How I Learned to Budget My Time as a Freelancer

Since freelancers run on their own schedule not only do they need to know how to budget their money but they also need to know how to spend their time wisely. (read Part 1 here)

How I Prioritize My Tasks: 2x2 (Impact Effort Matrix) 

I prioritize my tasks by using a 2x2 Impact Effort Matrix. We use this method in our agency and with our clients and it helps prevent us from getting overwhelmed. We normally put all of our tasks and to-dos in a whiteboard (using something like Miro) and plot them along the matrix to see which ones have to be done. The ones that are prioritized bring good things later on whereas the ones that don’t deserve the mental effort do not. The point of the matrix is to see what solutions are worth the effort, easy solutions with high impact are the section of the matrix we tend to prioritize. With this method, we take into account motivation and mental effort as the part of the Effort qualifier in the matrix. Similarly, it’s just as important to prioritize your clients. 

How I Prioritize My Clients: Timeboxing

To-do lists don’t work for many people. To-do lists lack the context to keep us motivated enough to get the task done and don’t feel urgent. That’s why timeboxing is a much better alternative. Timeboxing into a calendar helps you visualize when you need to get what done. For example, if you have artwork due on Thursday and it usually takes you 2 days to finish it, you can set a timebox on your calendar for Tuesday so you get that artwork done by Thursday. Not only will this method help you visualize when you need to do certain tasks it will also help you prioritize what you should be working on based on your deadlines. Putting important tasks on your calendar helps you stay on schedule and it helps your colleagues see when you’re busy or not and they will work around your schedule as well. Timeboxing also helps you see what you’ve accomplished each week. Maybe you had an extra stressful week, you can clearly see what you got done and when you did it. One of the greatest benefits of timeboxing is that you’ll feel more in control of what’s in your upcoming week because you’ll have already prepared for it. 

How I Manage My Energy In Between Tasks: The Pomodoro Technique

If you can’t stand working for hours at a time and would rather work during small manageable amounts of time, then I would recommend using the Pomodoro Technique. It’s also a really good habit to build to avoid carpal tunnel and get in those wrist, finger, neck, and upper body stretches. In this technique, you would break your work into 25-minute blocks and after each block, you have a five-minute break. These intervals are called Pomodoros. After completing four Pomodoros you get a longer 15-30 minute break. Since these intervals are only 25 minutes, it creates a sense of urgency and you’ll leave your distracting habits like your frequent bathroom breaks and phone-checking for your five-minute break. It’s a bit tedious to constantly set timers on your phone so if you decide to use this method I recommend downloading a Pomodoro Timer app. Personally I prefer working in 45 minute intervals and taking 15 minute breaks. It forces me to step away from my work and see things I normally wouldn’t see if I was staring at my canvas the whole time.

As a freelancer, time and money are extremely valuable, and learning how to use both effectively will make all the difference. 

Read more:

Part 1 on Budgeting Money here

Artist Review: Surface Book 2 for Traveling Illustrators and Gamers

Equipment Review: My Tools Through The Years

Finessing Freelancer Finances: How I Learned How To Budget

As a freelancer, you run completely on your own schedule. You are now your own boss, HR department, and accountant which means you have to learn how to budget your finances. The YNAB method, is crucial for freelancers. It’s pretty much the envelope method but better. I use this method personally and have found money I didn’t think I had, stopped leaking money, and started being able to afford items on my wishlist. The YNAB method can be broken up into 4 simple rules.

Rule One: Give Every Dollar A Job

This rule is especially important for those of you who like to spend money that you don’t physically have or like to splurge because “you just got paid”. Rule one makes sure you reserve your money for what’s most important to you and it makes sure you budget with money you actually have. I’ll give an example later on in this post. This lets you spend your money with confidence because you actually budgeted for it and if you weren’t able to make the purchase you can set aside money for it later. It basically works by putting whatever you receive into the “envelope” that needs it the most. An example for prioritizing which envelopes get the first dollars can be having an envelope for rent, for phone and internet, for your expensive software subscription, then for savings towards bigger purchases later. The only “extra” you have is what is leftover after you fill up those envelopes.

Rule Two: Embrace Your True Expenses

Do you feel like you’re constantly going through a financial crisis? This rule can help you prepare for financial emergencies and tackle large expenses. Using this rule you’ll break your larger less frequent expenses to small manageable monthly amounts. This rule helped me save up for my last upgrade to a new laptop. It also helped me budget for the visa expenses I have to pay every 6 months. With this rule, hefty medical bills, repairs, slow months (more on this later) become manageable because you’ve already allocated money for it. An example would be me saving up for my postgrad deposit. I put away a minimum of $50 to a maximum of $200 (depending on if i filled the more important envelopes first) every month and was able to pay in February.

Rule Three: Roll With The Punches

Life happens, things change. It may seem hard to stick with a consistent budget when your life changes drastically and it is hard. The truth is your budget should be adaptable. If you’re going through something life-changing and your finances look completely different now, you should change your budget accordingly. A great example would be the current WFH situation brought on by this pandemic. See what cable subscriptions you can cut to make up for the lack of clients. Check your beer money envelope to see if you can instead move that money to emergency groceries in case of a lockdown extension. Keep in mind, you should still be budgeting money you actually have in hand.

Rule Four: Age Your Money

If you feel like you’re desperately in need of your next paycheck then this rule will change things for you. With Rule Four you take the money you’re earning right now and use that to budget for future expenses. Obviously, you’ll have to start slow. Start by budgeting for next week’s expenses but with the help of the other rules, you may even start budgeting for next month’s expenses! 

