How to be sure you're making the best use of your time to reach your own goals, get more business, outsource the stuff you don't really want to do, become a high-value specialist AND get to take those holiday days you keep hearing about

(that was tongue-in-cheek, btw)

I've worked for myself as a freelance marketer for about 30 years and a web developing, usability focussed, Internet marketer for over 10 years. I've tried loads of time management systems and none have really worked for me. So I've decided to build what I need (and maybe it'll help you too).

Before we start here, the thing about this is, this isn't a massive, ridiculous "get the girls, get the cars, get a yacht, get rich" 'system'. It's not even about that. I don't care about that .. I just saw a sales presentation where a guy put up a picture of a big house and loads of snappy cars, asked the room "Who wants this?" and called everyone who didn't put up their hands "Liars!". Seriously, I don't care, think of the garage bills, I'd be happier on a narrowboat. I'm actually idea-ambitious. I just wanna realise my ideas. "Ping!" Idea. "Wow, that sounds great, but I'm stuck with all these other ideas I want to do too and I have no time, but I really wanna do it."

As a freelancer I do have to pay the bills, and there are only so many hours in a day (I'm a carer for my partner, too*), and I'd really like to spend some time learning to play the drums better. This IS the solution, for me at least, but it ISN'T "do this". It's a tool you can use to help you work out what makes you different, discover what people want from you, and it helps you focus on that.

Basically Freelance Time Manager will help you to:

  • find more time ..
  • find new opportunities ..
  • identify and ditch the crap that's in the way, and having made some spare time/space/energy ..
  • take action towards those new opportunities

For instance, Freelance Time Manager could show that you are overcommitted and help you work out what you should no longer be doing. Having focussed on what you should be doing (based on where you are getting most value (pay? happiness/fulfilment?) you might notice that others in your field are using a different tool to you. You investigate and find there's more money there, so you set up time to get trained up, work on it, and build your hours so when clients come looking in Freelance Time Manager for freelancers with that skillset, you have it. Suddenly, you're up for better projects. It's not a painful process and it's entirely self guided, it's just managing and being aware of your own development and evolution and how you fit in to the market. It's following the money, and managing your time.

All you have to do is fill in this massive, complicated, hard-to navigate form:

Freelance Time Manager data entry screen

That's it. Not complicated or massive or scary actually. (The start time is set automatically). Can you use that screen? If you can record your time using that screen either on your mobile, tablet or desktop computer, then Freelance Time Manager will help you get more organised and focussed. It works incrementally, getting you teeny weeny wins, day in, day out, that build on each other, compound-interest stylee. Naturally, you can start right now, there's a button at the bottom of this screen, a month's free trial and a 90 day money-back guarantee so you can't lose.

(*My partner has ME/CFS. I'm not playing the victim or going for sympathy here, I'm just saying, we all have real lives and if time is curtailed it makes it even more important to get what we want from the hours we do have control of.)

So this isn't me telling you what you should do. I'm just sharing a tool that's gotten me really excited to come to work every day. Here's a spanner, go tighten stuff up. And probably a compass so you know your direction. And an ear trumpet so you know what's going on. That's it. That's my offer. Buy this ear trumpet, compass and spanner in a bag and go do your thing with it. Go fast, go slow, you're in control. Change the world. Change your world. Make money. Go part time. Whatever you want.

(It takes a tiny bit of effort to track your time, so loads don't and won't do it, but Freelance Time Manager makes it as easy as possible.) Anyway, here's the pitch, and at the bottom there's a button you can press if you want to buy in.

1. Focus on the money

You kinda need to keep your best customers on board and if you can keep especially happy the ones that pay you well then maybe you won't have to work so long for other people. So, you turn up on Monday morning and you start using the Freelance Time Manager system. You create a record for your first task and get started. When you're done, one click records your time spent.

End of the month you can raise invoices against your time report by client and/or project. Next month you'll see how you're faring against the previous month.

After a short while the "what next?" report starts to make sense, it shows your projects in value order. So when you start the day, you'll work on your most profitable tasks first. When you complete a part of a task, you can write what needs to be done next, so tomorrow, you'll see a reminder. No more furtling through the notes to bring your brain back up to speed. And you can record what you did do, too. So when someone says "hey, why are you charging me an hour for that?" you can justify it.

The thing is, the money keeps changing. Projects change. So, you change the project data and all your priorities change in the "what next?" report. With the Freelance Time Manager, you're always following the money.

