How many times have you heard somebody say they spend all day answering emails and never actually get round to doing productive work? As a freelancer, you can't allow yourself into fall into that trap or deadlines will be missed, clients will get angry and you'll be out of work.
So how do you manage it? It's important to have an organised work schedule and this becomes ever more vital the more clients you have. A lot of people support the idea of a totally paperless office but one paper item that would be handy to have next to you is a desk diary/planner. If you jot down deadlines, routine and one-off tasks, meetings and other work related tasks all in one place, and refer to it regularly, you'll find it much easier to plan a work schedule.
It's always a good idea to make email checking the first task of the day; important information may have been sent since you logged off the day before. As with snail mail, plenty of junk mail also finds its way into email inboxes. It's impossible to eliminate this completely but you can make life easier for yourself by applying filters to inbound mail. These filters can sort your inbound mail into different categories of importance.
Unless your client specifically requires you to check emails on a continual basis, don't! Get into the habit of checking first thing in the morning, straight after lunch and last thing before you log off in the evening. Once you've got rid of the need to constantly check emails you'll find you have more time to concentrate on actually working.
A lot of people veer away from time and motion studies and yet they are an extremely valuable way of gauging how much time you should allocate to each of your tasks. If for example you are a freelance writer, you'll know approximately how long it takes you to write 500 words, or do you? Are the 500 words on a topic you know a lot about or will you need to add on additional time for research?
By having a simple timetable detailing the time spent on daily, weekly and monthly tasks you should quickly be able to plan your day so that you can fit in any extra personal matters that require attention. Referring to it will also help you when a new client comes along asking for a timeframe for a particular project.
Nobody wants to spend every waking minute of the day working. We all need time to relax and after all a lot of people turn to freelancing specifically so that they can enjoy a better work/home life balance. With a little bit of organisation, this should be possible for everyone.