Going from a mid-sized company using SLDC, RAD, and the hybrid of other software development methodologies to a one-man shop was extremely difficult, to say the least. One would think that having the flexibility and autonomy of being an entrepreneur would prove otherwise. These advantages, ironically, were the root of my problems in getting my design projects done on time; I lacked the skills to manage my own projects by having too many options.

In this article, I am going to discuss how I learned to manage my flexible and autonomous time as I started working for myself, which I found extremely helpful in delivering work to my clients on schedule. This article is to also serve as a conversation starter about the various ways we all manage our time as creative professionals.

Flexibility of hours was, at first, the most gratifying aspect of my transition. I set my own hours! However, this was a double-edged sword because time is at the base of your contract between you and your client. Once the agreement is set, the clock starts ticking. Every moment you spend not working on your client’s needs is time wasted and opportunity lost.

I guess I had expected to work less by doing away with rigorous time management tools and mandatory meetings. It’s quite the opposite.

“Your” Time

In order to develop good time management skills, you first need to develop good habits of tracking your time. Unlike when you’re working on someone else’s clock, you don’t have a morning memo detailing the specifics of your day. You won’t have that boss looming over your shoulder keeping you on task. Everything you do – or don’t do, for that matter – is all up to you. This is your time.

Before you acclimatize yourself to a new time management system, first you need to evaluate your current process. I took a notebook and started tracking where I was spending my time. I  wrote everything down. This includes the time I spent in the bathroom to the conversations I had with my clients and friends and family. I wrote down the duration from start to end for each activity and conversation. I did this for two weeks (for some, one week is enough to gather the necessary information for others, longer). This may seem a bit too much for some of you, however, the benefits will definitely be felt. The key is to observe how you work and monitor yourself honestly.

Now it’s time to analyze where you spend your time. Separate your conversations and activities into work related and non-work related, and then prioritize them from most important to the least. Essentially, you should have two columns with items listed from the most to least important. This allows you to see what you’ve been doing with regard to work and non-work matters, so that you can allocate time like a math equation. Work Hours + Non-Work Hours = Hours Conceived. Hours conceived is completely up to your control. Obviously, your drive and how you measure success will have an effect on this.

If you are telling yourself “I need more time to work”, then it’s time to allocate more time from your non-work list to your work list. The beauty of this is that you can prioritize by subtracting time from the least important activity/conversation from your non-work list to add to your work list. These could very easily be time chatting online and/or stalking your peers on social media networks. Conversely, you can also choose to increase your conceived time.

Tools are also very nice to have in organizing your workflow with regard to time, though you don’t need an elaborate project management application to do so. There are many free online management tools; for example, these 10 Free Tools For Effective Project Management would be a great place to start. If you are a hands-on, visual type, then a simple whiteboard with post-it notes could easily solve your organizing needs like Harry Ford’s Why a visual task system has proven so productive.

Parting Words

The end result of being well-organized when it comes to my time is that it allows me to have a better balance between life and work which is ultimately great for the quality of my work for clients. Creativity isn’t always on. Sometimes it’s even unpredictable. Therefore, having a system in place so that I can work to the best of my creative abilities is just good sense.

There are plenty of time management tools available for all of us to use but it all has to start with knowing what you do and don’t do with your time. Be honest and be vigilant over your time. While working for yourself is a great treat, especially if you know what it’s like to work for someone else, setting your own hours and managing your own work is just a small sliver of the benefits of being your own boss. Time management is just a small part of the game which is why you have to just figure it out and move on to the more important aspects of your job: being creative, coming up with great ideas, and doing good work.

Tell us about your own experiences working on your own time in the comments section.