For freelance creatives, time is the most important resource. We are expected to be experts at juggling day jobs, side projects and clients, while at the same time consistently producing quality output and turning them in on time.
However, as more projects and assignments come in, it is easy to lose track of what has to be done and when. As tasks pile up on top of each other, it is even easier to feel defeated and overwhelmed by all these deadlines and requirements. And with the constant introduction of additional details, requests and revisions, it gets difficult to keep track of what has to be done before the next task can be accomplished. Before you know it, the entire project is delayed by days or weeks.
Meeting deadlines is just as important as meeting specifications and project requirements. In fact, they are part of any client or boss’s expectations. Thus, it is important to take steps to make sure that these deadlines are met.
But how can a freelance creative do that in the midst of a constantly changing workload? How does one keep up with and stay on top of all these projects and tasks?
The answer: By setting smarter goals.
What’s a SMART Goal and how do I make one?
The oft-cited acronym for “SMART” is still the classic go-to: Goals must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. I like this acronym, not only because it is easy to remember, but also because it is easy to adapt to my own professional set-up.
Personally, I find setting goals that are Straightforward, Manageable, Action-Oriented, Results-based, and Time-framed works best for me because they give me clear directions on what steps to take to get the job done and done well.
I encourage you to take a look at your current workload and identify your own SMART goals.
After setting goals, I break them down into achievable tasks. I believe in setting myself up to win, and using these small victories to move the project forward and motivate myself. I do this by looking at my Smart Goal and identifying my next steps.
I ask myself: What has to be done ahead of which task? What is the best way to go about these series of tasks? To determine this, I also take a look at the different task difficulties and decide whether to do all of the easier tasks first or take on the difficult tasks first to get them out of the way.
Tips for weekend workers
Since I’m a freelancer, I have usually have free reign over my workflow. However, this also means that I must find out for myself how best to structure my workflow in order to maximize my time and energy.
For example, alongside scheduling my tasks, I also schedule breaks into my everyday workflow to provide myself with recurring recharge points. I also try to determine how much time I have for a specific task, given the deadline and task difficulty. I try to space out my work as much as possible within the days provided for a specific task.
Sometimes, I have to work on weekends, and I try to set relatively low weekend targets that are not overwhelming. For instance, for a relatively easy set of tasks, I can afford to just finish between 5–10% of the total target for the week over Saturday and Sunday.
For weekdays, I try to work with my hard deadlines and structure my production days around them. For example, when I have deadlines on a Thursday, I devote my Mondays to Wednesdays exclusively to production, and schedule my client calls and other meetings on Thursdays and Fridays, if necessary.
Another thing I’ve learned is that if I need to get anything done, I have to write it down. Anything that isn’t written is bound to be forgotten. I find paper and pen to be effective in this regard—something about the act of writing it down longhand makes things more memorable. You should try it yourself.
To get our jobs done, we must set goals—not just any goal, but smart ones. Smart goals help us figure out how to maximize time and be more productive. When we are more productive, we produce better work that meets specifications and deadlines. Not only does this get us paid (hopefully), this work ethic also establishes our brand as reliable and dependable artists who can be counted on to deliver as expected.
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