2. Stop doing more than you're paid for

Personally, this is one of my biggest problems. I like my work, and I like my clients. I like to exceed expectations with my clients. I get these bright ideas "oh, that would be cool, they'll like that". But. But but but. That leads to unbilled hours, and it actually devalues me ("Oh, you did that for free did you?" thinks client "can't be worth much"). Freelance Time Manager will alert you when you've worked more than you estimated so that you allocate your hours fairly among your paying clients. Do paid work first, and if you still feel like working, go right ahead. Otherwise, go surfing, safe in the knowledge you've done everything you've been paid to do.

Did I mention I haven't built this system yet? Well, part 1 above is pretty much done, but lots of the rest of this pitch is 'coming'. Not even 'coming soon', just .. 'it's coming'. Truth is I got so excited about it I just wanted to start and share it anyway. So I'm kinda building it 'live' before your eyes. That's better anyway because two things. 1) nowadays software is supposed to be built in collaboration with the user (that's you) so you get what works for you. 'Agile', they call it. 2) You may laugh, but the daintily titled but barnbusting (is that a thing?) book "Nail it then Scale it" seems to say that entrepreneurs with a big idea fail. The ones who start with a mission to listen hard, work hard and serve succeed, assuming they have a market. Obvious, no? Well anyway, yes I have this big dream right here, but if this is going to work for lots of freelancers, I need to work with you. So half the time I'm building my vision, half the time I'm building what you guys have requested. We're walking hand in hand into the sunrise. Anyway, if you're in early, you can influence how it goes so it becomes your dream time management system / project manager / expert system / outsourcer / marketing system / retirement planner too.

If you want to 'see' what the system provides now, here's a 20 minute video (I'm afraid it demonstrates why I went into the software, not the entertainment industry). Also, actually I need to do a new one because this is out of date, inevitably. If, instead, you're here for the future possibilities, to support what this can become, then read on.

3. Get alerted if you go off track with a project

Presentation in 6 days, needs 6 hours of prep, so that's 1 hour a day. Fall off that schedule and the system tells you. Simples.

(This is working right now: there's an on-trackness report that gives you, well the best way I can describe it is like an aircraft landing glide slope .. it tells you day by day whether you've done enough on the project to land it on time. And guess what? I love it, here's why.)

4. Work on the clients who pay on time (or even early) before those who whinge and moan and pay late and want more and are always finding problems.

Screw the guys who pay late anyway, reward those who respect your work and pay you right. Give the good guys a higher priority, let them win for a change.

This is actually built .. the time logging screen gently suggests something you might work on next. Behind the scenes, it's prioritised your clients by their spend, whether they pay on time, by the future plans you've entered, and all your projects are prioritised by how much time there is left to work on them, the deadline, and so on. But basically, it comes to a suggestion "work on this next", which you can (obviously) ignore if you wish.

5. Stop doing stuff you don't want to do and 6. Do more of the stuff you do want to do, and 7. get more work that pays better, and 8. specialise

You don't want to do it because you're no good at it and you're no good at it because you don't enjoy it. People say business should be fun and yeah, maybe. It would be great, at least, if you were doing something you felt connected to, most of the time. But basically, the stuff you hate doing .. there's someone out there who loves doing it. So find that person and either marry them or work out some business deal together.

Ready for a wow moment?

So. If you're sat there trying to make Twitter work and hating it. And there's someone out there loving Twitter. And you're both using Freelance Time Manager .. it will be able to hook you up.

More to the point, if you say "show me people who want to do more Twitter work", for those who have opted to share this information, you'll be able to see how many hours they've spent working with Twitter. So you might think someone who's spent 500 hours on Twitter is a better Twitter partner than someone who's spent 100 hours on Twitter.

That's a good reason to start using Freelance Time Manager early, because if you can be the top person in your field, spending more time than most doing your thing, and you can prove it on here, you'll be the go-to expert.

So. Did you catch all that?

Using Freelance Time Manager, you'll be able to find people to whom you can outsource all the stuff you don't want to do, sell your skills to people who want what you've got, become more specialist, move faster in your chosen world and raise your prices because you'll be the damn best at what you do!

(This is working too. If you want to see the opportunities to help another freelancer (make some money / sell your services)) that's working, and if you want to buy in some freelance expertise, that's working too. Fill yer boots (whoop dances also acceptable).)

