50+ Ways to Improve Your Productivity as a Freelancer
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Maximizing productivity is a never-ending task for most freelancers. There’s always some way that we can improve or some area that’s lacking the attention it deserves. This post serves as a guide and a reminder for ways that we can get more done and make better use of our time. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
1. Set Goals
Goals are critical to success in any career, but as a freelancer you won’t have a boss pushing you to meet your goals every month. If you don’t set goals for yourself and your business, no one else will. Having some established and measurable goals will help you to stay productive by keeping you focused on the actions that are critical to success.
2. Analyze and Evaluate Your Progress and Achievement of Goals
Just setting goals isn’t enough, you also need to follow up on them to evaluate your level of achievement. Hopefully the goals will motivate you to work towards some specific benchmarks, and effective goals are easily and clearly measurable by these benchmarks. Realizing that you’ve accomplished your goals can be extremely encouraging, and seeing where you came up short can help you to realize where adjustments need to be made that can impact your productivity.
3. Challenge Yourself
Goals will only be effective if they’re a challenge. Goals that are too easily attainable will do little to boost your productivity, and goals that are virtually impossible to achieve can be a de-motivator. When setting goals decide on what you think you can accomplish, and push yourself just a bit further.
4. Have a Long-Term Plan
Freelancers can easily get caught in the rut of moving from one job to the next and focusing only on the short-term. If this is the case, you’ll probably find yourself growing decreasingly satisfied with your work at some point. Freelancing is no different than any other career in that you need to have a long-term plan. A long-term plan can guide you in the short-term by helping you to make decisions that will get you to where you want to be. (See Dave Navarro’s recent post Are You Missing the Point of Being a Freelancer?)
5. Organize Your Email Inbox
Staying caught up with email can be a huge task and it’s very easy to fall behind. If you’re not careful, email can kill your productivity. One of the keys to a functional inbox is some organization. Personally, I like to use folders to organize my messages into various categories. This keeps the inbox cleaner and you’ll wind up spending less time sifting through countless emails.
6. Condense/Combine Email Accounts
Most of us have several different email addresses. Checking each one a few times per day really adds up and can take time away from more productive activities. Try combining your email accounts into one inbox to keep everything at one place. I was skeptical of this at first as I thought it would create too much clutter, but with an organized inbox it’s amazing how much time I save this way.
7. Work with Your Email Closed
Some people prefer to see emails the moment they arrive and others like to simply check at certain times of the day. If you’re part of the population that likes to get them right away, at least close your email when you’re working on your most important or your most intense projects. Getting rid of one more distraction can make a huge difference in productivity.
8. Develop Email Templates for Common Messages
You probably write the same messages or very similar messages over and over again on a daily or weekly basis. Try setting up some basic email templates for your most common messages. You can always adapt them as needed to personalize the message or to make it more relevant to the specific situation.
9. Empty Your Inbox When Possible
There’s nothing like an empty inbox to set your mind at ease and get you back on track with productive work. Emptying the inbox isn’t easy, but you can save time by not leaving things to take care of until later. One option is to set up a “follow up” folder in your inbox for anything that you can’t take care of at the moment. That way you can get it out of your main inbox and you’ll have the ability to easily come back to it later.
10. Use a Contact Manager
As a freelancer you’ll definitely be in contact with a lot of people. Keeping everything straight and be a chore. A contact manager, such as Highrise, will help you to keep track of everyone while saving time for more productive tasks.
11. Have a Daily To-Do List
Staying on task is a huge part of achieving optimal productivity. Be setting a list of things that need to be done each day you’ll be able to set yourself up to get the most done. With a to-do list you’ll be able to look back on your day as on that was successful, rather than wondering where all your time went.
12. Evaluate Yourself at the End of the Day
You can quickly get a good idea of your level of productivity by looking at your to-do list for the day and seeing what was accomplished and what wasn’t. Since you’re keeping a daily to-do list the items that you don’t get done can get pushed to the next day. Taking a few minutes at the end of the day can help you to set up the next day for success.
13. Have a Weekly To-Do List
In addition to a daily to-do list, I also like to keep a weekly to-do list that helps me to see a bigger picture than just an individual day.
14. Align Your To-Do Lists with Your Goals
Getting things done is great, but ultimately what’s important is that you’re working towards your goals. When setting up your to-do list, take a look at your goals and develop the to-do list in a way that will lead you to the accomplishment of your goals.
15. Allow a Specific Amount of Time for Surfing Online, but Keep it to that Amount of Time
Working online means that you’ll constantly be faced with the temptation to spend a few more minutes surfing websites that aren’t helping you to get any work done. Having time to catch up on the news or browse through your RSS reader is fine, but try to realize how much time you spend on these activities, and limit them so that you can spend your time more productively.
