How did you spend your extra hour today?

It feels like a gift from the gods – an extra hour to do with as we will. Even though I know those same gods will grab that time back in the spring, it set me thinking about how I use and manage my time.

Time really is money

Maybe I didn’t fully realise before I started working for myself but time becomes a commodity – it’s what I sell to my clients.

I’ve also realised that to be well-organised (let alone successful), I need to make the best use of my time and account for it properly, but time management is tricky.

Work-life balance?

timeOne of my biggest challenges as a new freelancer is dealing with the different demands on my time, which cuts down on how much I have left to sell.

I don’t charge time spent looking for work, doing the expenses or sending out invoices to the client but they contribute nevertheless to bringing money in. So time is my main overhead too.

I once dreamed of hitting a work-life balance but in reality I have to fit chunks of quality writing time around house-cleaning, ferrying the kids around and cooking dinner. It’s very difficult to separate life and work time, let alone balance them.

Multi-tasking – a myth?

Maybe it’s just because I find it difficult, but I’ve never been convinced by multi-tasking as a time management tool, especially when it comes to a task that needs concentration. I spend too much time, effort and brain power skipping between the tasks and I’m convinced it’s inefficient.

If you can do it, and my wife often proves she can, then good luck to you. But, as I can’t, I try to stick to one task until it’s done, then switching targets.

Distractions – did I leave the iron on?

I was never one for playing background music when I used to do my homework, and working from home, even a home office, requires a huge amount of discipline from me to get on with drafting that web page or blog post and not worry about everyday chores. Maybe I was looking for inspiration but once I even persuaded myself that 9am was a good time to get an apple crumble ready for tea rather than sitting down at the computer and getting an article written.

My solution was to take myself to a neutral environment for a few hours to put down a rough draft; this usually means anywhere in town that sells refillable coffees and offers free wifi; I have loyalty cards for most coffee shops and pubs now. I even find the hustle and bustle of lunchtime trade less distracting than being at home because I’m not usually tempted to help in the kitchens or start wiping down the table tops.

My time management tools

When I worked in a newsroom, deadlines and angry editors managed my time for me. Now, in the world of the freelance, I use these methods to make the most of my time:

  • I split my useful working day (while the kids are at school, usually) into practical blocks of time, long enough to achieve something,
  • I focus on one job at a time,
  • I work wherever the distractions are least.

What did I do with my free hour? I tidied up in the garden. It was a beautiful day and sometimes you really do need to escape the computer.

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