Here’s what’s really cool about freelancing…what it looks like is based on your needs.

The ideal set point and type of clients and projects that you work on will vary from one freelancer to another. So it’s a really great, customized way to build a business that works for you. It’s why there’s no one size fits all solution for a lot of the issues that advanced freelancers face.

Now, when you’re first starting your business, there is general advice that applies to helping you get established find clients, and stay consistent with your marketing. But as your business grows, your needs might also change and evolve.  One of the common sticking points for a lot of advanced freelancers is scheduling.

So in this episode, we’re going to talk a little bit about some of my favorite scheduling tips. But you’ve got to keep in mind that what it looks like for you might be different.  I’ve probably changed my schedule at least a dozen times across the course of owning a freelancing business. Even as that company has evolved, as well into incorporating things like public speaking, writing a book, or coaching other freelancers, that has meant that my freelancing schedule has had to change as well.

So when I first got started, I would basically work any pocket or window of time that I could find.

I balanced my freelance business for a year while also holding down a day job. So that meant that nights, weekends, and early mornings were the only times I could freelance. When I jumped full time into freelancing, one of the first things that I did was basically try to work as normal a day as possible. So eight to nine hours a day of doing everything that was required within my freelance business. And a lot of what helps make that scheduling transition relatively effective was the fact that I had been doing it for an entire year on the side of another job and knew about how much time it was going to take me to complete various things in my business.

So I knew how much time I needed to spend marketing. I knew what proportion of my time I need to dedicate to client projects.  And I simply had to make some general adjustments to now allow for a whole work day. Now, what’s interesting, and I’ve heard this from a lot of other advanced freelancers, is that we’re actually more effective with our time when we have a day job. I don’t know why that is. But I have found that to be true.

I’m still relatively productive and effective with my time.

I’ve been freelancing full time for six years at the time of recording this podcast. But I definitely had better time management skills when I worked another job because I was limited, very limited, with my hours. So there was no time to get into my head, there was no time to question things.

So it became more difficult to schedule as my business grew and as I added more components to my business as well. So what you’re “fully booked point” and what your schedule looks like will be different from other freelancers.  Someone who’s only able to work 10 hours a week can still be an advanced freelancer because perhaps those 10 hours are really focused and truly leveraging that freelancers abilities.

And what you think fully booked is, will also be very individual. So for me, that’s no more than 20 hours a week of freelance client work in order to balance the other projects that I have going on. For someone else that could be 30 or 40 hours. So that’s a really good starting point to begin with.  You need to know what your fully booked point is.  What is the maximum amount of time that you want to be spending, creating and delivering client projects?

Now, that doesn’t include your marketing.

So you’ve got to keep that in the back of your mind too.  Maybe you don’t want to do any more than 30 hours of client work per week. But you aren’t going to neglect marketing, of course. So you might have to say, “Okay, well, what am I going to fit in five or seven hours of marketing, so I’m really working closer to 35 or 37 hours per week?” So my scheduling tips for advanced freelancers, these are just different ideas that you could potentially try as your business grows.

The first one I have is to block out creative time.

This is time when you’re doing things other than working on your business. It could be hobbies, creative projects, like writing a book.  You could be diving into a different creative talent or hobby that you’d like to have. But maybe you’re brand new to journaling or meditation.  I kind of consider as creative time too, because it really sets the tone for what the rest of your day and even week is going to look like.

So start by blocking out creative time. This is your non business time when you’re not even doing things like listening to business podcasts, or reading books. This is truly your creative time when you’re able to express yourself. And maybe that’s only 20 or 30 minutes per day. But that should be built into your schedule first.  Because guess what?  If you don’t put it in there at the outset, it is far too easy to overlook it and not have any of it in there at all.

My second tip is to block out your marketing time as separate from your work time.

I’m a huge fan of batching your work as a freelancer. And that includes putting all like minded activities into the same sectors or blocks of your day as possible. I do not market when I’m working on client projects or when I am in a period of doing phone calls or responding to my clients over Voxer.  My marketing time is separate. It is individual..  And it is focused time when I am only working on that particular task. And blocking that out and thinking about how that’s different from the time when you’re working on client projects is very important.  Because they’re different ideas.  They’re different concepts. And we don’t want to try to ask our brain to be doing multiple things at the same time.

I often see freelancers trying to do this because maybe it worked when you first started your business. You’d have several different tasks open and you’re doing marketing on LinkedIn, you’re reviewing job boards, and then you’re also like half working on this piece or project for a client. Making these separate helps you be much more effective with the time that you are focused. So being distracted and pulled in different directions can really slow you down and impede your progress and productivity. So make that marketing time separate from your work time.  Block out an hour or even 30 minutes per day, when you’re specifically doing marketing and not working on things for clients or answering clients.

My third tip is to play around with your schedule and find your most productive time.

This is another personalized aspect of scheduling for advanced freelancers. Some people work better in the afternoons or at night.  That is not me.  I am never as productive during those times as I am first thing in the morning. So since we have the benefit of being freelancers and setting up our own schedule, adjust your work hours to reflect what works for you.

All it takes is letting your clients know what to expect. I tell my clients don’t expect responses or edits from me after 3pm.  I’m just not doing it. I’m normally not even in the office, I’m in the office earlier than most people, because I do typically work pretty early mornings when I am most focused. But that means I can get a lot more work done in 4 focused hours then trying to say, “Yeah, let me work the traditional nine to five.” Even though that’s not my most focused period, I’ll actually get the same or even less done, trying to take that approach of working someone else’s hours.

So allow your body’s natural rhythm and ability to help dictate when you’re going to work the most when you’re looking to implement new scheduling tips for advanced freelancers. If you’re really inspired and focused from 7 to 10pm at night, use that time for your brainstorming, outlining of projects, and thinking about how you’re going to write your next blog for marketing purposes.

