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#freelancefreitag: Organisation & Time Management
Hey my dears,
as promised in the latest video on my balcony, here the next #freelancefriday.
Today’s serving: As an entrée some notes on organisation in general, but especially as a freelancer, the main dish being helpful tools and methods that I use to stay organised and to schedule my time, and the desert consists of recommended products and techniques in a nutshell.
So, the entrée
I think we can all agree that in a hectic, busy world, being organised and scheduling your time well, can be of immense advantage, right?
Even more so when you are freelancer and you don’t necessarily have fixed working times and don’t have to be at work from 9 to 5.
What sounds extremely cool and relaxed for some is actually a hard challenge, because no one will be pushing you until the deadlines push, so you have to discipline yourself.
And whoever tried to change their daily routines, be it including more sports or a morning meditation, knows how difficult it can be to establish good habits and moreover: to keep them.
Let me tell you directly: I’m far from being an expert in organisation and especially time management. I’m still struggling, but at least not on a daily basis anymore. But I struggle as much as you do, probably at least, and we’re in this together, so let’s help each other out and share some advice. I go first.
Shift your mindset concerning organisational skills
There are several conceptions about being organised, let’s have a look
a) “I don’t need to be organised, a genius controls the chaos!” – Erm, okay, how long does it take you to find your phone plus cable, your purse, your keys and where exactly do you store the papers you have to fill out and send to administration? ah, understood… (btw the envelopes are in the trolley, second to last drawer, you’re welcome)
b) “I admire people who are so well organised and seem to have their shit together. I feel I can never accomplish that.” – Why do you think that? Have you ever tried? I too admire people who do yoga everyday and who meditate everyday and all these things, but instead of telling myself that I can’t do it, I try to do it as often as possible and the more you practice, the better you get and the easier it gets to implement these habits. So try it, one organised day, the next one a mess, the next one even more mess, the following one merely organised, the next one organised again, just TRY!
c) “I feel like being organised takes away my flexibility and creativity.” – Firstly, the image of the chaotic creative without any plan or organisational skills is long out-dated, let’s not deal with that, okay? I understand the flexibility part, but you know what? You can plan flexibility, too. Say wooooot? Yes, we will come to that when I serve the main dish, stay curious. And btw, being organised doesn’t mean ending up like Kant, who strictly followed a schedule including x minutes for breakfast and y minutes for taking a walk etc. and who’s day schedule looked like a train schedule. (and when do they ever work out, huh?)
Now, take some time to swallow and digest.
Okay, let me present to you: The lovingly composed main dish
Calendars – electronic and old school paperback
Don’t underestimate the advantage and use of the old school tool called calendar.
Many things are out-dated, updated or now replaced by electronic gadgets, but I love having a good old paperback calendar.
And that is for several reasons: Your paperback calendar can’t shut down when the battery is low and doesn’t glitch. Plus, writing with your own hand has an influence on haptic memory, so the likeliness of you remembering your appointments and to-dos increases.
I tend to double back-up, so I use my electronic calendar on my phone (synchronised with my computer) and my paperback version. Especially transferring appointments from one medium to the other is a great way to store it properly in my memory. It’s a bit like writing cheat sheets that you then actually don’t need anymore, cause you wrote it so often that it’s stored in your mind.
To-Do-Lists – electronic and on paper
I know, it sounds like a meticulous method of a pedantic person, and some people say having to-do-lists just puts more pressure on them and there might even be some studies proving that right. (Well, I guess if you search long enough you’ll always find studies proving or destroying your arguments, huh)
But the thing is: When I say to-do-lists, these don’t necessarily have to be lists. Find out what works best for you, whether it’s a cloud with colourful small clouds in it that tell you what needs to be done or whether it’s sticky notes all around your house or reminders in your calendar or other app, to mix some paper with digital options. It’s up to you. I personally like lists, they work best for me and I separate the to-dos according to the branch they fall into, so creative, professional (meaning external job bookings), private, diverse with marked tasks if they have a deadline or a certain time span in which they have to be done.
(to find out more about how I combine to-do-lists and calendar, have a look at my balcony once in a while, I’ll show you there. Bring a hot beverage of your choice and make yourself comfortable.)
Keep it colourful
When it comes to calendars and to-do-lists, I like to keep it colourful, which adds a little more fun to it.
So, creative would have a colour on the to-do-list, which could or could not be the same colour in my paper and electronic calendar.
If you’re a little bit more for recognisability, I recommend you try to use the same colours in every medium. I personally for instance rarely ever use read, because it is the colour of urgency and pressure and correction, you know. (Yes, of love, too, but c’mon, not concerning tasks, not for me) So, I’d even tend to mark things like professional work, external bookings in a soothing colour, to lift up my spirit when I look at the next task that needs to be done.
Play with colour, you’re free. There is no right and wrong. Experiment.
Especially if you belong to category c from the entrée, here’s the thing: To-do-lists and calendars don’t necessarily take away your flexibility.
Being too flexible might even cause you to start off with the tasks you like most, ending up doing the rest in a hurry, because oooooh these deadlines come so surprisingly.
