When you first begin freelancing, the hours tick by as you wait and wish for clients to come knocking down your door. Later, you’d give anything just for a break from the emails, phone calls, and seemingly endless projects that need just one tiny detail fixed. You may feel so bogged down by work that you don’t know what’s coming next week, let alone next year (you probably don’t dare to even think about retirement). When work seems to be flying into your face at a frantic rate, it’s time to take control. Whether you choose to keep a physical planner or use a whole suite of online tools, the time you use to plan ahead will pay enormous dividends. Try these planning tips to get everything back under control and have a long-range view of your goals for the future.

Plan Your Whole Year in One Go

Of course you plan on a quarterly, monthly, weekly, and even daily basis as well. But in order to make those small goals meaningful, you’ll need to be able to have a vision of what you want to accomplish over a longer period of time. Sit down a couple months before most people are making their New Year’s resolutions – businesses don’t have the luxury of waiting until the clock strikes midnight to scribble some hasty “diet, exercise, floss” notes on the napkin under their champagne. You’ll want to think about your financial goals, your goals for your team (and maybe acquiring one if it’s just you right now), and goals for improving your customer’s’ experience. The “where do I want to be in __ years?” question can help guide your specific plan of action. Don’t be afraid to dream big. When you’re organized and efficient, you can accomplish a lot more than you ever thought possible.

Plan Time off Before You Take It

Please don’t be a work martyr. You’re a person, not a machine, and when you’re the one calling the shots, you’ve simply got to take time with your family and your friends. But you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you wait until you’re getting on a plane to make sure your business doesn’t crumble while you’re sunning yourself in the tropics or enjoying the vineyards in Napa. Get ready for a break by letting your clients know you’re not going to be around during the holidays, or two weeks in the summer, or whenever you decide that it’s time to relax. You can complete extra work before you go so you won’t have a backlog when you step back into your office. It’s also wise to set aside money during the year to take care of your expenses during the time you’re not working. Planning time off in advance also allows you to enjoy the anticipation of a break coming up when you’re hard at work; you can count down the weeks and know that relief is coming soon.

Plan for Your Retirement

The private sector pension is certainly a thing of the past, so most anyone, whether corporate employee or self-employed freelancer, has to be in charge of planning their own retirement. If you love what you do as a freelancer, you may not be planning a traditional retirement in the same manner as your friends or neighbors. Perhaps you hope to start another business, travel while still taking on some work, or selectively take on only the projects that interest you while maintaining your current standard of living. There’s a lot to think about. While it can seem intimidating, don’t wait, as many do, until you’re just a few years away. You’ll need to start saving money now, contribute to a retirement plan like an IRA, and consider the lifecycle of your business. Make this a regular part of planning for the future of your business – it really doesn’t have to be painful – and you’ll be able to enjoy financial security in your later years.

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William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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