How to Be Productive as a Freelancer (9 tips)

Do you remember why you started freelancing? Well, just like many of you, I fell in love with the motto of freelancing: “Whenever, Wherever”. Although doing work at your own pace sounds enticing, not having a set time to do work can result in low levels of productivity. So, how do you make sure you’re freelancing at your 100%?

Our 9 freelance productivity tips are:

  1. Stay organised
  2. Learn your productivity cycle
  3. Focus on one thing at a time
  4. Clear things up with clients at the start
  5. Take regular breaks
  6. Plan your day the night before
  7. Remove distractions
  8. Break down tough tasks
  9. Use a rewards system

In this article, we’ll teach you how to be productive as a freelancer with our top 9 freelance productivity tips. Let’s not procrastinate further!

Is It Important Know How to be Productive as a freelancer?

It is important to know how to be productive as a freelancer, at least if you want to make the most of your time. Being productive is defined as doing a lot of work in a given span of time. Of course, “a lot” is a subjective word, so we can interpret productivity as doing your best in the shortest amount of time possible. Sometimes it might just mean completing the work you need to do by a given deadline. But likewise you might define being productive as getting more work done than you need to.

Freelancing gives you flexibility in your working hours, so it can be easy to just slack off or put off doing your clients’ work. If you’re the kind of person that needs a manager to constantly nag at you to do work, then freelancing may not be the best choice for you.

More Time, Money and Freedom

At times, your workload as a freelancer can seem really heavy. This is where your high productivity levels should kick in. Your ability to churn out lots of work within a few hours is vital in such situations. In the end, a productive freelancer has more time, money, and freedom than a sluggish one.

But how exactly can you be productive as a freelancer?

9 Freelance Productivity Tips

1. Stay Organised

According to financial counsellor Larry Burkett, “Organisation is an absolute necessity, not an alternative.” However, staying organised is easier said than done. Many of us are messy by nature, and unless you’re meticulous and a perfectionist – or already have your organisation sorted of course – you probably don’t know where to start.

First, create a to-do list. For old-schoolers, all you need is a planner. Once a client sends you an assignment, jot down the due date, expectations, and other important details. If you’re a tech-savvy freelancer, try using the reminders app on iOS or Google Calendar if you’re an Android user. These apps can notify you about the due dates, according to how you’ve configured the settings in the app. This is a sure-fire way to stick to deadlines even if your memory isn’t the best!

To stay organised, you also need space to do your work. Clear your desk before getting to work, and don’t just balance your laptop on a stack of paper. Your online space must be clean as well. Who likes working while getting bombarded with pop-up ads and promotion emails? Keep your open tabs to a minimum, and even consider removing or blocking websites like YouTube to minimise distractions.

Staying organised is the first step to being a productive freelancer. Next, you need to think about your own productivity cycle.

2. Learn Your Productivity Cycle

Your productivity cycle is what determines the kinds of tasks you do best at different times of the day. Unlike robots, we humans don’t like doing the same task for the whole day. It gets mundane and even miserable after a while. Learn your productivity cycle, so you can maximise your efficiency in every task you do.

As my dad always quips, “There’s a right time for everything.” For me, mornings and evenings are a good time to do demanding tasks, while lazy afternoons are better for admin work. A good way to study your productivity cycle is to think about your feelings throughout the day.

  • When do you feel the most motivation? Save this time for the most demanding tasks.
  • What do you feel like doing at different times of the day? Sometimes what you want to do is actually the right thing to do!
  • What’s your current daily routine like? Can you think of some ways to change it to get more done?

Stopping for a moment and pondering such questions can let you productively manage your day, benefitting your freelancing journey in the long run.

3. Focus on One Thing at a Time

Doing many things at one time sounds efficient, but this actually isn’t that productive. Even if it seems that there’re many things to complete in a short time, multitasking never results in your best effort. Plus, you’ll likely have to deal with an unhappy client (or clients). If you focus on even just two things at once, your effort on each one is really halved. This obviously means the quality of the output for each task takes a knock too.

Focusing on one thing at a time enables you to get the job done faster, and get better results. Once you’ve finished one task, you can quickly move on to the next one. It might be tempting to try and do a little bit of each task all at once, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll save any time. Usually, you just end up taking longer.

If you’re finding it hard to put all your attention into one thing, you should get rid of all the distractions around you. Your games, apps and even other clients can all serve as distractions. Of course, you should be doing the work of utmost importance and relevance first, before moving on to the second task on the list.

But once you pick your task to stick with, you then need to know what you’re doing with it.

