Everybody has the same number of hours to work with (8,760 per year, if you’re counting). But somehow those hours seem to get away from us. You’ve worked eight hours, but you’ve only billed three hours. What happened to do the day?
We’re going to cover three common time leaks for freelancers and how to recover that lost time.
Leak #1: The 5-Minute Email
How much time does that five-minute email really cost you? You stop what you’re doing to send a quick email, but it’s never actually that quick.
Part of the problem is that interruptions distract us, and it takes a while to regain focus. So when you interrupt your work to send a quick email, it’s a much larger interruption than just the email.
Studies have shown that if you interrupt your work to send an email, it will take 20 minutes to regain your focus and you’ll lose 10 IQ points. That’s what email interruption costs you throughout the day: 20 minutes and 10 IQ points. Ouch.
Creativity expert Todd Henry calls it a “task shifting penalty.” We pay a mental tax that diminishes our ability to produce high-level work.
How to Recover:
- Group related tasks into blocks to help avoid the “task-shifting penalty.” Check your email once an hour.
- Use the Pomodoro technique to stay focused and take short breaks.
- If you do a lot of client support, set up a ticket system like Zendesk (don’t try to manage it out of your inbox). A ticket is a billable event. Make sure you’re charging for your work.
- If you’re always answering the same questions over and over again, try recording a video. Sometimes it’s faster to show a process than type it out. Plus you can save that video and reuse it.
Leak #2: The Indecent Proposal
How long did it take you to write your last proposal? Sometimes entire days seem to slip away when you’re putting together a proposal.
But here’s the thing: Writing a proposal should take 30 minutes or less.
How to Recover:
- Write fewer proposals. Spend more time qualifying clients, learning what they need and pitching the services you provide. Learn more about how to write proposals.
- Proposals don’t sell, people do. You should do your selling during the consultation and presentation. Then the proposal is only finalizing the agreement.
- Get a price range during the client meeting. Make sure you’re on the same page and your proposal is going to be in the ballpark.
Leak #3: The Invoice Unsent
How many times have you neglected to send an invoice? Maybe it was a small job and too much trouble. Or you waited too long and now it’s awkwardly late. Or maybe you rationalize that you learned something so it’s not worth charging.
You absolutely must be charging for your work. This is a business, not a hobby.
How to Recover:
- Set up an accounting system that makes it easier to do billing and invoices. If accounting isn’t for you, hire a bookkeeper.
- Sell pre-paid blocks of time: $100/hour or 5 hours for $450. Track debits and credits in a simple spreadsheet (shared Google Doc). Bill in quarter hour increments.
- Offer a retainer to clients who need interaction. Set the price based on average time spent. Clearly define what the retainer covers. Evaluate at regular intervals.
Maximize Your Time
Every freelancer has struggled with these issues. You’re not alone. We all struggle. The question is, what are you going to do about it?
It’s time to get your time back.
About Nathan Ingram
Nathan Ingram specializes in building easy-to-use web sites that help small businesses, professional firms, and nonprofit organizations look great on the web. He’s a regular instructor at iThemes Training where he teaches WordPress, web design, and freelance business development via live webinar. Nathan works with web developers individually and in groups to help them be more successful in their freelance businesses.