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Time Management for Freelancers: My Wired Article

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I have the nerdly pleasure of writing for Wired about every other month. This piece chronicles 6 weeks of my life trying to implement time management programs as a freelancer. It was super fun to write and I ACTUALLY LEARNED STUFF IN THE PROCESS. I sincerely hope you enjoy it. If you have a need for instant gratification or a bizarre magazine phobia then start reading it here:

Diary of a Self-Help Dropout: Flirting With the 4-Hour Workweek

Time-management books command huge swaths of bookstore shelf space and sell tens of thousands of copies a year, but I always figured they applied more to stapler-stealing cubicle jockeys than someone like me. I am a freelancer. My services are available to anyone at any time. In a former life I was probably a whore. In this one, I am responsible for two cartoon voice-overs, three writing jobs, a movie soundtrack, my stand-up comedy act, TV hosting gigs, and half of a musical-comedy duo. Don’t get me wrong; in this economy, I’m grateful for the work. But without any kind of 9-to-5 structure, it’s a lot to keep track of.

So how do I handle it? Poorly. My days are like eBay shipments: a few tangible things and a whole lot of packing peanuts. I obviously need help being the boss of me. So I decided to try an experiment: I’d spend two weeks absorbing, in succession, three well-known productivity systems and see if I could find one that worked for those of us who count income in 1099s instead of W-2s. I already owned David Allen’s Getting Things Done; Gina Trapani, editor of the blog Lifehacker, further recommended Julie Morgenstern’s Never Check E-Mail in the Morning and Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek. That made three, and three examples is all you need for a magazine article.

Continue reading at wired.com—>

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30 comments

  • Wow, you went further with David Allen’s book than I did. I’m using some of Tim Ferriss’ suggestions (80/20 on my tasks), but I’m not quite up to the outsourcing level he has. Great job on the article! It’s motivation for me to finish up my website management to do list before January 1.

  • Very interesting article, Chris. I have to say I am glad that you decided to read and write about those books, because I could never bring myself to pick up any of them. The Ferriss book doesn’t sound too bad, though.
    And as always, you didn’t fail in making me laugh.

  • Reading your article makes me sad. I’ve had GTD sitting unread on my bookshelf for a few months now (I swear I’m gonna read it, right after I finish…this…thing…over…here…hey are those donuts?) and it kinda sucks to read this and infer that no book is going to magically change my lazy, procrastinating attitude.

  • Hey Chris,
    Just read the wired article. It was EXTREMELY useful considering the fact that I was just about to investigate a new time management method. It seems like I’m going 100 different directions most of the time, glad to know even the professionals have the same feeling from time to time. All and all, great article!

  • Chris, this is a fantastic read. I jumped on the article, because I’m reading Ferriss’s 4HWW as well, right now, and am really looking forward to the time when I can find myself still unorganized, only with a small militia of foreign assistants killing menial minutiae for me.

    I certainly remember you from back in the day, and I’d have to say, I appreciate this version of you much more than as a host. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a funny cat, but you write with great wit and snap. Looking forward to staying up with the Nerdist and all you (do or don’t) have to offer.

    In a good way,
    Greg

  • The Genius of the article – which I read in print – was that I was able to read it in 3 parts on 3 different days guilt-free! How’s that for organizing things into time-manageable bites?
    Go Chris!

  • I read this article in the physical issue of Wired… and I loved it. It really shows how even the most busy people can just take a step back and manage everything into little tid-bits of tasks. Awesome job Chris!

  • Good job, Hardwick! This almost inspired me to start one of the 37 or so everyday tasks that tend to stack up and collect dust in the back of my mind, but then I realized I’d much rather try and find the elusive Canadian snow monkey. I know they exist! I know it!

  • Liked the article loads.. gave me a few laughs.. the black widow / squirrel / west nile / wikipedia is exactly what happens to me! And the I-Am-Manager-I-Am-Employee struggle is exactly what I’m tackling this week. Thanks!

  • Loved the article. On the subject of Tim Farriss though, I worked on a project for him, and so I had to be semi-familiar with his work. Something rubbed me wrong when he got to the idea of sending my menial tasks to India. I know you said it was a compromise with the devilish corporate whore part of yourself that led you to rate his book a 5/5, but I’m still a little up on the air about the outsourcing — Is this stuff really that time-consuming that me sending an email takes THAT MUCH less time than actually doing the research/data entry? Do I want to exploit developing world labor?