Update 2 July 2015: here's how Freelance Time Manager helps you decide what to outsource

9. Sharpen the saw

Freelance Time Manager will be able to help you identify the things you need to learn more about, and will demonstrate how time spent learning is an investment that repays later. It will quantify that, so you know you're building your future and can make the case (perhaps to yourself) for spending the time (and maybe money (on, say, a course, book or mentoring)).

Basically, with a clear direction, Freelance Time Manager will help align your daily actions so you work to the right heading. You could, for instance, outsource or resign a client who isn't well aligned, and replace them with someone who is. And Freelance Time Manager will allocate time for development, outside of the "chase the money" routine.

10. Don't spend any time using a time management system

You know what really narks me about the time management system I was using, before this one? The fact that I had so many clients and projects, half of them had died or moved on, and the system wasn't prioritising anything. For me to pick a project and allocate time to it, I had to wade through 5 years of clients and projects to find the one I just worked on. That's bullshit, frankly. A system needs to be easy to use. It just has to be. I'm going to build that. Really. It's what I do.

PS. I'm a bit sick of programmer-shaped tools. I want human-shaped tools. Tools you use without hardly knowing you're using them.

11. Don't worry about balancing and tallying, let the system work it out

I charge some clients for 20 minutes a day managing their Twitter account. If I go over one day, I want it to balance out the next day. No fuss.

12. Provide great estimates

"Hi, I was just looking at your website, I wonder if you can build me a blurble. How much would it cost, and how long would it take?"

That's easy to answer if you build blurbles all day long, but I build websites and do marketing campaigns and run social media accounts, nothing's standard in my world. But Freelance Time Manager will show me how much time was required for me to build the last few blurbles. So .. I can quote more accurately. So when I get the work, there's less chance of me ending up quoting a fixed fee, then working twice as long as I anticipated. And I'm more likely to deliver on time without messing up all my other schedules.

13. Do the right things at the right time

Some projects need long periods of flow time. Others need you to be on the phone. Other stuff you can do while waiting for the dentist. Freelance Time Manager will sort all that out. Easily. On the fly.

In terms of what's available right now, here's a visualisation of my working week (it's part of Freelance Time Manager so you can have one too). The columns are Monday through to Sunday. The top is midnight and progressing down are the small hours, 9am, lunchtime, 5:30 until we reach midnight again.

The thicker the line, the more often I've worked at that time in the week.

For me, it looks like maybe mornings are more variable than afternoons, that I start late-ish and take a late lunch. If I want to schedule some solid concentration time, I'd go for a weekday afternoon so long as it's not a Tuesday.

Example time frequency for the week

14. Handle interruptions seamlessly

We are always getting interrupted. Sometimes the interruption gets interrupted. Then it's time for lunch and nothing gets straight until home-time, if then. Freelance Time Manager handles interruptions really well (that bit's actually working right now: done 17 May 2014).

15. You have to market yourself. You also have to do the filing.

Many of my best clients came from me knocking around on social media. From networking. And from giving away my services. Freelance Time Manager will track where your clients came from and allocate 'worth' backwards to these activities. So you'll know whether Facebook or networking or volunteering or those Facebook Ads actually worked, and what to do to get more work when you need it.

And that client who came from Facebook, who recommended that other client who is now your biggest client? Facebook will get the marketing credit on Freelance Time Manager.

16. You're doing three things at once. Track it to manage it & build your 'CV'

So here I am, working on the "market Freelance Time Manager" project ('product', actually, true to PRINCE2). And if I registered my time against that alone, I'd miss .. .

I'm also writing. Copywriting. So, I'm notching up experience in writing persuasive marketing copy and, believe it or not, I'm using a particular style, trialling that, and it came from some training I just did. But if I just noted those two things I'd miss ...

The experience I'm gaining in using the tool. In this case, it's just the text editor gedit. But if it turns out I spend most of my life here, maybe that would make the case for me learning to use Emacs properly. Not a great example, I agree, but let's say I spend my days writing PHP in gedit (I do). Might it be time to get to grips with Eclipse? (I know, if you're not a coder, that makes no sense, but .. imagine maybe you're spending increasing time using a simple 3D modelling tool. Knowing that, and if it's on your career path, that might make the case for you investing in (buying/learning) the best tool for the job.

So now, when someone pops up wanting a PHP coder with x amount of experience and knowledge of Eclipse .. I mean, I know you can say you have, but if you use Freelance Time Manager you can prove you have. You can say "I've done 5,000 hours of PHP coding, 907 of those in Eclipse", or whatever. It's more persuasive. And when you're wracking your brain to remember what you've been working on all that time? Freelance Time Manager will tell you.

