Seven simple ways freelancers can stay productive

As a freelancer, staying productive can be even more difficult than when you were working in an office. The sofa is singing out to you. The sunshine is calling your name from the balcony.

The freelance life means you’re free from bosses and supervisors checking to see if you’re on target or exceeding expectations. You only have yourself to answer to when goals aren’t reached or clients aren’t won over. And when your productivity drops, so does your business. There’s no one else to blame but you.

If you’re working from home, the number of distractions in your personal as well as professional life can be incredibly detrimental to your productivity. Have you noticed your apartment has become a heck of a lot cleaner since you went freelance?

At CareerFoundry, we understand how easy it is to get bogged down in anything other than the task at hand. However, if you can’t pay your rent, it won’t matter that you can see your face in all of the nice shiny surfaces. So, put the brush and dustpan down, and read on.

The good news is, as a freelancer, you have much more freedom to be creative with how you maintain and enhance your productivity. Without anyone looking over your shoulder, you can be experimental with how you work, and by doing so, find out exactly what’s best for you.

Create a routine

Having a routine has been proven to increase levels of productivity, but it’s not easy to do as a freelancer when your time is entirely your own. That’s why it’s crucial to learn which times of day you are most productive.

Including a sport or activity into your schedule will also boost your energy levels (and guard against heart disease, see our final point about how death limits your productivity). For recurring events, it’s easy and beneficial to have a consistent schedule, then you know where you need to be on certain days and you can organize your work around it.

Try to have at least an hour to yourself to wake up before you even turn on your computer or start work. Pour yourself a cup of Joe, and ease into the day. With your to-do list planned the night before, you’ll know exactly where to begin. Instead of wasting your first burst of energy on deciding where to get started, you can focus it on your most important project.

Use time-saving devices

In the digital age, you’re spoilt for choice with apps and management tools to help you organize your workload; so throw away that Filofax, delete those spreadsheets, and check out these amazing apps!

Using Autocorrect and hotkeys can save you time when writing to clients.

The amount of time you’ll save using these tools will take away a lot of the administrative headaches you have to deal with, leaving you more energy to focus on your work.

Remove distractions

Social networks can be extremely useful when it comes to promoting your brand, increasing your network, or finding clients (see our blog post here on how your personal brand is crucial to your success as a freelancer). However, when it comes to getting the work done, social networks are basically the devil, and you need to put as much distance between yourself and that ‘like’ button as conceivably possible.

To increase your productivity, we would strongly suggest you to log off during the hours of the day when you’re working on your project. If you don’t, there’s a strong chance your next Facebook update will simply read ‘Looking for a job.’

Disconnecting from social networks can be harder than it sounds. Fortunately, there are already a number of websites and apps out there to help you tune out the white noise of baby updates from that person you spoke to once at a party when you were 17.

Check out the following options for ‘unplugging the internet’.

Say no to unnecessary meetings

A good meeting can make the difference between a great client relationship and a terrible one. However, unnecessary meetings can slow down your productivity and waste your time. It’s important to identify which meetings are necessary and which issues can be sorted out with a simple phone call, conference call, or video chat. Before agreeing to a meeting, make certain your presence is absolutely crucial.

Set goals for yourself

It might seem obvious, but a simple list of daily, weekly, and monthly goals can go a long way to keeping your mind focused on the small and big picture. There’s no point in only focusing on where you want to be in five years time; you need to work out all the small steps needed to get there. So, write daily goals and stick to them.

Similarly, neglecting the long-term could hinder your business from progressing or growing. Keep your long-term goals in sight at all times. Your goals should be specific, with a definite, written deadline. Above all, make your deadlines realistic, as Samar Owais, long-term freelancer explained:

“Always leave room for life to happen when setting deadlines. You never know when you (or one of your kids) might get sick. Computers are usually very reliable but when they crash, they prefer to do it before a big deadline. And sometimes you just need to take a day off after working so hard for so long.”

Give yourself more time than you think you need: It’s better to set a deadline later and meet that deadline, than to extend a deadline that has already been agreed to. It’s also a lot more professional, and as a freelancer, your income rests on your reputation.

In terms of your finances, goals are pretty important. Make sure you know exactly how much (or how little!) you need to earn each month in order to survive. Also, write down how many days a week you would, ideally, like to work. Then, calculate how much you need to charge and work in order to meet these goals.

Have separate email time

A tip many professionals use both as freelancers and in-house employees is to put time aside specifically to read and respond to email. As a freelancer, this is even more crucial to your productivity. You are entirely in control of your own schedule; if you spend two hours reading and replying to emails, that’s two hours of your evening spent catching up on work. Put an hour aside in the morning, and an hour at the end of the day to read emails then close it down. Without this distraction you’ll see your productivity soar.

For urgent inquiries, inform clients of the times that you’ll be available via email and phone. This will ensure they’ll know the best times of day to contact you and when they can expect to hear back. By doing this, you are managing your clients’ expectations and putting yourself in the driver’s seat.

Prepare for the next day the night before

Writing a list of what you need to get done the night before will ease your cognitive load in the morning when you are getting up for work. You won’t have to think about what you need to do and prioritize it; you’ll just have to get on with it. Doing this at the end of your working day means your tasks and their deadlines are fresh in your mind.

If you choose to do this in the morning, you’ll have to spend the time trying to remember where you left off. This is time consuming and a waste of mental energy that could be spent on actual work.

Remember, lists can save your life.

Samar told us, “More often than not, we misjudge the amount of time needed to complete a project,” which is exactly why planning ahead is so crucial to your success.

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