As a freelancer, staying productive can be even more difficult than when you were in an office. With no one checking 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. As a freelancer, when your productivity drops, so does your business. And you only have yourself to blame.
It’s not easy though. The sofa is singing out to you. The sunshine is calling your name from the balcony. And that job that you started at midnight last night looked fine at 2am this morning so why go back over it now when you have a ton of other things to do?
If you’re a freelancer who works largely from home the number of distractions in your personal as well as professional life can be incredibly detrimental to your businesses’ productivity. Have you noticed your apartment has become a helluva lot cleaner since you went freelance?
The sofa is singing out to you. The sunshine is calling your name from the balcony.
At CareerFoundry we understand how easy it is to get bogged down in anything other than the task in hand, however if you can’t pay your rent it won’t matter that you can see your face in all the nice shiny surfaces. So put the dustpan and brush down and read on. Or, skip to the end of the post to watch a video by Emil Lamprecht where he lets you in on his most valuable productivity hacks.
The good news is, as a freelancer you have much more freedom to be creative with how you maintain and enhance your productivity. Without a manager looking over your shoulder you can be experimental with how you work, and by doing so, find out exactly what works for you to make you the most productive you can be.
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 and stick to those times. Including sport or an 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 organise your work around it. Try to have at least an hour to yourself before you even turn on your computer or start work to wake up. Pour yourself a coffee and ease into the day. With your to-do list planned the night before (see our excellent point further on about preparing a day ahead) when it’s time to work you’ll know exactly what to be getting on with so you’ll be using your first burst of energy on that, rather than wasting time trying to decide where to get started.
Use Time-Saving Devices
As a freelancer you’re spoilt for choice with apps and management tools to help you organise your workload, so throw away that filofax, delete those spreadsheets and check out these amazing apps!
- For invoicing tools check out Mashable’s list of the best invoicing apps.
- Email templates will save you a lot of time if you find you’re writing similar emails to your clients. MailChimp have some great ideas.
- Asana and Toggl are both fantastic project management tools.
- 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.
Social networks can be exceedingly useful to you as a freelancer 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. In order to increase your productivity, we would strongly suggest you try to log off during the hours of the day when you’re working on the thing that you became a freelancer to do, be that coding, designing or writing. If you don’t, there’s a strong chance your next Facebook update will simply read ‘Looking for a job’. But disconnecting from social networks can be harder than it sounds. It’s not called an addiction for nothing. 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.
We’re thrilled Junior can walk now, but do we need reminding every 5 minutes? No.
Check out the following options for ‘unplugging the internet’.
Social networks are basically the devil and [tweet_dis]you need to put as much distance between yourself and that ‘like’ button as conceivably possible.[/tweet_dis]
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 end up slowing down your productivity and wasting your time, especially as a freelancer, as you are spending time away from your desk - and your work - to be there. So 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 to that meeting, or if you can simply read the notes after the event to remain in the loop.
If you’re missing the nice coffee and biscuits you have come to expect from your business meetings, head to a cafe to make that Skype call. You won’t have to share the biscuits either.
Set Yourself Goals
It may 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 focusing just on where you want to be in 5 years time, you need to work out all the small steps needed to get there. So write daily goals and stick to them. Similarly, just focusing on getting through each day could be detrimental long term as by focusing on the short term your business is unlikely to progress or grow. Keep your long-term goals in sight at all times - frame them and put them on your wall to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you’re ultimately aiming for. Your goals should be specific, with a definite deadline and written down. Above all, make your deadlines realistic, as Samar Owais, longterm 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:
Next time you’re setting a deadline, extend it by two days even if you think you don’t need them.
It’s better to set a deadline later (with a client, or yourself) and meet that deadline, than to extend a deadline that has already been agreed. 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. Then write down how many days a week you would, ideally, like to work. Then you need to calculate how much you need to charge and work in order to meet these goals.
Remember, lists can save your life.
