No this isn’t my latest version of the high-protein Paleo diet! This is about managing your time effectively by nibbling an elephant. I’m sure they’re edible, since all animals are, eating an elephant is probably not something that appeals to anyone. Quite apart from the skin being tough to penetrate there’s the danger that if you go round nibbling elephants they’ll remember it forever and never forgive you. No what I mean by nibbling an elephant is how you tackle tasks that seem overwhelming. It’s an expression I heard years ago at a seminar on time management and it’s stayed with me ever since.
As a freelancer it doesn’t do to go to one client and say, awfully sorry but I’m too busy working on another client’s job to give this as much attention as I’d like. Hope this’ll do? It’ll never just do. You’d lose work very quickly that way. Good freelancers are always busy or very soon about to be. And if we’re not, we have to pretend we are for who wants a date with someone who’s desperate? It’s human nature to want something other people want so never worry that clients expect you to be exclusive; you’re a freelancer, baby, exclusivity comes at a price they can’t afford!
When you’ve had a bit of a work drought (which obviously you tell absolutely NO ONE about) handling the feast when it comes again, which it always will if you’re tenacious and determined, can be just as tough as the drought. One minute you’re convinced you’ll never work again, the next, you’re stacked to the ceiling with the stuff. How d’you cope?
Nibble that elephant! Nibble and chew rather than attack the feast and hope to finish it in one go. You can’t possibly eat a whole elephant in one day, one week, one month or one year. Whatever work you’ve accepted you now have to find time to do. What works for me is making lists and ticking things off but I am also all about the folders. All my clients have folders and some have sub-folders too. Everything is filed very specifically so I can find it quickly on my desktop – by which I mean my computer. I’m blessed with an excellent memory (like an elephant!) but I still write everything down and keep meticulous records. It’s the only way to keep on top of everything and it stops your head spinning at night going all, “Have I remembered this, have I remembered that?” I also send a copy of everything I’m working on to my email address just in case my computer explodes and I lose it. In addition I print work out as I go – I trust in the cloud but never entirely. You can’t beat hard copy for knowing something is truly saved!
Making lists is fine up to a point but you need to be supremely flexible if you’re juggling work from several clients at once – and most successful freelancers are most of the time. Deadlines move about and some work that comes in is wanted very quickly. This is not the time to say to a client, “You couldn’t have given me this three weeks ago!” Our Just-In-Time culture affects most workplaces now and means few people are able or allowed to manage their workload the way they’d like. That’s why they need a freelancer!
Letting someone leapfrog over existing work you may already be deep into can be a difficult adjustment but sometimes it just has to be done. You’ve been hired not only for your skills but your ability to turn on a sixpence and produce work quickly at short notice but still to as high a standard as work for which you’ve been given masses of time.
“I prefer being asked to produce something in a hurry,” one freelance colleague told me years ago. “If I’m given too much time, I tend to sit on it or spend too much time pondering. Often if you have to do something quickly, you’ll do a better job than if you’re given bags of time.”
There’s also immense satisfaction to be gained from turning work out swiftly – and that fabulous repeat work which all freelancers want is much more likely to come your way if you get a reputation for being fast!
I try to work a four-day week with my Fridays off or my Monday mornings and Friday afternoons off. That way I have somewhere to go if extra work comes in. If you don’t do this, you risk working weekends as that’s the only time left and this is something I really try to avoid. Weekends, like lunch hours and evenings, are precious and I think it makes us more effective workers if we stick barbed wire around our weekends and only work on them very rarely. When I’m really busy I’d rather do a 12-hour day than let work spill over into the weekend. I always think it’s a sign of bad time management when you do that rather than a good work ethic. Downtime matters as much as uptime. Thanks for reading.