How to Become a Productive Freelancer
Switching from your traditional job to freelancing is a game-changer.
You’re no longer governed by corporate rules and regulations. There’s nobody assigning tasks to you or monitoring your work.
But freedom comes with a price. And if you’re not careful, your freelance dream can become a nightmare. If you want to succeed as a freelancer, you need to know how to manage your time and energy.
To help you on your way to freelance stardom here are 13 tips to become a productive freelancer.
Structure your day
The first thing you need to decide on is when you’re going work and when you’re going to rest. You don’t have to work from 9 to 5 every day, but you do need to designate certain hours for working.
For example, if you have children at school, you might decide that you’ll work 10 am to 2 pm and then 9 pm to 11 pm. Or if you’re living the dream on a tropical paradise you might decide you’ll work 6 am to 12 noon before hitting the beach for the afternoon.
That’s is the beauty of freelancing – you can choose. Whatever you decide, make sure you have a timetable that fits your circumstances and stick to it.
If you don’t, then the chances are that you’ll not do any work or you’ll work non-stop. Both are equally dangerous.
Work at your best time of the day
Some of us work best in the morning, while others are night owls. Which one are you?
If you’re not sure when you work best, try monitoring yourself for a week. Jot down when you were feeling more energized, compared to when you were feeling more sluggish.
It’s important to know how your body works and use its natural energy if you’re going to be a productive freelancer.
So, use the flexibility of freelancing to find your best time for working.
Just because you’ve worked out your best time to work doesn’t mean that everyone else in your home knows about it.
Your spouse and kids see you’re at home and assume you’re available.
But it’s important you don’t get disturbed while you’re working. So you’ll need to set up some boundaries. For example:
- Create a working space, preferably a separate room, that’s called your office.
- Put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your office door.
- Let the kids know you’re working until 6 pm and then you’re free to have play time with them.
Some of these ideas may seem harsh, but if you want to be productive, then you need distraction-free time to complete your work.
Now you’ve decided when you’re going to work, let’s look at how to maximize that time.
Focus on one task
Many people like to have a To Do List. You can even get To Do List apps. But the problem with To Do lists is that they become an obsession. Instead of getting things done, people sweat over prioritizing the list.
Here’s a much simpler way.
By all means have a list of tasks that you need to do. But make it an unordered list. A list that you can add items to at any time and in any order.
Now, when you start working (at your best time), look at your list and decide which is the most important thing you have to do right now.
There’s only one thing. You might have two or three in mind, but when you narrow it down, there’s only one. The single most important thing you have to do.
Then do it. When you’ve finished it, you’ll feel great. You’ve achieved the most important thing of the day. Now you can look at your list again and repeat the process.
If you still think doing more than one thing at a time is the best use of your time then think again.
Scientists have proven that when you try to do more than one task your brain doesn’t know which one to focus on. It’s pulled in two directions and ends up completing neither.
So, drop the myth of multitasking and focus on one task at a time.
Set time limits
It’s important to set time limits on your tasks; else you’ll find time slipping away.
Parkinson’s Law states:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
And it’s true. For example:
- If you allow yourself 4 hours to research keywords, then you’ll take 4 hours.
- But if you give yourself 2 hours to research keywords, then you’ll take 2 hours.
When you allocate a specific time to a specific task, then you’ll become more productive.
Tip: Use the countdown timer on your phone to set the clock running on your task. The countdown timer creates a sense of urgency that will focus your mind on completing the task.
Track your time
Just when you thought you’d escaped timesheets, here I am telling you to track your time.
And it’s for a good reason. When you track something, it improves. It’s a concept called the Hawthorne Effect.
So by tracking your time, you’ll be more productive.
You’ll also want to keep track of how much time you spend on client tasks. Even if you’re working on fixed price work, you have to calculate a particular amount of hours in your proposal.
It’s not easy to record how much time you spend on tasks for each client.
But when you start using a time tracking app, you can get an accurate recording. The app works in the background tracking exactly how much time you spend on each task. This helps you manage your time more efficiently and focus on the most important tasks.
As you grow your freelancing business, you’ll find there are particular tasks you do on a recurring basis. Once you identify these repetitive tasks, you’ll have an opportunity to introduce some automation. For example:
- Use Templates – create templates for your documents like Proposals, Terms and Conditions, and Invoices.
- Use Shortcuts – get to know the keyboard shortcuts in software programs like Email, Word, Excel, etc.
- Use Google Drive – store all your frequently used docs in one place in clearly labeled folders.
When you start freelancing you soon realize that there’s a stack of things to do. Some are client-focused tasks, while others are the background admin tasks to keep your business ticking over.
For example, if you’re a freelance graphic designer you won’t be able to spend all your time designing graphics for clients. You’ll also have to consider marketing your business, meeting prospective clients, sending invoices, chasing late payments, and answering emails.
You probably won’t like doing those tasks, and you might not even have the time or the skills to do all those tasks.
But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t outsource some tasks to another person, probably another freelancer. Often it works out more cost effective than you first thought.
So you’ll end up saving money, as well as becoming more productive.
So far you’ve discovered your best time to work and learned how to maximize your time to become more productive.
But there’s an equally important concept you need to practice, and that’s resting.
You’ve probably heard the old saying: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
And scientists have since proven that our brains can only take so much focus. When we focus too much, we drain our energy and become less productive.
As Srini Pillay, writing in the Harvard Business Review, says:
“The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus.”
Here are a few different ways you can divide your time between focus and unfocus.
The 90 / 20 Rule
Tony Schwartz, the founder of the Energy Project, recommends working for 90 minutes and then resting for 20 minutes:
“The human body is hard-wired to pulse. To operate at our best, we need to renew our energy at 90-minute intervals.”
The 52 / 17 Rule
Another study recommends working for 52 minutes, then resting for 17 minutes:
“Concentration is like a muscle: It needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked.”
The 25 / 5 Rule
The Pomodoro Technique recommends shorter intervals, working for 25 minutes and then resting for 5 minutes. After four Pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
The Power Nap
Scientists reckon that taking a 10-minute power nap after lunch can boost your energy levels for the next 3 hours:
“You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance.”
Consider it a perk of working from home to retire to the bedroom after lunch for a quick nap.
However long you decide to work and rest, make sure you do something different in your break:
- Do the laundry
- Take a brisk walk
- Stretch your muscles
These non-focused activities help you to recharge your energy and focus on the next task
Freelancing is an entirely different ball game to your traditional 9 to 5 job.
The most productive freelancers are smart. They know when to work and rest, they know how to focus and unfocus.
If you want to become a productive freelancer, then learn to manage your time and energy for optimal results.