by | Oct 23, 2019 | Guides & Resources

One of the biggest benefits of working as a contractor is the ability to step outside the 9 – 5 routine and have more control over how you spend your time.

However, the absence of formal working hours or a predictable routine can be a challenge, with many contractors finding the work/life balance difficult to achieve. Here are our tips to help you manage your time and avoid feeling as if you’re constantly playing catch-up.

1. Don’t under-estimate how long tasks take
As an independent contractor, it can be tempting to try to do too much in an effort to please your clients. It’s not easy but do try to be realistic about what you can do within the time available, otherwise you will forfeit quality. If possible, over-estimate the time it will take to complete tasks, and make allowance in your schedule for the unexpected. Speak to your clients and set realistic expectations – far better to under-promise and over-deliver.

2. Set aside time for non-fee earning tasks
Don’t forget to set aside time to do your admin, especially if you work through your own limited company or PSC. A few minutes each week to log your expenses and keep your accounts in ship-shape will save hours later on when you need to remember small details. Of course, long hours are necessary at times, but shouldn’t be the norm.

3. Be strict with yourself about your work/life balance
It’s so easy to blur the boundaries between work and home, especially when you’re contracting, as so many roles require little more than a laptop and a mobile phone. You may fire up your laptop with the intention to simply check your emails, but then find that an hour or two simply disappears. Even a task like this can take longer than you might expect, as you have to file the information you receive, or do something about it, which involves thinking and composing a response.

If you have work to do in the evenings or at weekends, try to set aside a reasonable portion of time and get the tasks done all in one go, so that you don’t feel like you’re always in work mode. When you do work out-of-hours, try to plan ahead the work you want to complete so that you can tick some important tasks off your to-do list rather than simply lose time responding to emails.

4. Set aside thinking time
It’s important to have time to think, especially if you’re in a complex role or an industry which is going through change. You’ll be better at your job if you have time to read and research, talk to colleagues or even get involved in work-related events. Some people find their best ideas come to them while they’re not concentrating on the task in hand. If every minute of your week is scheduled, you won’t have time to pause and reflect, so don’t feel that thinking time is wasted, it will have a knock-on effect not only on your wellbeing but on the quality of your work.

5. Prioritise the most important tasks
As a contractor, you probably wear a number of hats, so it’s not always easy to separate the urgent vs important tasks. It takes a little time to get good at prioritisation, especially when you’re busy fire-fighting but, like anything, in time it will become a habit.

Multi-tasking is rarely effective, so try to focus on one single task at a time. Don’t over-think it – all you need to do is make a complete list of everything you have to do, then highlight the most important things. Look at the time you have available, and slot the important tasks into your schedule. Then, look at your less important tasks, many of which need just a few minutes to complete. Either set aside a block of time to do lots of these less important tasks or do them in between your bigger priorities.

Remember, work often expands according to the time available, so you may be surprised at how much you can get done when you’ve not got long!

Making life simple for contractors
We’re here to help you succeed in contracting. Our specialist contractor accountancy services are designed to save you time. You have access to our expert team six days a week, so if you have any questions or queries about any aspect of your accounts, you can simply get in touch. We also provide you with free access to FreeAgent, the online accounting app which makes it quick and simple to manage all your finances in one place.

JSA Group

Specialist outsourced accountancy and payroll services for recruitment agencies, freelancers, contractors and umbrella workers. We’ve built up expert knowledge and experience within the industry by supporting tens of thousands of customers for 30 years.

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