Experiencing a freelancing time crunch? Avoid panic with these tips

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No matter how well you plan, some weeks it seems like every client needs something and you’re left wondering when you’re going to sleep.

Maybe everyone wants their project finished before an upcoming holiday or perhaps you’re taking a long weekend at the beach (Yes, freelancers CAN go on vacation) and all of your projects have last-minute revisions before you leave.

It’s easy to get panicky during these times. Your brain starts spinning, your stomach gets anxious butterflies, and you almost feel like you don’t know where to start.

You’re not alone – everyone has had sleepless nights over finishing projects on time. Follow these tips to fight off the panic and satisfy your clients!

Breathe.

Stop moving. For four breaths and do nothing but inhale and exhale, slowly and deeply as if you had nothing better to do today. Close your eyes. Listen to the air flowing in and out of your body.

Okay, now that we’re calmer and more relaxed, we’re ready to make some real headway.

Prioritize your projects.

Even if all of your projects seem to be at nuclear priority, you can still prioritize. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What projects are part of a larger plan that can’t go live without my piece?
  • What projects aren’t the end of the world if I have to push them back a day or two?
  • Which clients will be the least upset about a small delay?
  • Which clients have I already delayed on once and really shouldn’t push back again?

By making a list (not in your head, a real list), you’ll know which projects you should lose sleep finishing and which projects can wait.

Example: The website for XYZ company must be finished because they can’t launch the marketing campaign next Monday without it. I also better get a new infographic proof over to ABC company because the owner is going on vacation next week and wants to see it before then. I think the GHI poster will have to wait, even though they were hoping to get it off to the printer by Friday.

Make a schedule.

Based on your prioritized to-do list, make a schedule (I use Google calendar). If this week really is that hectic, you’ll need one to make sure you’re on-pace to finish all of your projects. Set time frames and stick to them.

Tips:

  • Get a smaller project done first thing to start the day, even if it’s not the most important. That sense of accomplishment will boost your productivity into the longer and more drawn out project.
  • For larger projects, break them into a series of smaller projects (learn about setting milestones here). Then schedule your time frames to accomplish two or three smaller pieces.
  • Don’t forget to break for food, sleep, and mental rest. Your brain will thank you for it with more clarity and creativity.

Remember your project time budget

Just because you have five projects due on Friday doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish them.

Remember how much time you’ve budgeted for each project and you’ll often realize that you have plenty of time to complete all of your projects.*

When I feel the panic rising, I think to myself, “April, you’ve got at least 40 hours of potential work time this week and even though you have a lot of projects due, they should only take you 25-30 hours. Chill out!

It may seem silly, but this method really works for me.

*If you find that you’ve promised the impossible, now’s the time to go back and re-prioritize your projects to allow yourself to finish as much as possible under the deadlines you set.

Get to work!

Now that you have your schedule set, get to work! No procrastinating – close your email, put your phone in a different room, and crank up your headphones. Good time management is key in avoiding panic in a crazy week.

Checking off just one or two projects from your to-do list makes all the difference. You’ll feel re-energized to tackle the next high-priority, and you might just find yourself ahead of schedule!

How do you avoid panic when experiencing a time crunch?

How do you de-stress and get work done? What tips can you provide for handling multiple deadlines in one week? Leave a comment on this post and join the discussion!

About April Greer

April is a go-to freelance designer with a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy. She is available for subcontracting and speaking engagements – visit Greer Genius for more information.

Comments

  1. Sue Mazur says:

    I always panic a little when the projects keep coming in… I’m sure we’ve all experienced the “feast or famine” phenomenon… I’ve put up a chalk board where I list all my projects… Client, project, state of completion, then indicate order of importance. This helps me calm down a bit. Then I reach out to any colleagues whom I think could give me some design support should I need it (although I find I rarely actually need to use them). In addition, I let my clients know at least a week before hand that I will be on vacation from X date to Y date to give them a heads up, so their jobs aren’t in complete limbo while I’m out.

  2. A little forward planning goes a long way, I find. Four weeks out from a month long holiday I decided to contact my clients to let them know I was going away and ask if they needed anything finished during the period I was away.
    This worked really well:
    – It demonstrated that I cared about their needs
    – It brought me more work to fill in the time before I left
    – It saves the stress of not being able to help them while I am away
    – It allowed enough time to schedule everything in before leaving :)

    If being proactive doesn’t work, a moment of ‘me time’ during the day, like painting my nails, or having a cup of tea works wonders.

    P.S. Thanks for the continuing great articles, April. Always enjoy reading.

    • Liz,

      You’re welcome!

      I do much of the same things when I’m going on vacation, and just on customer service alone I get lots of good vibes.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sue,

    Thanks for sharing – a chalkboard/whiteboard/visual project mgmt tool to keep track of them is a great idea.

  4. i think you are right, to avoid panic there are so many ways. different people had a different mind set. i think for me proper scheduling can do job for avoiding panics. thanks for sharing.

  5. Just to add to the great tips, I use my iPhone’s alarm clock to go off every 15 minutes. It keeps me focused and reminds me to only allow a certain amount of time per task.

    Being ADD this works for me because I can easily get distracted.

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