Keep the Freelancer Clock Ticking

moneytimeToday’s guest post is brought to you by Elizabeth Fayle, and it’s the last installment on her SMART series, one that’s proven to be an eye opener for many readers just like you. If you missed the first few posts, you can read them here:

The intro to SMART freelancing
The first key: Specific
The second key: Measurable
The third key: Agreed Upon
The fourth key: Realistic

Today is the last in the series of freelancing SMARTer, truly a bittersweet moment for me. It’s bitter because I’ve had a blast interacting with such a SMART crowd of readers, and that interaction is drawing to an end.

And it’s sweet because now I get to discuss my ultimate, favorite topic: T, for Time-based, which has a great deal to do with project management. And project management is what I do best.

I could throw the text book definition of project management at you…

Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives.

… but chances are that most freelancers would respond, “Huh?” In fact, I’d have to agree with you.

So, let’s start with what a project is. A project is anything you do within your business that includes the following two elements:

  1. A start date
  2. An end date

It’s as simple as that. In other words, a project is fully time-based.

A project is not about checking your emails each day. It is not about updating your bookkeeping or worrying about your finances. It is not about bringing in clients or finding partners to work with.

These are ongoing administrative tasks with no specific start and end dates. They aren’t projects. They might occur on certain days, but for as long as you operate the business, they’re there, with no end date in sight.

A project starts and ends. It’s a post you’ve agreed to write for a client. It’s a design you’ve agreed to create. It’s an ebook you’re writing for your business. It’s an overhaul of your services, a marketing blitz or a course you’re building. It’s a joint venture that you’re collaborating on.

If it has a start date and an end date, it is a project. And it needs to be managed properly to turn out well. To begin well, to progress well and to end well.

Project management, therefore, is about:

  1. Identifying the start date
  2. Identifying the end date
  3. Identifying all the steps that need to happen to get you from the start date to the end date.

Here’s where it gets really exciting. To accomplish the ‘T’ in SMART for project management, you have to use the S-M-A-R in the SMART acronym that we’ve already discussed. Let’s recap:

S – Specific

What is the specific product or service you’ve agreed to deliver? When you know that, you can establish all the steps you need to take between the start and end date of your project. Very often, there are more steps involved than you think, and you may uncover additional, smaller steps you’d missed.

M – Measurable

What can you measure for each step? How long will each of those steps take, reasonably? When you know that, you can better pinpoint and establish the end date of the project – one you can actually meet comfortably without scrambling. (Trust me, you might be surprised at how often you short-change yourself.)

A – Agreed Upon

What arrangements have you agreed to with any outside party, such as a client, a partner, an outsourcer or staff? When you know that, you can establish which steps other people are responsible for, and how long it might take them to accomplish. This is especially important for the domino effect – if Joe needs to do X before Kim can do Y, you need to know when you and Joe have agreed he’ll deliver.

R – Realistic

How much work can you realistically take on at any given time? What’s your available work schedule looking like this week and for the coming weeks? When you know that, you can establish your project start date and know when it’ll all begin.

The beauty of it all brings tears to my eyes.

By the time you get to that last letter T in SMART, the rest is pretty much a no-brainer. You know when your project starts, how long it’ll take, how much time you have available to work on it, when you’ll work on it and when you’ll be finished. You’ll be able to commit and complete in full confidence.

And then, you’ll be managing your project properly. Project management is simply the glue that binds all the elements of SMART into place for something solid.

All you need to do is write everything down. You don’t need a fancy-schmancy project management tool either (although using one does make life a lot easier). Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Check your workload calendar or spreadsheet and write down when you’ll start your project.
  2. Create a to-do list that shows all the steps you need to take, including their due dates
  3. Based on the time involved for each step, figure out your project end date
  4. Check your to-do list each day to stay on track, marking tasks complete as you go along.

And that’s it! Congratulations. You are now one of the SMARTest freelancers out there. Go forth and conquer.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. I enjoyed this on a couple of different levels. And I like the SMART delivery. This is something to keep.

  2. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Thanks Elizabeth, I do feel SMARTer.

    Life gets so complicated. The ability to concentrate on just one project is often a luxury.

    I’ve spent the last couple months finishing up existing work commitments so I can begin a new project. I plan to use your SMART method to finally be able to…go forth and conquer.

    James, I’d like a one page “SMART” bookmark to print out for my New Year’s Resolutions? Bet other MwP fans would too. Pretty Please?

  3. @Mary – You mean all posts combined into one summary?

  4. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Others might like a complete package of the posts. Actually I was thinking of something to tape to the desk/computer (bookmark or Holy Card size–LOL) Just the mnemonic with a couple words of description.

    ie. (edited from above)

    S – Specific

    What is the specific product or service you’ve agreed to deliver?

    M – Measurable

    What can you measure for each step?

    A – Agreed Upon

    What arrangements have you agreed to with any outside party,

    R – Realistic

    How much work can you realistically take on at any given time?

    T- Time…

    These sentences need revising, just want the main point in as few words as possible.

  5. An important part of keeping time realistic is to leave space in your daily schedule for interruptions, meetings and things that take longer than you thought they would. Otherwise you’re guaranteeing yourself late nights and a crabby family. A simple rule of thumb is 4/5 work, 1/5 cushion.
    .-= Chris´s last blog ..Big Chill Triggers Eagle Invasion =-.

