How to Plan Freelance Projects (or, why I built HourPatch)

by Chadwick Wood
February 10th, 2010

I've been freelancing full-time for 3 years now (although I started freelancing about 6 years ago), and after all this time, I've finally found a method for planning my project schedule and keeping my commitments in check. For awhile now, I've been good at tracking my time. Every time I do any work on a project, I note my start and end times, and record them into my time tracking software. That's always been important, because I bill hourly, so I need to keep good records. But what that doesn't help me with, at all, is figuring out my upcoming work schedule: my week, my month, etc.

That planning aspect is becoming more important, and more unmanageable. I've been lucky enough to both retain clients and consistently find new ones, and these days I'm often in a situation like this: I have 3 projects I'm currently working on, and 4 potential projects. Each potential project has a client asking when/if I can commit, and meet any deadline they might have. Up until lately, I had no easy way to answer that question. In busy times, I had no way to accurately tell a client at what point in the future I could commit X hours to a new project.

What I wanted was a way to keep a calendar on which I could sketch out blocks of work time and have it automatically track how many hours I'd sketched out for each project. I wanted to be able to plan exactly when I was going to work on which projects over the coming weeks, taking into account the total estimated time for each project. Of course, that schedule would be subject to change, but I wanted at least a rough idea, so I could see when each project would be finished, while keeping a reasonable work schedule (i.e. not working 60+ hours a week).

It Didn't Exist...

The problem was: I couldn't find a tool like that. Sure, there are all kinds of project planning software out there, where you can make gantt charts and all that, but I don't need that, because I don't have a bunch of complicated dependencies in my projects. Since I couldn't find the tool I wanted, I built it: HourPatch.

Now, each project I'm working on is mapped out in my HourPatch account. At the beginning of each project, I estimate how many hours it will take to complete the work, and then I sketch out exactly when I'm going to work all of those hours: what days, and at what times. It only takes me a few minutes. HourPatch tells me when I've sketched out as many hours as I estimated for a project. Once that's done, for all my current commitments, it's very easy for me to see when I can commit to the next project, and at what degree (i.e. how many hours per week).

And, like I said, plans change. Some days, other emergencies or one-off appointments prevent me from working the hours that I'd planned for that day. No problem, I simply alter my HourPatch schedule to reflect that, and it tells me how many hours I need to re-schedule to make up for it. And on the flip side, some days I may work a little extra on a project; HourPatch tells me how many extra hours I've worked, so I make one of my future blocks of time for that project a little shorter (which always feels good!).

In Summary

The result of all of this: I now have a much better overview of my work commitments, and that helps me give clients much more accurate ideas of when I can get things done for them, while also keeping me from having anxiety about whether I'm going to have some 60-hour weeks around the corner!

If any of this sounds familiar in your life, maybe you should find out more about HourPatch (you can try it for free).

If you have your own way of dealing with this kind of problem, I'd like to hear what it is. Leave a comment!