    And the more corpora-crude: Should an intern working in your office get to experience the joy of doing those menial tasks for little or no money in the name of experience and resume-building? Do you have much of a guarantee to accuracy?

  • What a fabulous article, both on its own and as a sign from the nerd gods. I was just sitting here mired in the “Should I stay a freelancer or should I go back to the security and health coverage of a W-2 job?” conundrum. Thanks for (a) seducing me back to the Dark Side, (b) your proper and rather impressive use of a semi-colon, (c) writing your analogy in the Aristotelian format, and (d) making me feel guilty for spending 10 minutes to find the phrase “Aristotelian format” when I couldn’t remember what it was called.

  • Love the article. Just want to point out that the friendly librarians at your public library would have easily done 3 of the 4 things you paid Ask Sunday to do, and for FREE!

  • Hey Chris,

    Wow so I found this article on facebook. There is so much to say but it appears you are insanly busy! Haha. I think I have suffered from this too much work load before. Gosh I think what I would end up doing is dropping at least one thing. Somethings gotta give as they say, not sure who but I’ve heard it haha. But anyway. I too don’t like the whole 9-5, where alot of people do, its great because you get full time pay etc. I just find I don’t get enough freetime. They are days during the week where I would just want to call in sick because I felt like washing my car, watching show reruns, vegging out as it were. Just to get some me time.

    Me time is incredibly important when you work so much. If you don’t take some time off, life can start to suck. I don’t think life should always be shitty, that is for sure no way to live. Of course you have to pay the bills and have some “fun” spending money, but still if you sacrafice everything just to make money?? I don’t know where the fine line is between work and having more than two days out of the week for yourself. I never want to do something every saturday. It always changes like why can’t tuesday be saturday, or thursday be saturday. I think feelancing is perfect because I can work and walk away. I don’t think I have reached that point as I am new to my career. Almost two years out of college.

    The economy is so bad, finding a job is proving to be SO hard. I have my degree in webdesign and multimedia. I worked for a year, quit my job to move where there were more job oppotunities. Between 3 months of when I quit to when I moved, the economy took a huge dive. I have been applying at what little jobs come around but I just can’t seem to find anything. Been looking since July 08. Which is only 6 months, not that long. But my partner and I want our own place to live. To move, need money for rent and bills.

    Anyway, when I was working 8-5. It was an eye opening experience. I realized I had to like what I was doing and at least get along with the people where I worked. Which I wasn’t. They were pretty horrible people and I soon realized it was not the right place for me. It was so hard to work 40 hours a week, be in a constantly stressful environment, hear people yelling at eachother almost everyday, be dragged into co-workers drama and a boss who just ragged on everyone all the time. So I left.

    But anyway, the reason I related to this article is because when I was working…it was so hard to manage my time. There was never enough time to work, have me time, not to mention clean up the place, get gas, do laundry. So many tasks and the only way I could face them was to do one thing at a time. It became too overwhelming. Obviously you have more experience working, but…I did take something from your article that I could understand and relate to.

    Good luck on managing your time better! I hope you find some more time for yourself and your life outside of work.

  • Funny – how the world truly is small. So, I read your article in Wired magazine and then just so happen to run into your Twitter page today (I’m very new to Twitter) and then clicked on your blog (for the sake of it) and thus I realize that you are the guy that wrote the Wired magazine article that I found so illuminating (as in funny)….and Yes, I could’ve just not typed all of that and said. “Found your article to be funny, saw you on Twit.” Oh well.

  • I read your article in Wired and loved your writing! I decided to track down your site and check out other things you’ve done. Thanks for the interesting read!

  • Dearest Son,
    I’m wondering if your suit is ruined, after wearing it in the hot tub? And, do you have a Black Widow problem at your house? Should I be worried? Let me know, as I need to schedule that into my day.
    Love,
    Mom

  • Hi Chris. I wanted to hunt down your blog to tell you that I love this piece. It made me laugh out loud, then groan, then cry, then ruefully laugh. Great work – and yes, I read it on paper, in a magazine, and stuff.

    Would that we all had such robust freelance careers. I need to diversify my revenue stream, maybe hop on the infomercial pitchman bandwagon or something.

  • Thanks for making me laugh today reading your article, especially the part about looking at your email day after day when the time management experts told you not to. It just helped lighten my day, we’re all human and fall into the same traps

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