Have Separate ‘Email Time’
A tip many professionals use both as freelancers and in-house employees is to put time aside just to read and respond to email, before closing it down and focusing on the work in hand. As a freelancer this is even more crucial to your productivity. As a freelancer 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 enquiries people can always call you. Inform your clients of when you are on email and when you’re available on the phone, this will ensure they’ll know the best times of day to contact you and when to expect to hear back. By doing this you are managing your clients’ expectations and putting you in the driver’s seat. If checking your emails just a couple of times a day is unrealistic for you consider setting aside times for responding to e-mails in batches.
Prepare For The Next Day The Night Before
Remember what your mum always used to say? Pack your school bag the night before. Writing a list of what you need to get done the next day 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, their deadlines and importance are all still fresh in your mind, as they are what you’ve just been working on. Doing this in the morning means you are starting all over again trying to remember where you left off the day before. This is time-consuming and a waste of mental energy that could spent on your actual work.
This rule applies for food and clothes too. Prepare your lunch the night before when you’re preparing your dinner. Choose what clothes you’re going to wear and leave them out. This means, when the morning comes, you can get started earlier on your work with a clear idea in mind of what you need to get done with all decision-making (on trivial issues as well as work-related things) taken care of the night before. Remember, [tweet_dis]lists can save your life[/tweet_dis].
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.
Don’t Die Early
Death is something that will seriously decrease your productivity. Trust me, no one will want to work with a dead freelancer. Why suddenly all this talk of death? Researchers from Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana studied the lifestyles of 17,000 men and women over a period of 13 years and discovered that of this group 54% are likely to die of heart attacks. The reason? They were sitting down for much of the day. When you’re sitting down for long periods your body is less able to break down the enzyme lipoprotein lipase and it instead turns into fat. Not only does sitting down all day increase your chances of a heart attack, it decreases your energy levels, which in turn makes you a lot less productive. Ensure you take regular breaks and that you move around during your breaks. Other ways you can include some activity into your day is to stand up and walk around when on the phone to clients or other business contacts. Eat your lunch in the park rather than in your kitchen (the Vitamin D from the sunlight will also do you good, as will the fresh air. It will be nice too). Offer to walk a neighbour’s dog. Join a gym.
[tweet_dis]Death is something that will seriously decrease your productivity[/tweet_dis].
Take Regular Breaks
Taking regular but structured breaks is a great way to increase productivity. At Freelance Advisor, we have tried many different ways of doing this - even the Pomodoro Technique. I have found the best way for me is to get away from my desk for five minutes of every forty and set myself the challenge of using that forty minutes to be really productive. Once I return to my desk I try and make myself start a new task, this keeps the adrenaline pumping and encourages me to get each task finished before the time is up. When working freelance, you often have to compete against yourself so setting little challenges like this can be a really positive way of keeping energy and productivity levels up and avoiding the dreaded curse of procrastination.
More often than not, we misjudge the amount of time needed to complete a project.
And, if you’re a startup who uses freelancers - is there a way to increase their productivity? We got some advice from Nicolas Dittberne r, Country Manager, DACH of freelancing market place Elance /oDesk, who said:
“Create an onboarding playbook for your freelancers. The playbook should include step-by-step instructions for joining all of your systems (Google apps, JIRA, Trello, etc.), as well as any formal paperwork that is required (NDA, contracts, IP agreements, etc.). Streamlining the onboarding process will enable your new hire to start working and contributing to the company more quickly.”
Do you have anything to add to our list? What do you do when you need an energy boost or inspiration? Keeping yourself motivated and on-task takes practice and organisation, but it’s important to get into good habits from the start. If you’re not yet working freelance but thinking of a career change, why not take a look at our Web Development and UX Design courses which will set you up to be working freelance in just a few months in two increasingly in-demand fields.
What You Should Do Now
- If you’d like to learn about finding a career you love - sign up here for one of our free 7-day design or development courses.
- If you are interested in becoming a Web Developer, UX, or UI Designer check out our mentored beginners' courses (complete with job guarantee!).
- If you’d like to speak to an expert Career Advisor for free about how you can really get a new job in tech - connect with us here.
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