Planning freelance time

How I plan and schedule my time by decade, year, quarter and week.

My bride often jokes that I live and die by my calendar. I’ll joke back that if something isn’t in the calendar, it doesn’t exist. Bottom line is that I’ve got many competing things to do and in order to run any sort of freelance business, I need to be able to know two things:

  1. What I need to do
  2. When I need to do them

And all this needs to fit into 15 hours a week. Why 15 hours a week? I plan to explain that in a later article.

My secret to productivity

I’ve been a productivity junkie for as long as I remember. Back in the 1980s I attempted to program a scheduling program on my IBM PC compatible with a whopping 10 megabyte hard drive, using QuickBasic. I was just a boy with dreams of running a productive business. Now maybe my memory is fuzzy on some of those details, but I remember loving scheduling and organization software like Sidekick for DOS.

Anyway, here’s my secret to productivity: I don’t have one.

Sorry, when it comes to theories and principles on planning and time management, the best I can do is share what talented, smarter people have shared with me. Hopefully, their insights into time management will help you as well. Later, I’ll share specifically how I’ve used their advice and what tools I use.

I want to first recommend Marianne Renner (a member of the 48 Days Eagles Community) for helping me map out long term goals in a spreadsheet application, like Apple Numbers, and then breaking long term goals into 12-week, weekly chunks. If Marianne writes a book, I’m going to be at the front of the line to buy it.

Secondly, another great resource has been Tim Challies’ “Do More Better” which helped me create a daily and weekly workflow for staying on top of project tasks.

In addition to those, I got some great insight from a webinar by Kent Julian (another member of the 48 Days Eagles Community) who spoke on the usage of life roles instead of life categories. If you’re familiar with Zig Ziglar’s “Wheel of Life”, you might recall the different categories like “physical”, “spiritual”, etc. Michael Hyatt, Dan Miller and Dave Ramsey use similar models in their materials for life planning. But I like Kent’s usage of roles because the words “father” and “husband” connect with me more than “parental” and “marital”. Specific to business are the roles “Servant Leader” and “Steward” which I’ll address later.

Also, in addition to  “Do More Better”, I’ve enjoyed “What’s Best Next” by Matt Perman.

From all of these, I’ve taken and compiled a system that seems to work well for me. Here’s how it works.

Starting by seasonal goals

I first start with a seasonal goal in mind, trusting in my loving Father’s providence and recognizing that my goals are things that I’m aiming for, not prophetic predictions. So it’s okay if I aim for a goal and miss.

How long is a season? It could be 5-10 years depending on your situation.

Screenshot of my seasonal goals in Apple Numbers.

Based on two of my roles, Servant Leader and Steward, these are my goals for the next season or decade:

  • Servant Leader: I serve small businesses by providing creative services, coaching and training that helps them reach and serve more people. 
  • Steward: We give above a full tithe, supporting some of our friends in the church planting and mission fields. We own a modest home, investing 15% for retirement and are able to pay for the girls’ college.

Once I’m clear on something worthy for focusing on for a decade or season, I can then break up these goals by year.

Breaking decade goals into annual goals or landmarks

My seasonal/decade goals broken down by year.

I then have a new sheet or tab with 5 years, starting with 2019 from left to right. Underneath each year, I will set specific annual goals that are designed to move me toward my long-term seasonal goals.

However, I’ve got the annual goals broken up into four categories:

  1. Serving: Goals related to serving clients directly, such as meetings.
  2. Creating: Goals dealing with creating services or products for clients or customers.
  3. Marketing: Goals related to reaching new clients or customers.
  4. Learning: Goals dealing with learning new ideas and skills to serve clients. 

This division of time is something Dan Miller talks about in the 48 Days Eagles Community as a way of balancing your time on a side-business. I plan to get more into the specifics of each category in later articles.

So here’s some of my annual goals for the end of 2019:

Learning

Marketing

  • Revise website and online platform to better reach my target audience of small business freelance clients.

Creating

  • Create weekly tips for small business marketers.

Serving

  • Gain 10 new freelance clients.

Now that I’ve done that, I can break the goals up into quarters, or 12-week chunks.

Breaking annual goals into quarterly projects

This is where I take my annual goals and break them down into quarters, or 12-week sections.

Some people like adhering to strict quarters, like Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. Others prefer to work in 12-week blocks. Either way, it’s about the same time period, but using 12-week blocks tends to be a little neater on a calendar.

Here’s what annual goals look like broken up into quarters or 12-week blocks. The goals marked in blue have been completed.

So here’s what my annual goals would look like broken up by quarter:

  • Annual goal: Complete 13 Platform University core modules.
  • Quarterly project: Complete 3 of the 13 Platform University core modules within this quarter.
  • Annual goal: Gain 10 new freelance clients.
  • Quarterly project: Gain 2-3 new freelance clients within this quarter.

Some annual goals don’t need to be spread out across different quarters, but might be able to be completed within one quarter. For example, I don’t need to spread out revising my website over a whole year, but would prefer to get it revamped in one quarter or even shorter.

Why am I transitioning from “goals” to “projects”? Because I’m breaking a long-term goal (seasonal, annual) into something that will eventually require weekly or daily tasks. Those tasks are collectively inside a “project”.  

Splitting quarterly projects into weekly tasks

My next 12 weeks of weekly tasks. Green indicates in progress or planning. Blue means completed, whereas red means that I didn’t complete my intended goal for that week.

Once I know what I want to focus on for this quarter or 12-week period, I can then break the quarterly projects across a 12-week period. This allows me to see a high-level view of what I need to focus on week-by-week. For example, if I want to make a series of blog posts on freelancing (like I’m doing now), I can see the scope of the quarterly project, with the weekly tasks or milestones I want to reach.

Marianne Renner introduced me to this 12-week spreadsheet project planner. She’s an expert at running a successful side business in 15 hours a week.

Why I like these methods

I like these methods because they combine long-term goals (5-10 years) with shorter-term planning (12 week periods). And instead of constantly looking at my long-term goals, all I have to do is look at what I’m supposed to focus on this particular week.

What to do with weekly tasks

So I’ve broken my long-term goals into weekly tasks, then what? Well, that’s where task management tools fit in. I plan to cover that next week, how I manage tasks and time on a weekly basis.

What I’m working on this week

I gave you a sneak peek of what I’ve got planned for this week and the remaining 10-11 of this year, but here’s what I’ve got planned:

  • Serving: Likely taking a break on meeting anyone in person this week, yet I’ve left the time slots available in my calendar.  
  • Creating: Working on animated logos for local businesses, new Google Ads campaigns and videos for landing pages.
  • Marketing: Working on the next article in this series where I cover weekly task management.
  • Learning: Taking some crash courses on Lynda.com on magazine design, as I’m taking a new role as a magazine designer.

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