Maybe I'll develop a 'live' "here's what I'm doing" plugin you could use for your website (the sort of thing I (but no-one else) would love).

17. Handle requests from your clients (or bosses)

You can prioritise all you like, but sometimes your bossClient needs you. Freelance Time Manager lets you bump up the priority of a project in response to pressure from those who pay your wages. Fair enough that they ask. Fair enough that you don't just down tools and do exactly what they ask. Take control of the situation and do the right thing, here's how.

Here's what Freelance Time Manager isn't

Now, I know you're probably a visual artist or graphic designer, so what I'm about to say is going to suck really badly. But I'm not a graphic designer, and I'm going to concentrate first on getting this to work, using what I know. Once I've got the ergonomics and functionality sorted, I'll turn more to how it looks. I know I'm wrong. I know beautiful things work better. I'm just saying, I'm going to do what I can do, and that's create usable, human-shaped web services. It may very well turn out that I'll use Freelance Time Manager to find the graphic designer to design the logo & look of the whole site.

Basically, as I write, Freelance Time Manager is absorbing shedloads of my time, and I'm spending money, not making it in any real sense. That's not to say I've received no benefit, it's really helped me get my business back in focus. So what I'm saying is, Freelance Time Manager will work well, but look like shit. At least for the first, I don't know, decade or so. Maybe less. It's all down to you, really.

Here's what Freelance Time Manager is

So, in plain words, Freelance Time Manager is presently a website where you can log your time and receive online reports. If you can get the Internet on your phone, you can use it that way while you're on the move. It's not (yet) an app.

I pay for Hootsuite every month: software that helps me manage my Twitter accounts. Even Borrow My Doggie charges (£9.99 per year so you can go walk someone else's dog). Survey Monkey charges. Freelance Time Manager is software and a service that you pay for because you'll get so very much more back in terms of efficiency benefits, and because if Freelance Time Manager has an income stream, ultimately it raises the service from raggedy to reliable, professional & damn good.

Like I say, at present what's working is time logging against clients and projects, monthly totals reports, on-trackness, the shape of the day thing above, and "what next? / follow the money", and it'll tally up your commitments. Freelance Time Manager is a work-in-progress. I want you to get in early at the super-low early-in special price. Use it and shape it.

What about the people stuck as a normal-worker-drone?

Although I'm designing Freelance Time Manager to suit my way of working, as a freelancer with multiple projects and tasks, I did used to have a proper job (a long time ago) and I can imagine it would work well tracking the various people who gave me work, the different projects and obligations, and being able to justify myself to my boss.

Overall I think the 'being in control of your own destiny' aspects would appeal to me most in that situation, because if you're working in a company you're often pulling in one direction while the company wants other things from you. Inevitable. Well, Freelance Time Manager will help you find time for your own development and direction. And when it's time to leave (no-one stays in a job more than 5 years nowadays do they?) you've got all your time-doing-skills and time-using-a-tool records to make a CV out of.

And of course if all you have is an hour an evening to work on what you want to do, it's even more important to manage your time.

Here's the plan

I'm building this software anyway. I'm a tad busy on paid work though, so it's a skunkworks. Saturdays, usually. And I could make it freely available but that's just going to cause problems down the line with hosting costs and so on, and it'll hold back development, say, of an app, or of the graphic design side of it, or of internationalisation, or whatever groovy feature y'all end up wanting. And anyway it wouldn't be fair. That would be, asking my clients to subsidise me working on this software so you can have it for free.

So, yes, it's going to be a chargeable service. But at the same time, right now the first real functionality of the software is up and running (and it's so exciting I'm getting up at like 5am to use it, I might add (yep, just did that, Sunday 5am .. I actually woke the cat not the other way around!)). But the rest is yet to be written. So obviously I can't charge, like, $19.95 a month to use it.

So I came up with the plan of asking the first, perhaps most forward thinking, most trusting, and some might say nicest person who says "yes, I support this project", to pay just 1p a month to use it (that's pence, UK Sterling). And that price would be locked-down forever, for them.

And the next nicest person, 2p. The one after, 3p. And so on. (Pinboard does that sort of thing too (click the 'why').)

Then it turned out Paypal charges 20p per transaction so I worked-out my system as a discounted annual fee, and as a lifetime one-off fee, so you have some options.