Another tip that has really helped me a lot is to put all of my phone calls on one day or on certain days of the week.

By doing this I’m holding other days sacred for client work or focused periods of work when I’m doing things like marketing, brainstorming new classes, and responding in depth to some of my clients.  This has helped tremendously, because there’s not those phone calls that disrupt and sort of punctuate the day and throw me off from what I was doing. So I’ve done everything from no phone calls on Mondays to Fridays to phone calls only on Thursdays to everything in between.

You need some level of flexibility to be able to speak to your clients. I find that Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays are the days when most people are in the office. Holidays tend not to fall on those days. So it’s easier to schedule phone calls during that time. I try to put as many of my calls on Wednesdays as possible, so that I can have Mondays and Fridays as my more creative days when I’m doing in depth focused work for me growing my business and other projects. And then Tuesday through Thursday are pretty heavy client days. So I keep those open for phone calls, consultations, and responding to pitches and follow ups.  I keep those very client focused because that works.

My next favorite tip for scheduling tip for advanced freelancers is to stay out of your email inbox as much as you can.

Email sometimes is the bane of my existence.  It never seems to go below 50 messages that I need to review and respond to.  It can also become very addictive and non productive to be in your email inbox a lot. I used a tool called Rescue Time back in the day, and discovered that I was spending 12 hours a week at that point in time on my inbox. Now very few of those hours were making me money or were working on things that were imperative for an immediate response. For more tips on dealing with email, check out this blog post.

I try to check my email no more than three times per day. And I use a tool called Boomerang to push off things that are not imminent. So if someone emails me and says, “Hey, I’d love to collaborate with you.” If I don’t need to respond to that immediately, I’m going to push it off towards one of those Mondays or Fridays, when I’m doing a lot more catch up work and non client specific things. And I’ll respond to all of those together. So I will try to set them to come back all at the same time.

So let me explain a little bit more about what that looks like. If I get 10 emails in the morning, then some of them are from people who want to collaborate on things for freelancers and some are from prospective clients. Some are things I need to follow up with immediately. I want to push off the non imminent things.  So I tell Boomerang send the collaboration requests back into my email on Friday at 9am. I’ll take a look at all of those together, review them all, and respond together.  I might immediately respond to the things that require my attention. And then I might have other things set up to Boomerang back into my inbox a Friday at 10am. Like perhaps all of my follow ups from everyone that I’ve pitched or written proposals for.

So that way I’ve got similar emails coming back into my inbox at a similar time. So Friday is my email catch up day.  Maybe at 8:00, I’m getting those collaboration requests. At 10:00, a new wave of the things I boomeranged for follow ups have come back in. And that way it doesn’t seem overwhelming or get confusing because they’re showing up as new in my inbox during that time.

My last scheduling tip for advanced freelancers is to think specifically about when do you want to take vacations.

So many of us are completely guilty of not taking vacation. We kind of fall into this trap of thinking, “Oh, well, I can take a vacation any time. So I’m not going to plan it in advance.” One thing that I have found really increases the chances of you truly taking that vacation, enjoying it, and giving your clients plenty of notice that it’s coming is putting that on the calendar at least three months in advance. This is one of my top scheduling tips for advanced freelancers because everyone needs to plan ahead for vacation and breaks.

So you’re listening to this in the fall. I’m looking ahead to November and December.  What weeks am I taking off? And what days will I close my office? What time periods do I not want to have as much freelance work?

Let’s say that I close my office for the two weeks around Christmas.  I’m going to need to put reminders in my schedule, either Boomerang or on my calendar, around mid November to tell my clients,  “Hey, your work is going to have to be turned in early. Edit requests need to be turned in by this date. The last time I can schedule phone calls is X day.” I’m going to let them know that about a month in advance whenever I can.

So if I wait until it’s the first of December, and then realize I don’t have enough lead time to get caught up on work that might otherwise be delivered. At the second half of December, I might not be able to accomplish that goal of letting my clients know that a vacation is coming and I’ll just end up overwhelmed and behind

Whenever I go out for vacation, especially if your trip is two weeks or longer, it usually takes me three solid weeks to get ahead.

Most of my freelance clients are on retainer. So that means I am working ahead. If you’re in another phase of your business where you’re drumming up business, you’re going to want to make sure your follow ups and your automated marketing efforts to go out while you’re gone are still present and there. So it’s still will take at least two to three weeks to lay that groundwork and work ahead. If I know I have to turn in two weeks of blogs for the second part of December in advance, I’ve got to kind of backdate and reverse engineer everything.

So then in November, I pick those topics, get them approved by the client,  I draft them, edit them, send them in early, and all those different processes.  I kind of have to back up and make sure that it doesn’t fall into the normal schedule so I can truly take that time off. So that can really help you when you look ahead to the future and know:

  • When am I going to take my vacations?

  • And what steps do I need to take in advance to make sure that my clients know and that I’m fully organized so that I can step up my office?

  • Where do I need to tell my VA…

    • Here’s the blogs to post, the LinkedIn things to monitor.

    • And Here’s what I’m asking you to keep an eye on in my email inbox while I’m out.

There’s a lot of different steps that need to be taken to really protect you and make you feel confident about truly closing your office.

So I’d love to know your favorite scheduling tips that might help you to grow your business more effectively. These are some of my favorites.  But remember, it’s going to look different for you. My best recommendation is to play around with your schedule, stick with your new guidelines for two weeks, and see if it works for you. If you find it unbearable then some changes are needed.  But it’s always good to test things out and try switching things around to be more effective. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast to learn more about scheduling tips for advanced freelancers.

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