Work can sometimes be overwhelming. One minute you think everything's in control and the next? You're swamped with too many deadlines and are having to work every waking hour just to keep your clients happy. Managing workload can be one of the biggest challenges for any freelancer. The pressure can quite naturally cause a lot of stress and sleepless nights, which isn't good for anyone.
So how do you deal with workload when you've got no option but to meet those deadlines and get everything done in time? Here's my own top tips to ensure you stay sane and manage workload without getting stressed...
Assess your current situation
Before you do anything else, sit down and go through your current client list and projects. Identify the problem areas and come up with ways to positively tackle them. If you're discovering that you have a particular client who's taking up too much time and putting too much pressure on you thus affecting all your other work, it might be time to consider ditching them. Or it could be that the phone keeps going and disrupting your productivity. Find out why your workload is overwhelming you and take steps to address these issues.
Set realistic deadlines
One of the main reasons why workload can become a problem is when you don't give yourself enough time to complete a project. Clients can often demand a quick turnaround and put pressure on you to set unrealistic deadlines. Or it might be that you're putting too much pressure on yourself. Don't be afraid to give yourself plenty of time to complete the work. By setting realistic deadlines, you'll avoid making yourself look bad and disappointing the client in the long run. If the client complains, simply reiterate that you want to produce quality work and that means extra time.
Create a schedule
It might be an obvious top tip but you'd be surprised how many freelancers still don't bother to put together and maintain a proper work calendar. That's whether you use a traditional diary, Excel spreadsheet, white board or some task management software - it's so important to schedule your work. Give yourself ample time to complete each project and allow contingencies for any inevitable obstacles.
Stick to the plan
No matter what you do - don't forget your work schedule and stick to it. Don't be scared of turning work down or delaying starting any new projects until there's more room in your schedule. You only have so many hours in each day and you don't want to kill yourself, breaking your back to get too many projects completed all at once. Taking on too much work will only stress you out and lead to less productivity. Your work will certainly suffer if you do too much.
Take one step at a time
Break down each project into easier chunks, giving yourself little milestones to make the work more manageable. Spread out each milestone over realistic timescales and keep the client informed of your progress. Don't forget to allow a little extra time for any unhidden issues that may arise and stick to these smaller deadlines.
Iron out any distractions
If workload is building up and you're not getting things done as fast as you'd like, then perhaps you're being distracted more than you'd like. Consider switching off your phone and email during busier times and avoiding social media like Twitter. When you need to focus and meet a deadline, it's so important nothing distracts you from the task in hand.
Boost your productivity
Being a freelancer means you only have yourself to rely on. Therefore, it's so important you're working at your very best and being the most productive you can be. Make sure you boost your productivity by sleeping and eating well, taking lots of breaks and enjoying lots of exercise to reduce stress.
Manage client expectations
Keep your clients happy by keeping them in the loop. Make sure the communication channels are open throughout any project and your client will be well-served and satisfied that you're doing your very best to get the work done. If you think you're not able to deliver on time, it's much better to inform the client and be honest. They'll appreciate you letting them know if things are delayed.
Increase your rates
If workload really isn't becoming more manageable and you've tried all of the above, perhaps it's time to consider increasing your rates. It could just be that you're too affordable. By making yourself more expensive during busy times, you're more likely to only take on higher value projects while putting off all of those time wasters and types of small clients who end up demanding more for much less budget.