So, let’s say you schedule four tasks, which are not fix appointments:
Working on your website
Cleaning the house
Calling three clients
Preparing a presentation for an event
Now, let’s say you want to keep your weekend free, you have other fix appointments, professional or private, that gives you five days to juggle these tasks around.
Classic would be to divide it into first, second and third priority, but that’s not the focus right now, but of course, please try to fulfil the urgent tasks first. (If your mother in law is going to visit tomorrow, maybe, just maybe it’s a good idea to clean the house today, and with today I mean: Start now!)
Let’s say your original plan was:
Monday – Website
Tuesday – Website and calling clients
Wednesday – Website and Presentation
Thursday – Cleaning the house
Friday – Website and Presentation
Sounds good right? But now you end up being in a more talkative mood on the Monday and you’d prefer to go out and market your business instead of sitting alone in front of your computer all day, working on the website. Guess what, swap the client calling to Monday and if you have no concentration whatsoever, clean the house, too, either while being on the phone or before and after.
If you end up ripping yourself apart because you didn’t follow your original plan and now you have to do a lot of website, website, presentation, website from Wednesday to Friday, it won’t help you at all, and that’s the real blocker and the real pressure point. It’s not the calendar, nor the to-do-list, it’s how you deal with it and your attitude towards it.
One of my favourites! Instead of hating on yourself for not having followed the original plan and now feeling a bit of pressure on how to get the rest fulfilled, let’s breathe for a moment and ask ourselves: How can we get these things done?
Many people “lose” time or use it inefficiently, just by not planning ahead. I hear you..”But planning takes time, too.” Yes, it does, but how much? I plan my days and logical ways for combining tasks while I’m showering, before I go to bed, while I’m drinking my first coffee in the morning.
So, I need to bring letters to the post office, do grocery shopping, call a client, clean the house, call my friend, go to an appointment, write two texts for clients, write my own creative stuff and maybe have some me-time.
Now, before I run from A to B like a headless chicken, feel exhausted at the end of the day and only tick off two tasks, I like to think in advance.
(Plus, I do most of all things by feet and public transport, so some planning serves well, you know.)
So, where’s my appointment? In a part of the city that’s not near supermarkets. Hm, okay, can’t combine these. Oh, but the post office is in walking distance. Note to self: Take letters with you to appointment. Is there a supermarket on my way back? Oh yeah, when I hop off the bus 5 stations earlier there’s a supermarket. Check. Take letters with you, take a bus earlier, go to post office, go to appointment, go to supermarket, take next bus home. (Three things done in one go, beat that!)
[hold my beer] Take letters, take one bus earlier, go to post office, go to appointment, go to supermarket, next bus home, call clients while having a cup of me-time-tea, take 30 minutes for myself after finishing calls, calling friend while cleaning the house. Bam! – drops the mic –
Now I have the next day the perfect setting to focus on writing, because most distractions are eliminated and sitting comfortably in a freshly cleaned environment is a good kick off to be productive. At least for me. I can get up, shower, take some time for myself and then start my day. Didn’t reach one of the clients yesterday? Okay, gonna try today.
This is just a quick n dirty example of how combining tasks can help. It’s not always possible, but it is more often than you think. And I hear you again: “But that sounds like one stressful day that you have to recover from the next.” Well, again, it’s about attitude. I tend to listen to some of my favourite music while running errands, I’m thinking about my creative ideas while walking to the bus or I just observe and take in the beauty of the moment while walking the streets, and knowing how I’m gonna feel after such a productive day makes it worth trying, you know.
Now, for the dessert
Tools, products, apps*
There are some helpful tools and having talked about calendars and to-do-lists a lot now, I’d like to share some products and apps that I use and used or heard of as being good.
My recommendation is that you find out what you prefer. There are a million calendars, journals and products out there.
You can use a classic one like those from Filofax, or if you aim to start your year with more awareness, there are journals and calendars including more of that, on the German market Ein Guter Plan being the one I used for two years.
I personally switched over from classic filofax format to using the inlays from weekview, that fit into my leather filofax. The structure with quarter plans and one week a page plus one page to-do-list for the according week is my preferred choice and works well for me. Plus, I really like that you have a quote for every week.
My normal to-do-lists I just write on a big sheet of paper and I tend to use that as my general to-do-list of all the tasks that have to be done, marking those that have a deadline, and choosing some of them to put them in my filofax for the week I plan to do them.
To get a more detailed insight into how I do that, I invite you to join me on the balcony.
When it comes to apps, I have to say, I’m not that extravagant when it comes to this, I use the normal calendar app and sometimes I’d use To-Do-Lists or Wunderlist.
But I heard from successful project managers and other freelancers involved in several big projects that BusyCal is the go to app that also synchronises on all your devices, because it is more detailed, you can include to-do-lists, type in additional information about meetings and even choose different time zones when you travel. It’s rather expensive, but if your business relies on precise scheduling and recording and tracking, it’s said to be one of the best options.
So, my dears, I hope today’s menu was to your taste.
If you have any remarks for the cook, feel free to use the comment section, email or DM.
Do you have any recommendations on tools, methods, products, apps that help you to stay organised and manage your time well?
For a little nibbling after you digested everything: There will be a snack on the balcony. 😉
So long, my dears.
*none of these links are affiliated links, I don’t receive any money or other compensation for sharing these