16. Use an Online Calendar
Tools like Google Calendar are a great way to keep track of your deadlines, appointments, and even just a list of tasks for the day. There are plenty of free online calendars that are easy to use and will help you to do a better job of managing your time.
17. Reduce Your Feed Subscriptions
How many RSS feeds do you subscribe to? How many of them do you read and how many do you constantly skip over? Take a few minutes to go through your subscriptions and weed out the ones that you don’t follow anymore. Keeping less in your feed reader will result in less wasted time flipping through feeds, and you’ll actually be able to spend more time on those that you do read.
18. Keep Separate Folders in Your Feed Reader for Personal and Business Uses
If you subscribe to some feeds for business purposes and others for pleasure, use folders to keep them separate. Leave those that are for pleasure to be read at some time when you’re not working.
19. Reduce the Number of People You’re Following on Twitter
A number of freelancers effectively use Twitter for communicating with others in their network, but if you’re following a lot of people you may be wasting time wading through a lot of unnecessary tweets. Cut back on the number of people you follow to make it a more effective and efficient resource.
20. Use a Time-Tracking Service
There are a number of online tools that can help you with tracking your time, and you may even be able to identify some ways to improve your productivity. Most of us are surprised when we look back at how we’ve spent our time. (See 6 Cool Tools to Track Your Time.)
21. Set Aside Specific Time for Learning New Things or Working on Fun Projects
Regardless of what field you’re in, continued development is necessary. It’s easy to overlook this need when you’re busy, so make an effort to schedule a few hours into your week for working on something that will allow you to learn some new skills or to develop others.
22. Identify Your Common Time-Wasters
In order to achieve maximum productivity we need to identify the specific ways that we commonly waste our time. Each one of us has our own time wasters, and once they’ve been identified it’s much easier to plan around them and get more done. The time tracking tools mentioned above can help for this purpose.
23. Identify Your Most Productive Times of the Day
All of us have particular times of the day that are especially productive and others that are unproductive. My approach has been to recognize these situations and plan my work to take advantage of my stronger times. Try to get your most difficult work done when you’re on top of your game, and save less challenging tasks for the times when you tend to lose a bit of focus.
24. Use Two Monitors
It’s easy to spend a lot of time moving from one browser tab to the next or from program to program. Simply working from two monitors can save a lot of small amounts of time, and that can add up to something significant.
25. Stay on Top of Mundane Tasks
Too often those tasks that we don’t enjoy or that seem insignificant wind up taking considerable amounts of time. Rather than letting them pile up, stay on top of them and you’ll wind up wasting less time in the end.
26. Work on Small Tasks First
When I have a to-do list of ten items, and five of them can get done very quickly, I like to get them out of the way first so my list becomes a lot shorter and I can focus more on the bigger tasks. This is somewhat of a personal preference, but I find it to be more productive rather than letting small tasks linger.
27. Set Aside Time for Networking
Networking is an important part of effect freelancing, but it’s easily forgotten or neglected in a busy schedule. A strong network can help you to achieve productivity, so make sure you save some time to work on building your network.
28. Use an Online Bookmarks Manager
A simple online bookmarks manager, such as Delicious, can be a significant organizational tool when you spend a lot of time online. if you take a moment to bookmark sites/pages that may be useful in the future, and you tag them effectively, you’ll have a great set of resources available at your fingertips whenever you need something.
29. Develop Habits
Humans are creatures of habit. Most of us work more efficiently once we get in a routine that has proven to work well for us. Try to develop habits with how you manage your time (good habits, of course, not bad ones). Get in a routine of checking your email at a certain time or working on invoices and finances.
30. Hire an Assistant
If you have more going on than you can handle, think about hiring an assistant. While it will cost you some money, it will also free you up to do more income-generating work, and you just may be better of at the bottom line.
31. Outsource When Appropriate
There will most likely be times where you will be better off to outsource some of your work to others. This is a common practice and those who do it well can drastically improve productivity and profitability. If you’re spending more time on something than you should, chances are someone else can do it faster and cheaper.
32. Use a Whiteboard
Having a whiteboard in your office can help to keep you organized and it’s just one more way to keep track of your to-do list. You may find it easier to quickly write some things down on the whiteboard as opposed to entering them into an online program.
Being able to set priorities is a critical skill for freelancers. You probably work with a lot of deadlines and you bounce from one project to the next all the time. It’s essential to be able to prioritize your tasks and to know how your time is best spent. (See Effective Prioritizing for Freelancers.)
