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As a freelancer, time is your stock-in-trade. Whether you're billed by the hour or by the job, you always have to know how much time you have available and how it will be used. One thing that throws a monkey-wrench into those calculations is when you're facing a big overwhelming job. It's easy to panic, but individual freelancers can and do finish such jobs all the time. The secret is to break down your project into smaller tasks, set a schedule, and then do those tasks.
First, get a thorough understanding of what the client wants the finished product to be. The bigger the job, the more you need advanced planning. Second, deconstruct the job into its component parts and make a list of them. This requires experience in doing such work. Like let's say that you have to design and lay out a 40-page catalogue by March 3rd. If you've done such a job before, you'll have a sense of how many product photos will be needed, when to call in the photographer, and how much time that person will need. You'll also need knowledge of your own work habits, of how much you can do in a day, and when you like to take break.
Arranging work so it fits your time will help keep you motivated. Once you have a list of what needs doing it's time to schedule it all. Start with the deadline, and then count the number of workdays between then and now. If we know the catalogue is due on March 3rd and it is January 20th today, then we see that we have six weeks to finish it. Next, divide the time available by the tasks. We might take the first week for design and approval, the second for creating the template, and the third for photography, and then the rest for completing the catalogue.
Finally, write specific tasks into each workday on the calendar. Take weekends and holidays into account and build in a little free time if you can in case anything goes wrong. Now you know exactly what you'll be doing on every day. I have to tell you, I recommend that you do the deconstruct and schedule parts of the job before you even write the agreement. When you present your proposal, you'll need to know how many hours the whole project will take, so you'll know how much to charge. It's all part of the sales process.
Now you're ready to work. Each day, you'll simply perform the tasks you've set out for yourself. Knowing what you'll do and how it will add up to a finished project is an enormous comfort. You are in essence going back and forth between being your own boss and being that boss' worker. There are two things you need to do at the end of every day. First, check and adjust the schedule. If you've got more done than expected, decide whether to move everything up, take the time off, or give it to another client, or whatever you choose.
If you're falling behind, you'll have similar choices. Finally, look over the next couple of days work to prepare yourself mentally and make sure you have everything that you need. It's also a good idea to check in with the client once in a while to give them a progress report, check any assumptions you've made, and help them relax in the knowledge that the job is being done. Set these many deadlines in your agreement so the client knows what to expect. Then before you know it, you're done. The project is over, the client is happy, and you have something big to be proud of.
Now that might seem like an inordinate amount of planning before you feel like you've actually started to work. But the planning is the work. And in the end it all adds up to successful completion of a project.
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