective about how they “do” email. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, for example, avoids sending emails so that he can receive less email. And Intuit CEO Brad Smith touches each email “only once” to help him quickly get to inbox zero every day.

The bottom line? Although checking your inbox might feel like an important and productive task, it’s usually just a time-sucker. Successful people know that–and refuse to let their inboxes rob their time from more important tasks.

Here are a few strategies to cut down on checking your email inbox–making more time for deep work and productive, billable hours:

  • Schedule a time to check your email. For example, you may want to check your inbox at the start of your workday, mid-day, and then once more at the close of your day.
  • Close your inbox tab. One simple hack is to keep your inbox tab closed. This helps you focus on the task at hand, rather than the tempting reminder that you may have a new email waiting for you.
  • Respond to emails immediately. Make a practice of quickly responding to emails. You can even keep a list of short formulaic replies to make sending and responding quick and easy.

Finally, you can use Timing to stay accountable to spending minimal time in your inbox. Again, simply check your Review tab at the end of each day to check how many minutes (or hours) you’ve spent in your inbox.

#6. “Swallow a frog” in the morning.

Chances are, most of your working days as a freelancer involve at least one challenging task, whether that’s editing a video, writing a lengthy blog post, or coding a specific feature for a custom app. While it might be tempting to spend your morning tackling easier tasks–like responding to an email or invoicing clients–you’d do better to make the most of your energy by committing to your most difficult task first.

Efficient time management - the reality

Even if you’re not a “morning” person, there are certain common themes that are true for most of us in the AM. Once we’ve snapped out of our “sleepy state,” we tend to have more energy in the morning. We haven’t yet been overwhelmed by so-called decision fatigue, and we’re approaching problems in a fresh mental state.

Finally, the morning tends to be a calmer time of day–both in and out of your workspace–and less likely to throw distractions at you.

The bottom line? By utilizing the morning well, you’re more likely to accomplish productive work–and clock in billable hours.

To check how productive you are in the morning, you can check Timing’s Overview tab to take a look at how active/productive you are in the early hours. You may also want to set calendar reminders to ping you on specific tasks in the AM.

In any case, take a structured approach to getting your best work done first–and you’re likely to complete tasks more quickly.

#7. Delegate or outsource low-value tasks.

As a freelancer, your value as a professional is in your ability to do exactly what you get paid to do, whether that’s to write, edit, design, code, film, or manage.

That being said, don’t allow your working hours and minutes to go to low-value tasks that a) aren’t income-producing and b) are a drain on your energy and effort. That might include managing client communication, managing social media accounts, or basic administrative tasks across different software tools. Instead, consider outsourcing these basic tasks to a virtual assistant (VA) or another freelancer (such as a social media manager).

Ultimately, you’ll save cash by being able to accomplish high-value work…and produce more billable hours.

#8. Automate billing.

Automating administrative processes can also help you save time and reserve energy for more productive work.

Creating a process to automate billing, for example, will save you time and help you get paid accurately and on time. Too often, freelancers try to take control of their own billing processes by manually keeping track of working hours and minutes. The result is usually fewer billable hours, non-specific invoices, and an administrative headache spent trying to piece together a month of work.

By using Timing, you can automate your invoicing by generating detailed reports based on automatic time tracking results. You can group your work by different time frames; choose time-tracking to be detailed and specific or more general; and even export your finished report in a variety of formats (including JPG, PDF, CSV, and more).

Ultimately, using this process to invoice clients not only makes for better time management; it also helps you deliver a better experience for your clients.

#9. Stop procrastinating.

Our final tip? Stop procrastinating.

You might use the right tools, strategies, and systems, but if you never overcome procrastination, you’re never going to be good at time management. As any freelancer knows, the ultimate key to managing your time well is simple: self-discipline.

Here are some mental tactics to avoid procrastination:

  • Don’t feel guilty about procrastinating. A self-defeating attitude is only going to make the problem worse. Simply commit to doing it differently.
  • Reward yourself in small ways for getting tasks done right away. Tell yourself that once you accomplish a task, you can take a short break or buy a cup of coffee.
  • Avoid overbooking. Feeling overwhelmed by a packed schedule can only make it more tempting to procrastinate.

At the end of the day, procrastination is a habit. Eliminate the habit of putting things off, and you won’t even consider it as an option anymore. In turn, you’ll experience a significant increase in productivity, better time management, and even a better work-life balance.

Try Timing for Free

Automatic, accurate time-tracking is a game-changer for freelancers. It removes the burden of recording and reporting your own working hours and minutes, and produces better results for you and your client. Not only that, but it helps you gain clear, valuable insight into your work habits to help you improve time-management skills–and your ability to make a high income.

As explained above, Timing is an automatic time-tracking platform that can help you put these time-management tips to use. To try Timing for free–and to see how it can transform your productivity–click here.