While there are, of course, probably thousands of time-management tips and techniques, starting with the basics has a greater chance of actually changing one's habits. Follow these 5 to get started.
1. Create a To-Do List in the Morning
Checking emails, statistics, and other essential items you missed while sleeping is usually top priority, but after that, many freelance designers (especially new ones still transitioning into the lifestyle) don't have a plan to go from there. To actually get some productive work done, a to-do list can be incredibly helpful.
If there is a list in your head of stressful items on the agenda, it may be tempting to just start grinding away at work. However, many times designers do this and and by the end of the day, they realize they forgot to accomplish other important tasks.
To finally stop yourself from forgetting things or not getting enough work done, create a to-do list with goals and be specific as possible. For example, instead of "Work on current client project", have a more specific goal in mind: "Finish the PSD to XHTML for client project and validate it."
It may be helpful to keep a planner, or in the least, one of those 10 cent notebooks from Wal-mart by your desk. I find having a hard copy next to you, where you can visually cross off or easily alter the goals can be more productive.
2. Analyze and Fix your Current Daily Schedule
What do you waste the most time on? Do you find yourself checking your email every ten minutes? Or fixing minor things on your portfolio instead of working on client work? Do you get caught up on Digg or Twitter?
Find where you waste the most time, and what you use to procrastinate work that actually needs to get done. Then, fix it. Set aside a time for checking email, marketing, client work, and whatever else needs to get done. It may be helpful to actually write down the daily schedule, and post it somewhere to remind yourself to keep on task.
Of course, organizing a daily schedule is the easy part. Sticking to it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Always remember that in order to be successful, one must keep their goals in mind, and the methods they need to go about com complete them.
3. Use Time-Management Tools
Use tools that are easy to use, and that you will check often. I use Google's tools a lot because I know I check Google daily, which reminds me to check my calendar too. Below is an example of a daily schedule. I realize you can't actually see the content, but you can see it's a basic 9-5 schedule with a 1-hour lunch break. Each section is broken down into various tasks, and limits the freelancer to only a certain times for checking email, doing social media and marketing, client work, etc.
The power of Google's calendar is never-ending. I use it both as a monthly editorial calendar and usually as a daily calendar. However, if it seems more beneficial, one may want to stick to the old-fashioned planner.
Other tools can be used to help you do more in less time. For example, there are many websites that allow you to manage clients, made just for freelancers. These websites include calendars, to-do lists, automatic invoices, and contact books all in one place.
The types of tools one can use are endless, but it's a good idea to look into various tools and services that can help you cut time in half.
4. Perfect your Workspace
Creating a professional atmosphere, even if in your own home, is essential to staying on task during work time. Make sure you have all the tools you need, are well-organized, and have plenty of comfortable space.
If you don't have the resources to get a great space yet, then get out and go to the library, Starbucks, or just to the park. (Somewhere with Internet access, of course). I myself often find it helpful to go somewhere else, as it helps me distinct working time from general time at home.
You could even find a way to do both. For example, I know that Darren from Problogger.net spends some of his time at a local place offline to get writing done, and then spends time at his home online getting other various tasks done.
Whatever it is in the end, find your own method that makes you as a freelancer the most productive.
5. Give Yourself a Time to Stop Work
Or in other words, a daily deadline. By giving yourself a time to stop work everyday, you won't have the excuse "Oh, I can finish that later." Any experienced freelancer knows that "later" doesn't come that same day about 90% of the time.
Try to finish your work at a decent time — for example, 5pm — the time the basic 9 to 5 job ends. Of course, depending on individual schedules, this time can change. Make sure it is a time, though, that will give a daily deadline while still allowing you to work undistracted.
There are definitely way more time management tips than the general five I've listed above. Please share your own time management tips, or struggles with time management you had/have with the freelancing lifestyle.