Scheduling Reality Into Your Life

One of the hardest bits about freelancing is time management. I make an attempt, every so often, to grab hold of my days and organize them into sanity; these attempts always fall by the wayside in short order, as Life interferes with my best-laid plans.

I asked my husband how he does it; as a senior designer, he has mastered the art of scheduling projects for not only himself but other people as well.

His answer? Be realistic. Build in time for going to the bathroom, for answering the phone, for other people you’re depending on to be screwing off for hours out of the day instead of working. Build in coffee breaks and smoke breaks, build in time for the computer to crash, for email not to work, for you to have a personal emergency that throws everything off track. Take all that, add in the time actually working on your project, and throw another ten to twenty percent on top of that.

I thought that sounded good. When I sat down to figure out the time it would take me to write a newsletter today, I started out with the base time of an hour to do the writing, research, and organization. Add in this ‘n that time, it ups to an hour and a half; add in another twenty percent for wupsies and I’m at almost two hours. Sounds like a lot for a very small task, but the trick is that if this newsletter actually takes me forty minutes, I’ve given myself “bonus time” for other tasks due today. So I’ll wind up the day feeling ultra productive and smart, instead of desperately behind and aggravated. It’s all a matter of perception.

Give it a try right now; pick two (small to medium-sized) projects you want to get done today, and estimate how long they will take. Schedule an absolute time for each task to begin (I started this newsletter at 1 pm) and an absolute time by which you either have to be finished (I have to be done by 3 pm) or you have to move on to the next task. Schedule “overrun time”, in case it turns out that you underestimated the required time. Assemble all things needed to accomplish each task. Then begin on time (not early, and certainly not late!) — if Life knocks your plans off course, reschedule the same way. One warning — make sure that any detours involve blood & guts, not your teenager telling you he needs a ride to the mall. Once an item is on your Official Schedule, expect everyone and their brother to interrupt with a demand for that exact time slot. (It’s practically a cosmic law). Turn off the phone, don’t answer the door, retreat somewhere with a (lockable) door if at all possible.

Just one run-through will very probably give you a whole new perspective on where your time needs to go. I hope you’ll send me a note with your feedback on how this exercise worked for you; I’d very much like to know!

As a side note: the newsletter I mentioned wound up taking me about an hour and a half between start and send, so the estimate wasn’t all that far off after all.

Oh! I just realized I left out one of the most important scheduling tools I use; a free program called Eyes Relax. You can download it here: I have removed the recommendation and link because the web site for this program appears to have been hacked and has not yet been fixed. I’d rather not send people into virus-land. However, if and when it ever sorts itself out, I still think it’s a great program. I’ll keep an eye on it and update here when it is fixed. :(

This program allows you to set your work time, break time, and a number of other options; it’s a great way to force yourself to walk away for a few minutes. I use it every time I have a Big Project going, and it’s never caused me any trouble on the tech side of things.



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