When it comes to budgeting for your own life, make sure that you cover your equipment and software, and then of course for self-improvement, then later for your quality of life. For example, my priority list kind of looks like this:

  • True expenses: rent, groceries, transportation, phone and internet, regularly occurring medical needs, taxes, debt payments
  • Travel and lifestyle obligations: where i save up for tickets and visas and payments, my visa agent, etc.
  • Work equipment: includes saving for a new set of equipment in case something breaks down. Budgeting $100 a month has helped set my mind at ease when I had to upgrade my laptop
  • Just for Fun: classes, hobbies, video games, etc.
  • Outside of the YNAB method here are a few more helpful tips that will help you budget for the things you need. Over time equipment degrades, and some companies (certain fruitarian companies that I won’t name) plan for obsolescence. These are also the Big Time purchases that many people forget to set money aside for. You never know when someone accidentally sits on your laptop or if there’s a power surge that fries your motherboard. It’s best to start saving as early as possible. 

    Recurring expenses are just as important. Prioritizing which software is important for your specific goals and which you can do without are crucial steps we often forget. I’ll cover alternatives to popular software services in a later post. If it’s free and gets the job done I’d highly consider using them. 

    Something that’s a little less exciting to budget for is your accounting and tax responsibilities. As a self-employed earner, you don’t have anything withheld from the income you earn. So you must learn how to manage your money throughout the year and budget for tax expenses. 

    Lastly, keep it simple. Budgeting may seem like a daunting task but if you break it up into small manageable tasks it can become quite easy. Understand where you are financially and budget accordingly.

    Read more:

    Part 2: Budgeting Your Time

    Artist Review: Surface Book 2 for Traveling Illustrators and Gamers

    Equipment Review: My Tools Through The Years

    Surface Book 2 Review for Digital Artists & Traveling Gamers

    If you are a digital artist like me, and often take your work outside, the Surface Book 2 is the device for you. I’m a digital artist myself and I have been a freelance illustrator for nearly six years. As a freelance illustrator, I’ve been traveling constantly, working from an airbnb to cafes and various outdoor spaces, switching between client presentations to on the spot concept sketching. I constantly need to switch between working from home in laptop mode and working al fresco in clipboard mode. The SB2 works seamlessly for a digital artist that is constantly on the go and uses a laptop and tablet interchangeably for their work.

    Surface Book 2 with i7, Nvidia GeForce 1050, 13.5” Specs

    Dedicated graphic cards aren’t as important for light to moderate graphic design work but it may help if you do a lot of 3D design work. In terms of performance, the GeForce 1050 performs well but it isn’t much faster than its predecessor, the GeForce 965M. However, the SB2 has a longer battery life and still has an excellent display. The processor of the SB2, the core i7 is extremely powerful. The core i7 with the dedicated GeForce 1050 is actively cooled with a fan. With the Surface Book 2, you can either go with the dual-core i5 processor or the quad-core i7 processor. I have the SB2 with the i7 processor and it’s a lifesaver for processor-intensive tasks like exporting 3D renders, photos, and videos. With the i7 processor, all of those things are done fairly quickly. Although the Surface Book 2 is expensive, it’s a good choice for an artist because of its screen drawing capabilities and the ability to detach the screen transforming it into a tablet when you need that direct drawing experience.

    In terms of gaming, I am able to play Assassin’s Creedy Odyssey on high, there is a bit of coil whine and heat but not so much to prevent me from enjoying the experience. The Sims 4 gives it a bit more resistance but then that’s on EA more than it is on Surface (it’s like that for a lot of other laptops I’ve played this on).

    I normally use a one handed keyboard when I game, just because the mechanical feel of it appeals more to me than mashing my SB2’s own.

    Common Problems

    Now I haven’t ever had a machine that I would be able to call perfect, and the SB2 is not an exception. A common problem with this line is the pen jitter. This is more of a problem with the pen than the SB2 itself. This usually happens when the pen corrects for parallax when it is tilted using the tilt sensor. This may be an issue with the new Surface Pen and I would recommend looking for older generations of the pen or Wacom Ink because they don’t correct the parallax when tilting the stylus. I know this isn’t really a “solution” but Microsoft hasn’t acknowledged the problem yet so this is what I’d recommend if you’re facing this issue. Some models of the SB2 have had a problem with overheating, specifically models with an i5 processor. Some solutions to this issue are making sure the latest updates are installed and then checking the task manager to make sure apps or programs aren’t running in the background, you can also put your device into low power mode to avoid CPU overload. .

    Is it worth it?

    The SB2 is pricey but well worth it if you’re a digital artist. The SB2 is a fully functioning tablet and laptop device. Laptop mode allows the device to act as a regular laptop with the keyboard attached to it but when you switch to clipboard mode it’s a tablet that you can sketch on with your pen. You can also keep the keyboard attached to the back of the screen so you can charge it and use the USB ports while using the tablet. The only compromise would be that the processor could be a lot faster given the price but no other device has the 2-1 functionality to this caliber. Is it worth it? Yes, it is! With the Surface Book 2, you’ll be able to work on your art regardless of where you are and you can use it as a tablet or laptop. 

    I still have a working Surface Pro 2 (refurbished and purchased in 2014) as well, so in terms of quality it seems like the Surface line is still pretty okay for use over the long term.

    Here’s a link to the product. Note that if you decide to use the link and make a purchase I may get a percentage. I’ve had this model since April 2019, and as of this writing I am still quite happy with it. .

    Using Format