34. Take Breaks When Needed
If you’re working online, sitting at a computer all day can be very draining. Don’t be afraid to take some short breaks to refresh yourself. You’ll find that you’re ultimately more productive this way.
35. Get Physical Exercise
Being healthy and in good physical condition will improve your productivity by giving you more energy and focus, and by helping you to feel better in general. Take care of your body before it becomes too late and you’re held back in your work because of it.
36. Get Enough Sleep
One of the keys to a productive day is getting adequate sleep. Staying up late will probably happen from time-to-time, but make sure that you get in the habit of sleeping well, otherwise you’ll struggle through the days and get less done, even with longer hours.
37. Develop a Healthy Diet
What you eat can have a big impact on your overall health and your energy levels. Make an effort to eat healthy foods that will give you natural energy, rather than relying on things that will give you a quick burst of energy followed by a crash.
38. Change Up Your Working Environment
You may find that making some simple changes to your work environment can help you to get a lot more done. If you’re struggling at home, try going to a library or somewhere quiet that will allow you to focus.
39. Schedule Vacations
Time away from work is important for your physical and mental health (and for family relationships). I find it to be important to schedule vacations in advance, otherwise they don’t happen. When you schedule something in advance you can have time to prepare and plan accordingly. I’ve actually found that I can get more done just before a vacation because there is an increased sense of urgency.
40. Celebrate Your Success
In anything you do it’s important to be able to enjoy your success. Find some way of enjoying yourself when you reach your goals or when you hit certain milestones in your business. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but just something that you’ll enjoy and that will help you to realize that you’re making real progress.
41. Set Up a Comfortable Office
Freelancers typically spend a lot of time in a home office. Why not make it as comfortable and conducive to work as possible? Take a look around your office and see what you can do to make it the type of workplace that will increase your productivity.
42. Keep Your Workspace Clean
A messy and cluttered workspace can have serious negative impacts on your work. With a clean office you’ll feel more on top of things and more organized, which can easily carry over to your work.
43. Take on Work that You Enjoy
It’s natural for us to be more productive when we’re doing something that we enjoy. Remember that you don’t have to accept every job that comes your way. If there’s a certain type of work that you really enjoy, find a way to specialize in it. (See 9 Ways to Enjoy Freelancing More.)
44. Have a Stress Reliever
Stress is an inevitable part of life, and it can be a big part of freelancing. With deadlines and frustrating clients to deal with, stress can easily get in the way of your productivity. Find something that you enjoy to get rid of the stress, or at least make it more manageable. For many people, physical exercise is a great stress reliever. Try going for a jog or going to the gym. Whatever you do, find something that you can turn to every now and then to get rid of the stress and get yourself back on the right track.
45. Focus on What You do Best
All of us have strengths and weaknesses. It’s pretty obvious that we’ll be more productive if we spend the majority of our time in areas that we’re strong. If there’s something that you just don’t do well and that you don’t enjoy, consider outsourcing it rather than wasting time that could be spent on other things that you do well.
46. Use an Invoice Manager
Invoicing tools, such as FreshBooks, can help to keep your finances in line and can save you some time of tracking your invoices and payments. There are a number of invoicing tools available with a variety of different features. Some are free and some will cost money. Find one that suits your needs and see if it can help you to save some time.
47. Use a Simple Accounting Program
Freelancers have a need for some financial management, but simple tools will usually do everything that you’ll need. Why over complicate things when you don’t need to? Some invoice managers offer additional features that can provide you with most or all of the tools you’ll need. Less Accounting is made specifically for small businesses that need a simple accounting solution.
48. Hire an Accountant
Finances and taxes can be a nightmare for many freelancers. In most cases you’ll be more productive if you just hire an accountant to handle your taxes and focus your time on doing work to produce the income.
49. Don’t Try to Accept Every Job
Some jobs just won’t be a good fit for you. Maybe you won’t make enough money from the job, or maybe the work just isn’t a good fit for what you do best. Whatever the reason, don’t be afraid to turn down a job if it means that you’ll likely be able to do other work that will be more productive.
50. Set Working Hours
It’s important for freelancers to have boundaries. It’s easy to wind up working longer hours than you intend when your office is in the home. Make a clear distinction between work hours and personal hours. You’ll find that you get more accomplished during your working hours and your state of mind will be better.
51. Separate Working Areas from Living Areas
Just like your hours need to be separated, it’s also a good idea to separate areas in your home. If you’re on “personal time” but you’re in an area of the house where you typically work, it’s natural that you’ll feel like you’re at work.
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