Freelancer Project Management

Project Management Advice for Productive Freelancing

Category Archives: Time Management

What to do if your project falls behind schedule: A 5-Point Plan

Sometimes no matter how well you plan, estimate and schedule, a project can fall behind schedule.  It may be because of something out of your control, lack of experience in that particular field or just plain old life getting in the way.

So once you have found yourself in this situation, what should you do?

1/ Don’t Panic!

The first thing to remember is not to panic.  You are behind schedule, but this is why you have a project plan: so that you recognise situations before they become problems and do something about them.

2/ Assess the situation

Take a look at your project plan and ask yourself:

  • What is the new finish date of your project if everything continues on this track?
  • What resources would be needed to bring your project back on schedule?

3/ Communication, communication, communication

It might be tempting to stick your head in the sand and hope that everything works out okay, but you will probably need to communicate with your client at this point to make some decisions.

This is why you have already assessed the situation: you can go to your client with solutions, not problems.  You may have already agreed project priorities with your client, which should help you make decisions about how to proceed, but if not the questions you need to be asking at this point are how to prioritise.

4/ Prioritise

There are three variables to a project:

  • Time
  • Quality
  • Cost

At this point, the time frame has slipped.  You need to decide which is the most important variable at this point, if you haven’t already done so.

Time

How important is the time frame?

If the project isn’t time critical, your client may appreciate an update about the new deadline but decide not to act.

If the deadline is key and cannot be moved, you and your client may choose to prioritise this over quality or cost.

Quality

The client may choose to let the quality slip in order to get the project completed on time.

An example of this might be a project to create decorations for a launch party.  Clearly the date of the party cannot be moved, but the client may choose to have fewer banners or to use pre-printed posters rather than custom-made ones in order to complete on schedule.  (Of course, you may have to take a reduced fee to compensate for the loss in quality).

Cost

Your client may decide to allocate a higher budget in order to complete the project by the deadline.  This is why you went through the assessment stage: you are now able to go to your client with an idea of what resources you will need to complete on time.  This may be anything from extra hours to hiring extra staff, more equipment or other resources.

5/ Consequences

If you are working on multiple projects, you now need to assess what the knock-on effects are for your other projects.  Are you allocating more hours to get this project completed on time, and what does that mean for your other project plans?

Remember: Don’t Panic!

Photo by Flickr user Patrick Hoesly

5 Important Things Freelancers Forget When Scheduling Projects

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.

4/ Over-Optimism

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

Managing Multiple Projects: Problems and Solutions

Freelancers often work on several projects at once, and working as a freelancer can bring some unique challenges.  But just how do you keep all the balls in the air?

Problem #1: Project updates are taking over your life

Problem: You have three clients who all phone you constantly to get project updates.  They all want assurance that their project is getting top priority but you are spending so much time giving updates you are falling behind.

Solution: You need to put a Communications Plan in place so that they know when to expect progress reports.  Good communication doesn’t necessarily mean frequent communication, it is about making the client feel reassured that the project is on track.

Problem #2: Unbalanced workload

Problem: One of your projects is taking over.  You never seem to have any time to deal with the others and the work is piling up whilst deadlines are looming.

Solution: Time management is key here.  Breaking projects down into tasks and scheduling them in a calendar can help you see what time you have for each project.  If it looks like you really aren’t going to meet your deadlines you need to talk to your clients to decide how to prioritise you time, quality and costs. Discussing problems early on means that you can start creating solutions – don’t wait until after the deadline when it is too late.

Problem #3: Work overload

Problem: You’ve bitten off more than you can chew: you have more work than hours in the day, but you just don’t feel you can turn projects down.

Solution: You need to introduce some project planning to estimate your capacity before you take on more work.  Create project plans for each of your projects and put them together to make a master-plan.  You can use a low-tech approach with a simple wall planner or else try one of the many free or low-cost project planning software packages available.

Now when a client comes to you with a project you can look at your master-plan and see if you have any spare capacity.