What that achieves is:

  • I can make it available to you right now, here, like .. you're, like, 37 seconds away from starting your voyage of discovery
  • I can gauge support
  • You can get in early and contribute your own input, so it will .. well, it will just be better software. More eyeballs and all that.
  • Of course, early birds get the super-low price as a reward for being nicer than everyone else.

Here's what to do

Look, this page is almost 7,000 words long. If you didn't support this project, you'd have gone a long time ago.

(If you want the prices in $, btw, click here.)

If you can't afford or just don't want to pay 40¢ a month (or $4.00 per year) but still think it's kinda cool, you can still support the project by sharing this page over social media. And if money's the issue, Freelance Time Manager will be able to help you get paying work.

(On the subject of not having any money (I've been there with knobs on, I know what it's like) , let's imagine you're working at the supermarket and doing artwork at home in the evening, not sure how to move forward with it or who would want what you do. Registering now with Freelance Time Manager will start your record of how much time you spend with Photoshop or pen and ink. When the facility comes for you to offer your services, you'll be able to prove your experience.)

Anyway, another way you can support the project is by letting me know which of the above gets you most excited (I'll program that next, you see). Here's me: / Twitter: @FreelanceTimeMg).

So .. assuming the price isn't a showstopper and assuming (since you've reached this point) that you support the project, it makes sense to just .. subscribe (before some bastard nips in before you and the price rises).

Let me make a couple of things clear.

If you choose the monthly or annual subscriptions, you get a FREE TRIAL, so you PAY NOTHING TODAY and it's TOTALLY RISK FREE. I know. Can't write FREE TRIAL and it not be in all caps, right? Anyway, it's a month. So. Well, first of all, it's all through Paypal, so if you try it and don't like it or change your mind just cancel your payment and that's it. I'll still love you for trying it and for wanting it to be great. No problem.

Whatever you choose, there's a 90 day total happiness, no quibble, money back guarantee. So, if you set up Freelance Time Manager, try it for 33 days or 87 days and finally decide you don't like it. Or you just never get around to using it (too busy, huh?) No worries. Just let me know before 90 days and I'll refund your money. No quibble, no problem.

So basically, try it. You can't lose. And if you do like it and still support it (which I think, by the way, is quite likely), you'll have locked down that ridiculously small 40¢ a month (or $4.00 per year) price forever, just for yourself. And you can laugh (and point) at the people coming after you who will pay more. Ha! Ha Ha Ha ☞

Finally, you don't have to have a PayPal account to pay through PayPal, you can just use a card on the first screen you come to, it looks like this:

No Paypal account? Click to pay by credit or debit card

Any difficulties or other wishes (maybe you want to pay with Bitcoin or just transfer the lifetime fee by bank transfer, or send a cheque, or pay in a different currency) or send me a goat a goat, feel free to let me know / Twitter: @FreelanceTimeMg).

So .. remember what this is all about. I'm building a tool to help you snatch control from the jaws of everyone else wanting a piece of you. I'm proposing to give you the tools to help you clear out the junk, time-wasting bits of your life so you can concentrate on what you do best, get really seriously good at it, get to the top of whatever it is you do or go part time or whatever it is you want, and spend your days enjoying doing what you love NOT by giving you a fancy cure, but just by giving you some clarity so you can make your own decisions. And if that means more holidays or time with the family, so be it. Freelance Time Manager will oil your wheels. Or maybe it'll be your rocket pack. Or your sargeant major. Or maybe it's a cockpit display. Anyway, I, and it, will be here for you, cheering you on and buying you an ice cream when you get there.

So here we are, 6,914 words later. Did you just waste your time? You've gotta be up for it if you've read this far. So here's the bit where you choose. Would you like my bag with a spanner, a compass and an ear trumpet in it? Are you in or not?

Press a button for your FREE TRIAL >>>

($ prices?)

(So let's be clear. If you charge, say, $50 per hour & you choose to pay per year, the Freelance Time Manager just has to save you 4 minutes annually, or find you 4 minutes more client work and you're in profit.)

(Remember: if you're not happy, just let me know within 90 days and I'll give you your money back, no quibble.)

(Also remember: Freelance Time Manager loves you and just wants you to be happy.*)

(* I'm joshing.**)

(** No, actually I'm serious.)

"Marvelous! Knowing how much of one’s activity doesn’t have a cheque attached is an eye opener! But knowledge is power!"

R Welford