1. Decide what’s most important to you each day.
Setting aside some time for you?
Try to narrow your day down to a few important tasks. After those tasks have been completed you can then move on to less pressing things.
Remember to think about the day in terms of your whole life—family, friends, you, work, etc. I’d advise keeping one planner or organizer for everything so you’re sure not to miss anything important. Deciding what’s most important every day helps you to gain focus and to tackle the most important tasks.
There are plenty of things I put on my “To Do” lists that really don’t need to done immediately. Of course these shouldn’t be ignored, but make sure you do the most important things first.
And, in order to do them first, you have to know what they are so take some time—just a few minutes out of your hectic schedule—to identify what really matters today.
2. Try to keep everything very, very organized.
Now, this is advice coming from someone who loves being organized.
To me, organization is effortless because I’ve been doing it all my life. In fact, when I’m not organized I feel panicked and unsettled (yup, that’s the perfectionist in me coming out!). As much as I adore organization, I understand it doesn’t come easily to everyone (or almost anyone I know!).
For some people it seems like it’s the absolute hardest thing in the world, but believe me, it’s worth the effort.
Think about how much time you’ll save if you know exactly where everything is.
As a basic principle, everything in your home and in your workspace should have a place and you should do your best to always keep something in its place (yes, this is much more difficult when you are living with other people and/or have children, but do the best you can).
When you know where things are, when you can actually see your desk or your bedroom floor, you’ll feel a lot better about everything.
Organization cuts way down on stress because you know where to find things and you don’t have that frazzled, where-are-my-keys feeling. There are tons of great resources online for organization and I highly suggest you check ’em out if you’re having trouble in this department.
3. Delegate as many tasks as possible to others.
I am a terrible delegator. If I have to get something done—whether for work, for a party, for a friend or family member, etc.—I want to do it.
I feel if I give someone else a task I need to do it won’t be done the way I want it to be done so I have a hard time delegating.
But delegating can be an absolute lifesaver when you’re dealing with an overwhelming, action-packed life. Think about all of the tasks you do every day (write ’em down if you have to) and then consider who would be able to do these for you.
Could your kids pick up some of your slack when it comes to cleaning the house?
Could you afford to hire a housekeeper if it’ll keep you saner?
Can you ask your spouse to take care of something that you usually handle?
Are there people in your network always asking to help but whom you always turn down? Whatever you do, don’t turn down help unless you really, really need to do a task yourself.
Don’t feel guilty if you can’t do it all yourself either.
Almost everyone who’s working (and especially those freelancing!) has a million things going on and can’t do everything all the time.
Look around—I bet you there are a lot of people who would be willing to help you out if you just let go of control a bit and realized that delegating doesn’t mean you’re not doing a job well.
4. Give yourself mini-breaks whenever you can.
No matter what your job is or what’s going on in your life, you deserve a break. We all deserve to have a break every once and awhile.
Ideally I would suggest taking a vacation from everything—work, family, friends, etc.—and spending a nice long time relaxing solo.
However, this is probably isn’t possible for most people (especially if you are working as a solo freelancer), but there are alternatives—”mini-breaks,” if you will. What is a mini-break, you ask? Well, a mini-break can be anything you want it to be!
That’s the beauty of it!
A mini-break can be a walk around the block at lunch, a day off of work (kid-free), a night out on the town, or an afternoon spent outdoors.
A mini-break can be a spa day, a weekend getaway, or a stop on the way home for a much-deserved snack.
A mini-break can be a quiet night alone, a small party with friends, or a morning sleeping in. A mini-break can be whatever you want it to be—but whatever it is it must be a break.
You need to take a step out of your routine and relax for a bit. It may seem like, with a million things going on, you really can’t afford to spend time being unproductive, but when you take time to relax and refresh yourself you’ll be a much better friend, family member, and significant other—and you’ll be more productive when working.
5. Make every moment of the day count.
When we’re dealing with a day, we’re dealing with a mere twenty-four hours. And, if you’re anything like me, you like to spend a lot of those hours sleeping, which leaves us with not all that much to work with. Which is why it’s so, so important to make every moment count.
For example, let’s say you have to close your office door in order to work and don’t get to spend as much time with your children as you would like.
