No matter how long you’ve been running your freelance business, your freelance productivity can still suffer. As a freelancer, it’s easy to spend the whole day rushing from one task to another – without really accomplishing a lot.
It’s also easy (let’s be honest!) to get distracted. Maybe you’re trying out an app that ends up simply being yet another fancy way to rearrange your to-do list. Maybe you want to spend time on social media to promote your business but end up getting drawn into chatting to friends.
Either way, your freelance productivity suffers.
Don’t let your freelance business run you.
Here are seven tips you can try to boost your freelance productivity, even if you sometimes struggle to be self-motivated:
#1: Get Your Day Off to a Productive Start
If you wake up at 8 a.m. then spend an hour in bed reading the news on your phone before eventually wandering to your desk in your PJs … you’re not setting yourself up for a productive day.
One of the great things about freelancing is that you don’t need to present yourself, ready to work, at any specific time. This flexibility can be really handy, but it can also be a challenge, especially if you find it difficult to get up the motivation to begin work.
Instead of slowly easing yourself into the day, have a clear routine that helps you get straight into a productive morning.
Write down what time you plan to get up, and how you want to spend the first 30 minutes of the day (check out The Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod, for some great suggestions).
#2: Track Where Your Time is Really Going
You might think you’re spending most of every day on work, but you may find that administrative tasks like emails and calls, and distractions, take up a lot more time than you realized.
How much time do you spend on the actual work of your freelance business (writing, coding, designing, etc)?
RescueTime is a great piece of software that tracks exactly where your time is going when you’re at your computer or using your phone. Simply being aware that your time is being tracked can help you stay focused and productive.
If you don’t want to use an app to track your time, try keeping a log of what you spend your time on all day, in 15-minute increments. Like tracking your spending or counting calories, this makes you much more aware of where your time is going.
#3: Make Time for Learning and Development
When you’re hustling for new clients (or trying to keep up with a sudden influx of work), learning something new might be the last thing on your mind. As a business owner, though, it’s important to keep thinking about how you can grow and develop your freelancing business.
Great books, particularly business memoirs, can also be really inspiring. You’ll read about the challenges that other business owners have faced, and how they overcame them. Make some time – even if it’s just half an hour a week – to read a chapter or so. If you’re looking for some reading suggestions, Foundr has a handy list.
Keep the book you’re reading in your bag (or install the Kindle app on your phone, if you prefer ebooks). That way, if you find yourself out and about with a few minutes of idle time, you can make good use of it.
#4: Create a Daily or Weekly Schedule
You don’t have to stick to your exact schedule every single day – one of the joys of freelancing is that it’s so flexible. Having everything planned out, though, makes it easier to juggle your time around while making sure you still fit in all the important things.
One of the wonderful things about being a freelancer is getting to set your activities to your own time. It’s important to do so consciously, though – otherwise you’ll end up working weekends because you commit to more work than you can handle, or you’ll find yourself wasting time on low-priority tasks.
Some freelancers like to create a checklist for what should happen when during the day, or even an “ideal” schedule for each day of the week.
#5: Take Regular Breaks to Move Around
As a freelancer, you might find yourself sitting at your desk for hours at a time – which means your focus will inevitably start to dip. It’s also not good for your health.
Take breaks during the day and use these to move around. That could simply be a brisk walk around the block or a few minutes of stretches. You’ll likely find that this makes you more motivated and alert and that having breaks scheduled in helps you to focus on getting your work done quickly.
Try setting a timer for a “focused” period of work: 45 or 60 minutes works well. Once the timer goes off, take a five-minute break to move around. (Google has a free timer that you can use – just type “set a timer for X minutes” into the search box.)
#6: Know Your Most Productive Times of Day
We’re all wired differently, but it’s crucial to know when you are at your best during the day, so you can use your time effectively.
Are you a morning person … or do you love to work late into the evenings?
If you find it easy to focus in the mornings, for instance, it might make sense to do the most brain-intensive bits of your work then … and save the afternoons for routine tasks, like replying to emails or checking social media.
You might not have full control over when you’re able to work (e.g. if you have kids or if you’re freelancing on the side of a day job). Don’t worry if you can’t always work at your most productive times – but do try to shift your schedule to ensure that you’re at least avoiding your worst times of day.
#7: Have a Clear Stop Time for Your Work
Many freelancers end up working long into the evening because they don’t have a firm “end” to their workday.
Figure out when you’re going to stop work for the day.
The end of your workday acts like a mini-deadline: you know you’ve got a finite amount of time to get things done, so you’re much more likely to concentrate on the task at hand instead of getting distracted by all the other things you could be doing. Time management guru Mark Forster calls this the “end effect”.
You might be surprised to find that you end up getting more done because you’re more focused.
Staying productive and motivated as a freelancer can be tough – but remember, you’re the one in charge.
You can design your business to be easy to run and you can design your days and your week to suit your fluctuating levels of energy. If you’re feeling unmotivated or if you’re not as productive as you’d like to be, then look for one practical thing you can do this week to turn things around.