  6. Hi James,

    As a Project Manager myself (and a someone running a Project Management website) I find that your definition of Project Management a bit oversimplified. A good definition of Project Management is “The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations from a project.” (from the PMO and Project Management Dictionary).
    .-= PM Hut´s last blog ..Project Contingency =-.

  7. @PM – Sorry, didn’t catch your name, just a keyword…

    Oversimplified, when speaking to people who are first being introduced to project management, is often the very best way to reach them. I know that I personally enjoy clear, simple terms *that I can understand* when being taught something new, and I appreciate Elizabeth’s way of explaining project management to freelancers for that same reason.

    But, to each our own, eh!

    @ Chris – Dave Navarro taught me that one. Always schedule in at least an hour a day for the unexpected. And if you don’t need it, well then! You just gained an hour to powerhouse it down :)

    @ Mary – I think you just did a great job right there!

    @ Hal – Thanks. It’s a keeper for sure.

  8. @Hal – glad SMART sums it up for you

    @Mary – you don’t necessarily have to focus on 1 project at a time. As a matter of fact, that is often not possible. However, you need to know how many projects at a time you can realistically juggle. Quite often projects overlap, in that you are winding one down, while starting one up. It’s still a matter of applying all the principles to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

    @Chris – excellent point. Not to mention overhead like cleaning up emails, invoicing, etc.

    @PM Hut – I don’t disagree that it is an oversimplified definition. But as James pointed out, it is based on the intended audience. You and I understand the term stakeholder, but to someone running their own copywriting business, they could conjure of images of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These articles put the basic concepts out there for people to ponder, and hopefully have an ‘ah ha!’ moment or two. Then we can move onto more indepth explanations. And to be honest, I still wouldn’t use the word stakeholder with my clients. I tried to pull the term ‘resources’ (staff) on James and he blew raspberries at me :-)
    .-= Eliza´s last blog ..The (Mis)Adventures of Mike: Mapping out business processes =-.

  9. Thanks Elizabeth – I’ve enjoyed these posts. My goal setting has improved dramatically since I discovered the SMART system. It’s time to set more goals for the New Year!

  10. @Gillian – ah, your comment warms the cockles of my heart. If I am able to help just one person improve the efficiency of their business I have done my job :-)
    .-= Eliza´s last blog ..The (Mis)Adventures of Mike: Mapping out business processes =-.

  11. I do apply all of the principles you’ve described. However, right now I’m struggling to keep a project on track because the *client* is not living up to her side of the timeline. I’ve been doing as much reasonable prompting/nudging that I can. She simply doesn’t seem to care about completing the project on time…or any time soon!

    At least I invoice upon submission of draft copy, so that’s not a worry. But I’d still like to get it done!

  12. As a matter of fact, there are so many clutters around you when you’re sitting at the computer that time management could be a challenge these days, BUT one must overcome it.

    … and this is done only through the “T” expressed so well at this post. I appreciate it and fully agree with it.
    .-= Website Promotion Blog´s last blog ..Get Google Ranking Position via Fresh Content Marketing =-.

  13. @Marlene – that’s a very interesting dilmena, and one we have discussed here at Make Way. Marc, Make Way’s business advisor, is that your policies state how long the client has to do their ‘homework’. If they pass that time then you are still paid in full. If they then want you to complete the job, you re-negotiate a price. You might want to consider coming up with this type of policy. Does anybody else have any suggestions?
    .-= Eliza´s last blog ..The (Mis)Adventures of Mike: Mapping out business processes =-.

  14. @SiteBooster – this is especially true when you work from a home office. You need to be even more self-disciplined about time management, because you don’t have the structure of a corporate office setting.
    .-= Eliza´s last blog ..The (Mis)Adventures of Mike: Mapping out business processes =-.

  15. @Eliza – I agree with you that home-based businesses could have such issues. Also, at offices, where phone rings, someone knocks on the door, a client wants to talk to you, because she’s come across some unprecedented problem, etc this can become a problem too. It’s at such cases, where planning and management could somewhat reduce the hassle.

    If clients have a weekly time with you, if customers call and your phone ring isn’t that loud and someone else picks up the phone, and so on, we can get rid of those issues to some degrees.
    .-= Website Promotion Blog´s last blog ..How to Participate in a Tweetchat =-.

  16. @SiteBooster – agreed. And particularly challenging in a ‘Dilbert Cube’ environment. People can look over the walls of your office or walk right in. In my 9-5 world, I am very strict about batching my email reading and actioning, and letting my phone ring if I am talking to my staff or heads down busy (that’s what voice mail is for). We need to move away from the idea that everything needs to be responded to RIGHT NOW. When people get too reactive at my 9-5 instead of proactive, I calmly say “It’s a tax system, people. Nobody is going to die.” This tends to put things in perspective :-)
    .-= Eliza´s last blog ..The (Mis)Adventures of Mike: Mapping out business processes =-.

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  1. [...] haste to get the project complete, which means you deliver less than your best. Know yourself and your schedules. Make a to-do list to help you manage your time. Also, work with your calendar when projects come [...]

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