At the end of a long day, you only have time to read them a story and tuck them in before you crawl into bed yourself. Sure, that’s not ideal, but you can make the best of it. If you only have an hour or two with them, make that the best hour.
Do your best to put your other responsibilities and tasks aside for that period of time and focus on spending time with them. The same goes for your work.
When you’re working, focus on the task at hand. Give yourself a specific amount of time to work on a project and devote all of your attention to it, pushing from your mind whatever personal issues you might currently be dealing with.
We can’t be everywhere at once, so focus on being where you are right now. When possible, isolate yourself in a space that allows you to focus on the present moment—work in your office, spend time with your children in their playroom, eat dinner in the dining room.
Having set areas for specific tasks will help you stay focused.
6. Negotiate your workload.
A lot of places seem to becoming more and more flexible with the way work is conducted. Because of this wonderful invention we call the Internet, people can work from home or on the road or in a different country, which can be a good and a bad thing.
Your clients might find lots of ways to be involved in your process without the limitations of being in their own office. But it’s up to you to manage expectations.
When you begin a project, clearly state when you will be available and when you will not.
Also set reasonable expectations as to when the project will be completed—and don’t be afraid to ask for more time if you think it will take you longer than they would like.
You want to do the best work possible, and you should make that clear to your client. In addition, try negotiating household chores, tasks, and duties with the members of your household. Can your roommates or significant other take on a bit more of the work?
Can you figure out something that you could offer in return for more of the chores being done by someone else (for example, a raise in allowance for a kid who makes sure the house is tidy)?
A word of advice: be prepared.
If you go to your client or roommate/significant other with a negotiation, make sure you have solid support for your suggestion. Providing reasons for why you need more time or help will help you get what you want—and ultimately make for better work on your part.
7. Don’t put off things you can get done today.
If you can do something right now, do it. Usually things we put off are things we can get done right now. Don’t put something off until tomorrow because you “don’t feel like doing it.”
Not feeling like it is not an excuse. Some things can’t be done today (such as those that require input from another person or appointments that can only be scheduled on a specific date), but a lot of the tasks we face on a daily basis can be done today and should be done today.
Whenever it’s possible, I do my best to finish a task by the end of the day so I can start new tasks the next day.
The same goes for personal situations and relationships. If you want to have connections with others, you have to put in the work.
Don’t put off sending an email or calling a friend. Don’t cancel plans if you can help it. If you aren’t terribly ill or completely worn out, make sure you use the time you have after finishing your work for the day to be productive with life activities. Spend time with friends.
Snuggle with a family member. Call up your parents just to chat. Unless it’s literally impossible to do it today, don’t say, “Oh, yeah, I’ll get to that tomorrow…”
8. Allow yourself the freedom to say “no.”
While I personally need to work on saying “yes” more often, I think a lot of people have trouble saying “no.” When a friend or family member asks you for a favor it can be really hard to say “no.”
When a client asks if you can take on another project it can be even harder to say “no.”
But it’s okay. It’s okay to tell others that you can’t take on anything else. It’s okay to admit that adding one more thing to your workload is going to send the quality of your work (and your sanity) down the drain.
Personally I’d much rather someone say “no” to a request of mine than have my request bring added stress and unhappiness to his/her life, and I’m sure you feel the same (and keep this in mind when someone says “no” to you and you don’t understand why).
It’s not easy to admit that we can’t do something (especially when we want to), but if you become the “yes” guy or girl people will always come to you with requests and then you will completely overwhelmed and, eventually, you won’t be able to handle the pressure.
It’s much better to say “no” every once and a while and keep yourself balanced than it is to say “yes” to everything and feel like you never have time to relax. When you receive a request, seriously consider if you can do it. If you can’t, be nice, be honest, and just say “no!”
As I mentioned above, it’s not always possible to have a perfect balance. Sometimes work is going to be a priority.
Sometimes family and friends will come first. It’s not easy to balance it all—especially when you’re working as a freelancer.
However, it is possible to have some amount of balance in your life—and a great deal of that depends on you.
You must set expectations and manage not only your clients, but your friends and family as well.
As difficult as it can be at times to keep everything in perspective and balance work and life, it’s possible do so and, with the help of the eight steps listed here, I know you can do it!