Back in November 2018, I had a lot of work on. I was probably…no, I was definitely doing far too much. I was going to events around the country, trying to do all kinds of client work and also growing my business.
I hit the point where I just couldn’t do anymore and was completely exhausted. It took me till one weekend before Christmas before I realised that everything needed to stop. I’ve heard enough stories of burnout from peers and mentors to realise that I was pretty close to that point, and if I kept pushing even more, I would have tipped over the edge.
Six months on however, and my whole way of life and mindset around work has changed. This is very much down to the support of those around me, but also the tools I’ve brought into my business to reduce overwhelm and to get a bigger overview of what work I have in the studio, how the business is growing and when there’s availability to book the next project in.
I made a point of reviewing the situation I’d been in in November, and saw that I had 12 projects on the go, three retainers and a long-term, full-time contract – and that was just the client work.
It didn’t cover the business admin or the events I also had booked in for that time of year. I decided that all the pressure and the building anxiety from pushing myself to get everything on finished and on time was not something I would go back to.
Bringing in a Project Management System
So what’s changed and how does a project management system relieve overwhelm? I’ve spoken about using project management systems within design teams and marketing departments and the impact a good system can have. On a smaller scale or personal level, whether a one-man band or one person within a bigger team, a good system can also help relieve overwhelm and stress.
Project management systems can let you see how many projects are in the pipeline, what’s in progress and what’s approaching its sign-off date. With a full overview and knowing how many hours a week you have to work on projects, you can start to manage your workload.
Overwhelm tends to occur when you don’t know what’s happening and you hide from situations. I didn’t know the full ins and outs of what projects were in, when they were expected to be signed off and how many I was working on at the same time.
Peers recommended some business tools, and I’ve now implemented two that I now couldn’t live without. These work within other systems in the business, but primarily they’ve helped with managing projects and my workload.
The Project Management Tools That Keep me on Track
- I use Asana to track the progress of each client’s work, from proposal all the way to invoice and archive. Using the ‘boards’ facility within it, I track the tasks in each project and rearrange them as I go. This means I can see clearly and easily which projects are awaiting feedback, what’s coming up in the next few months and how many projects or clients I have at once.
2. Then, Timeweek keeps track of how many hours I have left each day to delegate to other tasks. It also alerts me when I’ve gone over me selected number of hours each day. Having these visual aids, especially as a creative, can help when making decisions on when to take on more work and to also help set the client’s expectations.
3. I now also schedule in meeting and business development times as projects. Before now, I hadn’t treated these extra tasks as projects, or set time aside to focus on them, so they often got pushed into the days that were already bursting at full capacity.
Taking on Less Work but Growing the Business
Time is a precious commodity and no matter how hard anyone works, working 24 hours a day at full capacity is no good for anyone. Especially for creatives, tiredness and overwhelm sucks all that creativity out of us.
By giving myself a set-up where I can see the progress of work, and scheduling no more than five hours a day on creative work has had huge impacts on my working patterns, my stress levels and my general wellbeing.
I’ve started get a work life balance back, which is a very important thing to me and one of the reasons I became self-employed in the first place. I’ve reclaimed time to work on the business, and since stepping back from the overwhelm of too many projects, I’ve been able to see a clearer picture.
This has allowed me to build my team and my offerings, I’m spending more quality time with clients and provide a VIP service and a full experience for them. And lastly, my health is much better and I’m spending more quality time with friends and colleagues.
I’d love to hear how you use project management tools within your business or if you’ve thought about it. Please let me know in the comments or contact me if you want to know more about how you can use project management systems within your own freelance business or team, particularly if they’re large and in need of structure.