Ten time-management tips for self-employed people

Managing people

24 July 2017

Many more of us are choosing the self-employed lifestyle. Between 2008 and 2015, self-employment in the UK rose from 3.8 million to 4.6 million.

Being your own boss is great: you can set your own hours and be flexible about time off. However, in practice, nearly a third of self-employed people spend less than four hours a week with friends and family.

Here are our time-management tips for finding a work-life balance when you’re self-employed.

Keep things separate

It’s great being able to pick up messages wherever you are, but this can impact on your free time. Have separate work and personal email and social media accounts. Set up different ring tones for friends and clients, or even have two phones. It’s unlikely you genuinely have to be on call 24/7.

Find the right platform

There are plenty of platforms, apps and tools to help you manage your time and workload. Google Calendar is a straightforward place to start. If you work as part of a project team, you could use a platform such as Slack or Trello to make communication and sharing easier. Of course, there are some occasions when a good old paper diary is still your best friend.

Mind the gaps

When you’re filling in your diary, make sure you build in plenty of gaps to your schedule so you can be flexible. These contingency periods prevent work spilling over into the evening or weekend. You may even get an early finish, or get part way through tomorrow’s list. If you have jobs without fixed deadlines, create artificial ones so they don’t drag on.

Keep on top of admin

Shoving brown envelopes on a pile is tempting if you’re up against deadlines. However, investing some time each day to keep on top of administration, accounts, tax and your business insurance will prevent major build-ups up or vital tasks from going astray. Not managing your accounts properly can result in penalties if your tax return is late, for instance. If you’re really struggling with this...

Outsource essential tasks

If you feel you’re spending too much time on admin, and the actual work is falling behind, consider a virtual PA. You can engage a PA just for a few hours a week to help you get on top of things. This can be a great way of buying back time at a reasonable cost.

Step away from the desk

Take a little time out, and you’ll return to the task in a more productive mood. If you work from home, you can even use this break to do a few household jobs, freeing you up in the evening. Employed people are better at taking breaks because they’re often scheduled in. Learn from this and have a decent lunch or tea break.

Work with your natural rhythms

This is one of the greatest advantages of being self-employed, so use it. What time of day are you at your best? Carry out your most complex tasks at this point, and stick to essential but more straightforward admin during your natural down-time. If you’re a night owl, feel free to work at midnight (just hold off the emails until the morning).

Schedule free time

If you are really struggling with your workload, build time off into your schedule. You run your own business – make the most of it, and hit the gym, shops, beach, or café when employed people are in the office.

Plan proper vacations

In the workplace, we’ll happily say: “Sorry, I can’t do that next week, I’m on holiday”. However, as self-employed workers, we have a fear of letting our clients down if we’re not always on hand. The result: the smartphone’s on the beach, or we’re busy emailing from the airport. Clients are reasonable people who understand about holidays. Give advance notice to regular customers, then stick on that “out of office”, just like you did when you were employed.

Rent a desk

If you work from home, “home time” becomes a blurry concept. Consider renting desk space or a small office. As well as setting boundaries, you have the advantage of extra facilities such as meeting rooms (and company).

For more information on making sure the balance between work and home life doesn’t become too blurred when you’re self-employed, take a look at our guide to getting enough ‘me time’.