N/B Clients are generally much happier to be told that you can’t take on a project outright rather than dealing with missed deadlines or sloppy work later.

Photo by Flickr user Helico

Projects vs Tasks: How to Break Down Your Work and Get Back In Control

It’s easy to get bogged down in To Do Lists and feel like you’re drowning under Post-it Notes.

Especially if you have multiple projects on the go, it can be difficult to know where to start with your workload and swimming can very soon turn into drowning.  Even though it feels like you are working hard, your productivity can drop as your stress levels rise.

But by breaking Projects down into Tasks you can very quickly regain control of your work and once again feel like you’re back in your element.  With this simple method you don’t have to learn to use project management software either.

1/ Know the Difference between a Project and a Task

I have covered What We Mean By A Project on a previous post but put simply, a project:

  • Is a piece of work with a defined beginning and end
  • Has a specific goal or objective
  • Takes place within a pre-arranged timeframe

A task on the other hand:

  • Is a defined piece of work within a project
  • Can be seen as a ‘unit’ of a project: the smallest parts that a project can be broken down into.

2/ Write a List

This is the brainstorming part.

Write down everything that has to happen in your project for it to be completed.  These are your tasks.

You might like to group them into tasks and sub-tasks: for example, if you are organising a conference the task ‘ordering technology’ might be broken down into ‘ordering laptops’, ‘ordering video conferencing technology’ and so on.

This will become your Task List.

3/ Organise Your List

Re-organise your list into chronological order, noting what tasks are dependent on the previous tasks being completed.

4/ Assign Timeframes to your Tasks

Note down how long you expect each task to take.  Try to be accurate – it is worth getting this stage right.

5/ Work Backwards

Working back from your deadline, write each task down in your calendar or work organiser.

You may have to re-assess the length of some of the tasks if they look like over-running.  If they really can’t be done more quickly this is an indication you may need to use extra resources, such as paying for extra staff or equipment, to get the task completed on time.

It is best you know this now so you can plan ahead.

Remember that if a task is dependent on another one being completed, it must be scheduled after it.  If not, you can have several tasks running concurrently.

Once you have done this you can see if there is any slack time or time when you can schedule extra, non-dependent tasks to save time later.

6/ Multiple Projects

Go through the same process for each of your projects.

Once you start plotting the tasks on your work organiser you’ll build up a comprehensive work schedule that you can work to.

You can tick off tasks on your Task Lists as they are completed, giving you a feeling of satisfaction.

Hey presto!  You are in control and back in your element!

Photo by Flickr user WJ (Bill) Harrison

New Year, New You: Using Project Management to Find Yourself

It is January, the time many of us take stock, look around and examine the year behind and the year ahead.  Not for nothing was the Roman god Janus from whom we take the name depicted with two faces, one looking forwards and one looking back.

Project Management can be a powerful tool for taking control of our work and becoming more organised and therefore more productive.  We can identify slack time and build in extra tasks.  We stay two steps ahead and anticipate problems, identifying and implementing solutions before they hit.  We can stay calm and focussed.

For freelancers, using Project Management to organise our workflow can lead to new opportunities that we didn’t think possible.  If we begin to see our whole lives as a series of tasks and blocks of time to be organised and arranged, we are able to identify the slack time in our lives as a whole where we may have room for growth.

Many freelancers work from home with non-specified hours; we don’t have to worry about putting in the ‘face time’ many office workers have to.  Working on a project basis means that we work to each task: once the task is done we move onto the next one.  This can be a very efficient way of working.

While we have hours in the day when we are typically more productive, we may have other hours which would be put to better use doing something different.  If we see these as slack time, we can build in other, non-work, projects.  Education, fitness, social… it’s up to us.  As long as we manage them like we would every other project, there’s no reason why we can’t fit in some extra-curricular activities in the times when our office-based colleagues would be chatting at the water-cooler, surfing the internet or even commuting.  Maybe we can work later to compensate if we need to.

Freelancers can make the most of not being tied to the standard work day and start to think outside the 9-5 box.