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How to Budget Your Time and Attention

  • By Emilie Johnston
  • November 25, 2020

Learn how properly focusing your limited resources can lead to big business gains in the FREE Six-Figure Freelancer audio course, with Justin Cignac, co-founder of Working Not Working, where he shares some of his strategies. 

As freelancers, we get to set our own schedules. We work when it suits us, and we have the freedom to radically alter our focus when the need, or the whim, arises. But this freedom comes at a cost.

We don’t have the structure you find in a 9 to 5 job. We don’t have a traffic department managing our schedule. We don’t have salespeople feeding us projects. And we certainly don’t have a boss policing our activities, making certain we stay on task.

When you’re a freelancer, you are the person in the pit, doing the work, as well as the sales team, traffic manager, executive chef, janitor, and boss. Managing all of these hats can be challenging, but when you’re the master of your own destiny, it’s critical that you budget them effectively. You need to plan your time and your focus on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis if you truly want to achieve six-figure freelancer status.

Justin Cignac’s career as a freelancer helped hone these skills, and he’s used them to build Working Not Working into one of the most potent, exclusive networking groups for in-demand creative professionals in the world. He knows a thing or two, and he talks about his experience in his episode of the Six-Figure Freelancer audio course.

Segmenting and Prioritizing Your Time

There are only so many hours in a day, and each can only be spent doing one thing. There is no such thing as multitasking, insofar as you can’t physically do two or three things simultaneously. You can certainly have multiple processes going at the same time, but your focus is singular.

It’s really easy to think everything’s a priority. It’s not. It’s not actually possible to tackle everything at the same time. So it’s coming up with a plan of where you want to be and then building out a strategy back from that. 

Justin Gignac, Six Figure Freelancer audio course

It’s difficult to prioritize your time effectively when you don’t have specific short term and long term goals in mind. You need criteria to gauge the relative importance of the individual activities you could focus on at any given moment. Your goals provide the framework for your judgments. 

As an example, if you’re trying to work out how long you should be spending on marketing efforts relative to billable work, consider what your sales goals are. If you want to add ten new clients a month, what do you have to do to make that happen? How many cold calls do you need to make? How much time do you need to spend updating your website?

These are the steps you need to take in order to realize your goal. Segmenting your objectives into a granular list of steps can help you determine where your time needs to be spent. And it helps you budget your limited resources to advance the proper elements on a realistic schedule.

It’s so easy as a freelancer, to feel like you’re failing all the time or feel like you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. So If you can break it down and say like, ‘Hey, what’s one thing I can do today right now?’

And then just go, ‘Alright, cool. I’m going to go do that.’ It takes as much time making excuses as it does making progress. And I think if you can go and figure out how to make some progress, you’ll feel better. 

Justin Gignac, Six Figure Freelancer audio course

Prioritizing Your Time Only Works If You Can Stay on Task

Segmenting your time and setting priorities won’t profit you if you don’t stay on the course you’ve set. In addition to controlling your environment and eliminating distractions so that you aren’t interrupted, you need to learn to separate the spheres of your operation. Each requires different skills and a different type of focus, so trying to multitask between them will drag down your productivity.

When you’re creating work for clients, don’t allow your focus to be pulled by looming administrative duties. Yes, those pending invoices need to be sent out, and you’ll do it, but not until the time you’ve scheduled that activity. 

In order to make your new client quota, you need to send out 20 more cold emails this week. Don’t worry that you aren’t doing it right now. Right now you’re creating, sending invoices, or working on proposals, and that needs to be your entire focus in order to be most effective. Block off time in your schedule for the emails and take care of sending them then.

Focus Your Attention on Others and Your Business Will Flourish

The last two sections make it can seem like you should be spending all of your time actively building your business, focusing on what you need to be doing for you. But it’s equally important to focus on what you can do for other people because it’s the people in your life that help you build your business.

You might be sitting at home, alone, in your Star Wars boxers, munching on Cheetos as you hammer away at your latest assignment, but you aren’t actually in business alone. You’re in business with the clients that support you. Your colleagues are your friends and acquaintances that refer you work. Your vendors aren’t employees, but they are your partners. 

Every person that you interact with has the potential to bring something valuable to your business, and the easiest way to open those doors is to ask what you can do for them.

You don’t ask with expectations, and you don’t cease being helpful if the kindness isn’t immediately returned. When you turn your attention to other people’s needs, you’re cultivating relationships, and these relationships can blossom in wonderfully unexpected ways.

The most important thing you can do is nurture and value your relationships and not do anything in a self-serving way. [You’re] just putting yourself out there, being part of the community and letting people know that you’re there for them and that you could be a help for them, whether it’s actually doing the work that you do or if it’s just a shoulder to lean on, all of that stuff really helps.

Justin Gignac, Six Figure Freelancer audio course

Frequently, the time you invest in other people comes back to you in multiples, as long as it’s done sincerely. So budgeting time for other people is, indirectly, spending time on yourself, but amplified.

Whatever You’re Doing, Invest Yourself in It Completely

When you assign a task a priority in your schedule, treat it as if it’s the most important thing you could be working on at that time. Not only will this attitude keep you laser-focused, but it will also make certain you give everything you do everything you have.

Because everything you do is an opportunity to grow your business. When you create, do the best work you possibly can, regardless of whether you like the project. When drafting proposals, make them as engaging as possible, even if you aren’t particularly excited about the client. You simply never know what opportunities might be hiding below the surface.

Look at everything as an opportunity, even if maybe the project itself isn’t the opportunity. Maybe it’s bailing someone out of a situation or just coming with enthusiasm and passion and [your client] can say, “Wow, they were really psyched about that terrible direct mail brief…what would they do with something that was actually, you know, juicy and fun to work on? Let’s, give them an opportunity there.”

Justin Gignac, Six Figure Freelancer audio course

The next big thing could come from anywhere, so tackle everything with equal passion. 

And Track Your Time!

No article on time and focus budgeting is complete without a plea to track your time. When you don’t keep records of how you use your hours each day you’ll never be certain that you’re holding yourself to the budgets you’ve set.

The human mind is very good at selectively remembering certain things while forgetting others. You may think you spend far more time marketing than you actually do. You may imagine that you don’t let yourself get distracted, but if you kept accurate records you might surprise yourself with just how much time you waste in a day.

So track everything you do, whether you’re working on billing, phone calls, marketing, proposals, actual creative work, or binging a Netflix show. You’ll learn a lot about how your actual schedule aligns with your budgeted one.

Your Time is Precious. Don’t Waste It.

If you want to join the ranks of the six-figure freelancers, you need to milk as much value as possible out of the time you have available, and the best way to do that is to set clear, measurable goals for yourself, with achievable milestones along the way. Then break the steps needed to achieve those goals down into specific, scheduled actions and hold yourself to them. And track your time to make certain you’re doing what you said you would.

Success is achieved one step at a time. You just need to take the first one.

Learn more about how you can kickstart your six-figure freelance career in Justin Cignac’s episode of the Six-Figure Freelancer audio course.

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