Being a freelancer is typically synonymous with project management. You’re most likely going to be managing multiple clients and freelance assignments on any given day, each with their own benchmarks and deadlines to keep track of and maintain. You might be required to attend some virtual meetings or planning sessions, you might need to be available for email at certain times of the day — each project will bring a unique set of criteria and require a specific amount of your time to complete. So, how do you know when you’ve taken on all you can handle?

It’s really a tough question, one that I’ve learned through trial and error. There have definitely been instances where I’ve agreed to do more work than I actually have time for, requiring a few late nights and additional hours at my computer when I’m typically doing other things. But, with each jam-packed day, I get a better sense of how much time I really have to devote to my freelancing career and how much time I need to set aside for my other responsibilities.

Know the average hours per client

Figuring out how much time you’ll need to set aside for work each week is all about averages. As you build relationships with clients, you will get a sense of how often they have work available for you and how long each type of project will take. Estimating this average will help shed light on whether or not you’ve got room to take on unexpected work when it comes your way.

I have two clients that provide weekly work for me. One, I know will require about five hours each week. The other gives me projects in bulk, setting due dates way in advance so I can space things out. These two clients are who I look at first when estimating the hours I have available each week for additional freelance work. Another client of mine doesn’t give me regular work, but the projects are so similar they take about the same amount of time when they do come my way. This helps me know exactly how to work in projects from this particular client as they are sent to me.

Think small picture

I know this might not be a common mantra in business, but as a freelancer it can really help you manage multiple projects and clients at the same without feeling overwhelmed. You may reach a point where you a have a lot of projects going at once, each with a different deadline, but all overlapping. Sitting down and looking at a full list of everything happening simultaneously can create a stressful situation. By breaking down each project into its parts, setting a work schedule for each project that allows you to meet each deadline on time, you can focus on the small picture, knowing you’ve made a plan to meet the big picture.

I like to begin each week by creating daily to-do’s related to each of my clients. It helps me make sure I’m only working during the hours I have available and that I’m making the right amount of progress on each of my projects.

What to do when you’ve got too much on your plate

It’s most likely going to happen - you’ll find yourself over-committed for work. It’s a complicated place to be in, since you don’t want any of your clients to know you’ve taken on a little too much, and yet you’ll still need to get the work done on time in order to maintain your professional reputation. The best advice I can give is to prioritize. What do you have on your to do list for the week that can get moved to next week? What can you push to the weekend?

Personal stuff will have to wait if possible in order to use more time working. Again, this is not the time to stress out. With careful planning, a late night or two, the possible sacrifice of down time for yourself for a few days, you can get the work done, learning from the experience to avoid the situation from happening again.

The biggest factor that has contributed to me being overcommitted was not knowing the full scope of a project before agreeing to do it. To that extent, I’d suggest you ensure you have complete clarification on any project you’re taking on, including deadlines (is there one or multiple?), possibilities for revision (how much back and forth you may have with the client), and how much time you’ll need to spend doing research in order to complete the project.

Freelancing is really a tricky equation figuring out the perfect balance between the time you have to work and the time you need to work to get things done. There are many variables to consider, but with an attention to detail and the ability to take things one step at a time, you’ll be able to navigate the unpredictable schedule required to have a freelance career.

Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash