How to Manage Your Time Effectively as a Creative Freelancer
Let’s face it, many of us creatives suck at managing our time. We hate the idea of being stuck in rigid schedules and the freedom to follow our whims and work when we choose was for many the draw of freelance in the first place.
Well, after two years of fluttering about from one task to the next I’ve come to realize an important lesson.
I NEED STRUCTURE!
Maybe a chaotic non-schedule works for some of you but I suspect for many it doesn’t. It simply leads to plenty of last minute busy periods with lots of anxiety but little productivity.
What is true though is we all work better at different times of the day and in different patterns so please keep in mind the schedules I share are what I have found to work most efficiently for myself after lots of experiments.
Maybe you find your most creative time is between the hours of midnight and 3am or maybe your prefer to rise early and clock off in the afternoon.
You can take the guidelines I share in this post and apply them to your own preferences but the key take away is that you give yourself some boundaries to operate within.
I firmly believe having a structured routine allows for more creative freedom and leads to better work with less stress.
"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work. "– Gustave Flaubert
My Weekly Schedule
Let’s break this down into sections and discuss.
Shooting Days – Wednesdays & Fridays
The first point of resistance I’ll likely meet is “How am I supposed to stick to set shooting days? It’s not like I can make all my clients fit in with my schedule.”
Actually you’ll be surprised how many clients WILL fit in with your schedule and even be grateful for a little less choice but obviously I’m not suggesting you turn down work if not, these days are all interchangeable.
Having said that I’ve found having set days makes me appear more in demand to clients and helps remove any indecision.
The other week I had a client ask me what my availability was like in the last week of April and I answered with Wednesday 27th and Friday 29th. The client then checked with the agent which day their preferred model was available and booked me for the 29th within a few hours of enquiring.
The truth is I actually had all of that week free but had I disclosed that the whole process would have been much less stream lined and it would have diminished my value some what to appear so “available”.
As it was, the client made a quick decision in fear of missing out.
So what do I do on shooting days when I’ve not got a client booked in?
I chose Wednesdays and Fridays for a couple of reasons, but one was these are historically days with plenty of networking events on in my city so I will often book a model last minute to do a quick test for my Touch of Grunge project and then spend the afternoon having coffee meetings or attending events.
Alternatively a shooting day may get booked out as a client work day if I have a project that requires a great deal of post-production like the recent hair campaign I shot for Trevor Sorbie, but this tends to only happen with beauty shoots or productions with lots of video to edit.
Production Days – Mondays, Tuesdays & Thursdays
Morning 3 Hours – Maker/Manager
I’m a big fan of Tim Ferris and view him as my virtual mentor when it comes to matters of productivity so I will be referencing a few of his techniques here, the first of which is his Maker/Manager principle.
What this essentially means is you should complete a creative task first before moving onto anything administrative like emails (which are other peoples agenda for your time).
This is why I structure my 3 hours work in the morning into writing-marketing-emails/admin each getting sequentially less creative.
I commit to one piece of writing every week which cycles between my own Medium publication, The Breed and any lengthy copy that’s required for my marketing materials.
An hour to research the article and brain dump it on Monday, rough draft Tuesday then polish & post on Thursday.
I spend 3 hours per week tending to my outbound marketing by reaching out to perspective clients or referral partners and keeping in regular touch with my contacts. I use what’s called a Value Network List for this, a technique that will be shared in detail in an upcoming podcast episode when I interview Alex Mather’s, it’s creator.
After this I then spend an hour checking my emails and responding to any administrative tasks such as invoicing or chasing payments.
Afternoon 3 Hours – Client Work
This section should be pretty self explanatory, but after a long lunch and a walk in the countryside with my dog, this is when I tackle my client work.
The most common tasks being retouching or editing video but also any extensive pre-production work that’s not covered in the admin hour such as writing treatments and creating mood-boards or shooting schedules.
Evening 2 Hours – Social or Podcast
You might prefer to do this different, but I like to do a couple of 3 hour stints in the day and then make it up to 8 productive hours in the evening.
On Monday’s and Wednesday’s I tend to my social media accounts and on Tuesdays & Thursdays I work on The Breed Chats Podcast which we are planning to take weekly very soon.
Just a note on the social media marketing, this is not the only time I spend on social, simply the time I dedicate to scheduling content and using tools such as Audiense or Iconsquare to measure their performance. I’m actually a strong believer that the best way to use social media is by actually using social media. If you’re only on a platform to market yourself and otherwise would have no interest in being there, it shows!
You’ll notice my schedule didn’t leave much time for shooting personal work expect for the odd shoot day when I’m quiet.
I find the best day to shoot work for myself is Sunday’s when most of my teams are available, which I try to do once per month. Then on the other three Sunday’s I will use for retouching my own work and experimenting with new techniques or learning.
It’s extremely important to keep bettering yourself and improving your skill-set with new knowledge and for me, I’m currently experimenting with moving portraits, something I will share when I have it sussed properly.
There is something else I want you to pay attention to in the schedule above and that is the concept of billable hours.
My business plan is based on 20 billable hours a week which this schedule accommodates. That means 20 hours of my work week are taken up by tasks that have nothing to do with the craft of photography and out of the 20 hours that are, only half of them are likely to involve me holding a camera!
You need to keep this in mind when setting your fees and understand that your day rate isn’t really a day rate but an accumulation of the hours that go into work behind the scenes.
This is something I plan to elaborate on in an upcoming feature that will show you exactly how to work out your minimum hourly rate and then build out your shooting/production fees with this knowledge.