5 project management tips for freelancers

August 5th, 2015

I remember times in my career as a freelancer where project management wasn’t even on my radar because I had no projects that needed to be managed. In the biz we call that being in the famine part of the feast or famine cycle.

Then I remember a particular time in my career where I had so much on my plate, and had no system in place to keep things organized, that I missed deadlines, straight up forget about entire projects, and damaged relationships with clients who sent me regular work.

That was one of the most stressful times of being a freelancer. When I finally made it out of that seemingly never ending tunnel of work I vowed to never find myself in that position again.

We all need a system in place to manage our work so we don’t lose our minds

In my 7+ years of being a freelancer here are the 5 tips I have for you when it comes to project management:

1. Deciding on a system NOT an app

When it comes to project management there is certainly no shortage of apps and services out there. Roughly all of them offer their unique spin on project management in order to separate them from the pack. I have spent years bouncing between different services and apps trying to find that perfect fit. Sometimes I got close, but I never felt 100% confident in any of the tools I tried.

I realized that this was because I had in my mind the perfect system for how I wanted to manage my workload, and that led me to trying to force whatever tool I was using to work according to my system. When I realized I knew how I worked best and that I had a system, I was able to far better choose which new tools I wanted to try or not try. I could put this new tool up against my system and make a quick decision on whether I would benefit from it or not.

When you decide on a system you are able to chose the way you manage that system with much more clarity than if you had let an app dictate how YOU work.

2. Consistency and repetition

When you freelance you know that your work is rarely predictable. Like me, you have had your slow months and your really busy months. What I have come to understand is a huge benefit to having a system in place for managing your work is that when you land on the busy side of things it’s one less thing you need to worry about.

Think about that for a second — think back to a time where you have been extremely busy. If you had a tried and true system in place for handling your projects and individual tasks then that would free up a nice section of your mind that you could allocate to the work at hand instead of trying to keep track of a bunch of details about when project X was due and what exactly needed to be done for project Y.

Having a system in place will allow to handle a larger workload without the wheels falling off the car.

3. Handle entering details immediately

As much as we wish we could focus on only one task or project a day we all know what it is like to be in the zone working on a particular piece of work and then BOOM you get an email or a phone call from a client that needs you to take care of something. For me, it is one of the best ways to kill my productivity.

Rather then ignoring this request I make sure to put it into my project management system right away. Think of it as filing it away in the right place. The reason I take care of it immediately is because if I don’t it is possible this request, regardless of how big or small, is lost in the sea of noise we all have in our lives. It’s possible that if I get off the phone and do not enter this request into my project management system that I will forget about it.

This bring up a completely different subject that is saved for another article about the noise in our lives. Let’s be honest, if you don’t have a system for handling things right away, or at least very soon, it is quite possible you will forget about it until your client calls to remind you by asking you if it is done yet.

4. Keep projects up to date

It’s one thing to be good at entering projects into your system right away, but something I have been guilty of before is not keeping projects up to date.

Think of your projects as a plant. Seriously, stay with me here. When your project starts out it is this nice contained idea and you remember everything about it. As time goes on the project can grow and get out of control. You constantly need to prune your project to keep it up to date. If the due date changes or gets pushed back you need to make sure that you update it. A task gets added or completed. Same thing, update your project.

If you don’t keep projects up to date it can completely destroy the benefits that you get from having a project management system.

5. Refine, Refine, Refine

It is very unlikely that you landed on the perfect way to manage your projects right out of the gate, but the good news is that is ok. In fact over time the way that you manage your work should evolve and improve as you gain more experience freelancing.

In working with different freelancers and agencies who often ask me to use their project management tool of choice I am forced to figure out how they work. Sometimes, I actually pick up a little tidbit that I like which I can then apply to my project management system.

In order to find that special level of efficiency in the way you manage your work you will have to refine and hone your process. Change is a good thing.

The tool built for freelancers

Freelancers have a lot going. OK, that might be an obvious statement, but giving thought to how you manage and organize all of the things that come across your desk is a critical step in reaching a higher level of success as a freelancer.

I have stumbled through a lot of different project management tools in my career and none of them seem to fit the bill. So what was I suppose to do but build my own? Yep, that’s exactly what I did.

Hector is a project management app built specifically for freelancers by a freelancer. No teams, tags, or categories. The promise of Hector is simple — all your projects and todos on one screen regardless of who you are working with. You can sign up for free by clicking here.