Tips for working smarter as a freelance coder

    Let’s go back to the first time you were allowed to work from home. It probably felt so alien. Hang on a second, I can chill around in my underwear, drink beer and choose the best time to work? 

    But you may have found that getting that enormous pile of work done whilst at home is well, challenging to say the least. Not to mention the extra pounds you may have gained from all the snacks. 

    Freelancers face the wading through the pile of work task on a daily basis. Yeah, we know, first world problems eh. But take note, it may sound like an absolute blast, but when there’s no set rules to follow, how do you make sure you manage your oh so precious time effectively so you actually get to reap all those freelance benefits you've heard so much about?

    Maybe you're a seasoned freelance coder and you’ve hit a productivity wall, or perhaps you’re entirely new to the game. Either way, it’s time to give yourself a gentle - or not so gentle - kick up the backside and make sure you’re reaching your full potential. Not only will your clients benefit from your ability to manage time and you being on your absolute A game, but you’ll start to relax into it and enjoy the working day that little bit more. Plus you’ll get to the end of the month knowing you’ve maximised your efforts for a hella good paycheck. 

    You might have read our awesome guide ‘to becoming a freelance developer’. This gave you an overview of how to make the leap, and start to get work. Now we’re onto the nitty gritty, actually getting work done. Because sorry, you can’t just go for 12 o'clock beers with your mates on a daily basis. Or watch Netflix all day… we’re not in uni halls now. 

    If you don’t learn to manage your time effectively or you’re finding it’s all work no play, your bank account is going to take a hit, and, well, you might not make the most out of being a freelance coder *sigh*.

    See also: The ultimate 'how to' guide to becoming a freelance developer


    Define your working hours

    Sure, you get to decide when you work and when you don’t, that’s surely the main reason you chose this gig. But that doesn’t mean it’s wise to have no structure. Yes, you don’t have to work nine to five, but, it’s still beneficial to set yourself some rough working hours, and stick to them. 

    Try out different working hours to see when you are most productive. Are you a night owl or early bird? Test nine to five, ten til six, eleven til seven, and see what gets your creative juices flowing. You might be the type of freelance coder who dabbles in some split shifts. Hey - it ain’t just for the catering clan.

    Top tip - remember working for longer isn’t necessarily better. If you can get shizz done in four hours then go for it.

    Right, now we’ve nailed your working hours, it’s time to sort out your ability to focus... 

    See also: 6 crutial steps to starting a web developer career with no experience




    Beat those distractions

    Trying to manage your time is hard when there are constant distractions. That washing up isn’t going to wash itself and march back into the cupboard, and of course you can pop round to a mate’s for an ultimate super soaker war, it’s not like you’ve got to work. Oh no wait, you do. Remember - priorities. You have to stop letting yourself get distracted so easily and knuckle down. When you’re working, you’re working. Tough. Learn to say no to friends and family when they try and drag you away from your desk, they don’t get it. That website’s not going to code itself. No sir. 

    Your mates won't understand why it's important that tiny line of code gets done today rather than their suggestion of a few cheeky beers.. But you can bet your ass your nice but slightly impatient client won't be as blasé when they call to ask why their site isn’t done and your only possible response is, errr, soz I was out with my mates. 

    But, despite this, it is important to remember the whole reason you're freelance is so you can be flexible, so if you MUST shut the laptop at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon because the sun is shining and the pub is just.too.inviting, then go. Fixing that script can wait. Have a ball, don't feel guilty just know you have to make up that time to maximise your earning potential.

    Oh and then there’s the dreaded PSN - procrastination. All freelancers experience this, it doesn’t matter what field you are in. Failure to launch. Waking up and doing anything but starting work. Overthinking projects so much that you never get started.

    There will no doubt be some days like this, just make sure you’ve got a strategy for when your mind is rebelling. Say to yourself, I’m just going to start with twenty minutes on this client’s site, because 20 minutes is better than 0 minutes. And if you seriously can't do a thing - make planning your sole goal. 

    If you can't do the work then thinking about it some more and writing down everything you have to do is the next best thing. Plus seeing it all mounting up will give you a bloody good nudge to get cracking or else you'll be grovelling at your clients' feet. Errr, not attractive or professional.

    If you want to succeed in the competitive freelance world you can’t procrastinate constantly. It’s time to start making things happen instead of waiting for them to happen. You’ve got this. But if you really do need a helping hand, read our blog post on how to stop procrastinating.

    Some days will feel like a boxing fight, where you know the outcome. No matter how many jabs you throw - or websites you code - they’re just not effective. Which is why it’s handy to know when to throw in the towel, or in your case, laptop…

    See also: How to: stop procrastinating


    Knowing when it's a write off

    You will have some days where the most you can do is make yourself tea and aimlessly browse internet news sites, clicking on distraction after distraction...

    Let’s be honest, we can’t all be productive 100% of the time. If your brain feels like it’s going to explode and your ability to code efficiently is plummeting, take a break. Rest and come back to fight another day. Trust us, your clients will thank you for it. 

    And if you really can’t code on a particular day, you can always have a go at doing other stuff, like chasing invoices, organising your accounts - snore - or building your professional brand online. Swap intense coding for some gentle planning and you can get all those little things done that have been piling up.

    You know how to realise when to call it a day, now it’s time to see just how organised you can be...

    See also: Which coding anti hero are you? Front end, back end or full stack?




    Organise and plan your time

    If you want to stay on your A game, you need a plan. James Bond didn’t just take that villain down without a plan. No, spreadsheets aren’t fun - unless you’re a spreadsheet nerd, you know who you are - but they are necessary.

    Use time management resources and apps to help keep you on track and ensure you don’t miss any deadlines. Goodbye messy notepage, hello Google Calendar. Organisation is key to meaning you can take on more work and be more efficient and produce better work for every client.

    Better time management will keep your stress levels down, and trust us, keeping your cool is a massive part of being a freelance coder. If nothing is organised properly and you start running out of time you will start to notice your stress creeping up. What’s the point in being freelance if due to your own inability to manage your time, you’re super stressed all the time??

    See also: 5 jobs that are easier to land if you know how to code


    Know when to say no and make time for number 1

    It’s oh so tempting to say YES to every single morsel of work. The more work you do the more £££ you get, but remember it’s all about balance. It’s pointless having tons of money if you’ve got no time to enjoy it because you are working yourself into the ground. Eventually you will combust. Being a successful freelance coder is about finding a balance, and knowing which jobs are a no go, because some jobs are more trouble than they’re worth.

    Saying yes to everything means that nothing is amazing, everything you produce is a compromise and your clients will end up satisfied but not dying to line up to use you again. Think of the word of mouth and the reviews too, if your work is always effing amazing, you'll 100% be spoken about in a very favourable light and your client base will only grow, along with your bank balance. It's not just true in the dating world, you're far more desirable if you're hard to get...?

    Plus, if you're finding you desperately want to do the work you're asked to and you really can't get everything done, you could always build up a team. That’s when you can take your freelance coding career to the next level, why do all the hard work when you can get others to do it for you? You can also cherry pick your favourite projects and clients, which will send your job satisfaction - and your monthly income - through the roof.

    See also: 4 important reasons to invest in professional development training

    Topics: Code