You know every function of your project management software backwards and your expertise in estimating task times is second to none. So why do your projects sometimes fall behind?
1/ You don’t have 8 hours in the day
It’s all very well being able to micro-manage your day with your shiny project management software, each minute accounted for, but you may have noticed life doesn’t work like that. You get phone calls. You answer tricky emails. You might schedule 8 hours of work in the day, but it is unlikely you will actually work for that time. As a freelancer, you still need to schedule time for general admin each day.
Tip: try to schedule admin work outside your most productive hours, maybe after lunch when your brain needs to do something a bit lighter.
Freelancers might not be able to gather around the water cooler but they can still procrastinate…
2/ You might not have a water cooler but you can still procrastinate
As someone who has worked both in the corporate world and as a freelancer, I can testify that it is entirely possible to procrastinate in a large office as well as in your home study. You might not gather at the water cooler at home, but what about forums and blogs? Not to mention Twitter and Facebook.
Be realistic about setting goals. How much can you realistically get done in a day? Plan your projects with what you actually get done in mind, not what you hope to do.
Tip: I read The Wealthy Freelancer (by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage and Ed Gandia) recently, and highly recommend it for all freelancers. One good productivity tip they had was to time yourself working in 50-minute bursts, then give yourself some time off. Try this if you have problems with procrastination getting the better of you. Or turn off the internet whilst you are working.
3/ Sh*t Happens
With the best will in the world, things still go wrong. You get sick; your car breaks down and you spend a day trying to get it fixed; your kitchen floods. As a freelancer, you can’t call into work and get someone to take over from you for the day – it’s all on you. Build some slack into your project schedule.
Tip: If you have some over-arching personal projects on the go – maybe writing an e-book or some other long-term project, you can always use any spare slack time you have to work on these.
When planning projects, experience matters in estimating the duration of time needed for your tasks. But even the most experienced freelancer can get overly optimistic when taking on an exciting new project and rush in without considering all the variables.
Tip: Doing a risk-assessment at the beginning of each new project can help you think around each aspect of the project. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just sitting down and brainstorming the sorts of problems you might encounter can really help get your project in perspective.
5/ Moving goalposts
We’ve all been there. You think you’ve got your project under control, things are rolling along exactly to plan… then the phone rings. It’s your client and they ‘just want a few changes’.
Moving goalposts are one of the top reasons projects overrun their deadlines, and this is outside your ability to control.
Tip: The good news is that you can do something about it. Setting out an agreement at the beginning of the project can help protect you from moving goalposts. You can specify that changes to your agreement will need to be considered separately – either you can charge more for the amended project goals or agree an extended deadline, or both. Don’t be afraid to be assertive from the beginning – it is better than missing deadlines later.
Photo by Flickr user Just Chaos