Looking at this question while I type out the headline, I can’t help but laugh. I know it’s a question a lot of freelancers have, but the thing is, freelancers set their own hours. This could mean each week is different, it could mean workaholics put in way more time than those who are good at setting boundaries.

What’s important to understand is how to manage the time you do work, even if your answer to the question, how many hours do you work as a freelancer? is all of them.

Guessing at the scope of a project

Being a freelancer, in part, requires a lot of planning ahead. Especially if you’re trying to only work a part-time schedule, you have to know how much time you’ll really need for each project.

This works well if you think to ask all the right questions beforehand. As a content writer, my questions should always be:

  • How many words?
  • When do you need this by?
  • Are you providing links/research?
  • Will I need to conduct any interviews?

Getting the answers to these key questions can help me accurately guess how much time I’ll need per project. If my assignment is a long piece (over 2,000 words), in a subject I’ve never written about before, and my client isn’t giving me any leads on research, it’s going to take a while. If the project is all of these things, but the client is pointing my research in the right direction, I can most likely shave off an entire hour of work.

If I have to factor in conducting an interview, I need to account for the time to schedule the interview, the time to prep questions, and the actual interview time. This can quickly add up.

Using this system though will allow you to only take on projects that fit into the hours you want to work. You’re operating based on availability rather than saying yes to just about everything you actually want to do. It’s a great way to operate, but not always totally realistic when the bottom line gets looked at. After all, you do need to make a living.

Working for the projects

What I run into most often is not putting projects into my available time, but instead working the necessary hours to get all the projects I want to do done. This has a little to do with the income piece, but mostly revolves around the fact that I really like all my clients and want to do the work they offer me.

I get into trouble though, when I forget to ask the right questions, and something takes up way more time than I’d anticipated.

An example — a client asked me to copyedit a slide deck and manual for his sales team. I didn’t ask him how long these documents were, but assumed they couldn’t be too long since they were used for a training. I under-estimated and a project that I thought would take me four hours took twice as long. What that means is everything else I was working on got pushed back. It also meant working nights.

For a freelancer who’s really trying to fit work into a specific set of hours, this wouldn’t be ideal. In fact, it could create a ton of stress. For me, it wasn’t ideal, but getting the project done was more important to me than thinking about the extra hours.

I’m not kidding when I say I work all the hours. I do, unless something else comes up.

Factoring in surprises

That brings me to surprises. Nobody’s schedule goes exactly how they want it to. I don’t care if you’ve carefully planned ahead, eliminated all the distractions, and asked all the right questions to map out your project hours. Shit will always happen.

Whether you get caught up in a great show on your lunch hour, or that dreaded call comes in from school that you need to pick up your child early, or even just getting stuck in traffic from a car accident on your way home from picking up lunch — it’s so easy to lose the time you thought you had. When that happens, you either have to give more time to your work, push something on your to do list to the next day, or…gasp…ask for an extension.

The way I factor in surprises is by starting projects as early as possible. I try to get an entire week to complete any given assignment so I can plan to start it on Monday, but be okay if I don’t get to it until Wednesday. I also stagger my due dates so I can stagger my assignments, and allow myself to not beat myself up if I work weekends to catch up.

Yes, it makes me feel like I’m working a lot, but I’m satisfied with what I accomplish, and don’t feel like I’m drowning in work. I can still take a day off. I still get plenty of time with my family, and all my errands always get done.

Doing what works for you

Many people get into freelancing because they want to work less. My advice would be to not think about it like that. Freelancing for me is about having a schedule where I’m in control. I get to decide how much I work, and I get to decide when. If I want to take an afternoon off to lay on the couch with a sick kid, I can. If I want to pause between each project in a given day to run an errand or fold a load of laundry, I can. If I want to take a long lunch with my friends, I can.

I can do all these things and have a rewarding career as a freelance content writer. The only thing I have to do is admit that I work all the hours (necessary to get the job done.)

Photo by Igor Son on Unsplash