4. Clear Things up With Clients at the Start

Most rookie freelancers make the mistake of not following their clients’ guidelines (whether they tell you what they want clearly or not), and thus have to make multiple revisions. This is both time consuming and it looks bad on you for providing your client with sub-standard work.

To eliminate the chances of this happening, clear everything up with your clients beforehand. This way, you don’t waste any extra time going back-and-forth with your client.

A good tip is to ask your client for an outline of what they expect before you start your work. This guide underlines what your client expects of you, and how they imagine the final product will turn out. You even can take it a step further by sending your intro to your client and check if you’re heading in the right direction, before proceeding with the full task.

Getting a clear outline means you don’t spend time wondering what the client wants, or trying to have a go at things even though you know you’re going to struggle. By sending them a snippet of the task before you finish it, you can ensure you’re doing what they want from the start.

5. Take Regular Breaks

Previously, I mentioned that you should focus on the task at hand, and not let any distractions get in the way. However, breaks are important too. This could be a break to get a glass of water, a 5-minute nature appreciation session, or even a short bit of exercise. These work time-outs can help rejuvenate and freshen up your mind, prepping you for the next work session.

Many people spend their breaks browsing social media or playing on their phones. However, I find this contradictory to the idea of taking a break. The purpose of a break is to let you relax for a while, resting your eyes and mind. Social media and online games will just distract you even more from your work, and perhaps be exhausting, rather than revitalising.

So, taking short but regular breaks can help boost your motivation levels, energising you to continue pressing on and eventually completing the task. Just make sure you take the right kind of break!

6. Plan Your Day the Night Before

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Planning, even in your head, can make the difference between having a productive or an unfruitful day.

Adapting your day on the go is important. But without a plan to start you on the right foot, your goals for the day are baseless. Planning not only gives you goals to work towards, but it also helps with your organisation, which was an important point we established in the first tip.

Since many freelancers struggle to set aside time to plan properly during the workday, doing it before bed is a good solution. Even just 5 minutes before you hit the sack can prove beneficial and give you something to work with as soon as the next day begins. This eliminates any time wasted thinking about where to start.

7. Remove Distractions

Out of all of our 9 freelance productivity tips, this one is probably the hardest to put into action. In the era of the internet and technology, it’s hard to stay away from online interaction throughout the day. However, if you want to maximise your productivity as a freelancer, you have to set all your distractions aside and focus on the task at hand.

Distractions don’t just include your electronic devices. Even talking to a friend or the anticipation of the exciting event you’re attending later are both examples of distractions. In general, try not to let your mind wander off the objective you’ve set throughout the day.

Of course, removing distractions is difficult even for highly motivated people. If you’re really struggling, you could try locking your devices in an “isolation box”. You put your phone in this box and can only take it out after a certain period of time. Yes, people are so addicted to the internet that companies have designed secure boxes to keep us away from them – by choice!

If locking your phone in prison for the day isn’t your cup of tea, just stick it in another room. If your phone isn’t the problem, and instead it’s things or people around you that are distracting you, find a quiet space to work instead. This is often tough as a freelancer working from home with others around you all the time. In this case, try wearing headphones and listening to instrumental or classical music.

8. Break Down Tough Tasks

Sometimes, looking at a huge obstacle discourages you from trying to climb over it. This is the case for many beginner freelancers, especially with clients that have high expectations. Perhaps they’ve put a tight deadline on a job. This can look intimidating, especially in the beginning when you’re not quite sure what your threshold for work is in a given timeframe.

Instead of just rejecting the job or asking for more time, you can instead break the task down into a couple of smaller ones. By breaking down tough tasks, you’ll give yourself an easier time completing smaller, bite-sized ones. Eventually, you’ll put all these small projects together, forming one large project, which you can then submit to your client.

This technique of dividing the workload and conquering it bit by bit prevents you from getting overwhelmed. Essentially, you’re playing tricks on your mind by breaking down tough tasks, making yourself think that multiple smaller tasks are easier than one big job.

However, your mind might work in the opposite way, and see lots of small tasks as more intimidating than one large one. This is a prime example of the fact that we’re all different. What works for one freelancer doesn’t always work for the next, so find what works for you and focus on that.

9. Use a Rewards System

If the satisfaction of completing a job, the good feedback from your client, or the compensation are not spurring you on to complete a job, try making your own rewards system. For example, for every task that you finish and send to a client, give yourself 15 minutes of gaming time. Or for every hour of work you complete, go and grab a few chocolates or sweets.

While this may sound juvenile, your brain is wired to function like a rewards system. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for the feeling of pleasure, is your brain’s way of telling you that you’ve done something good, like eating calorific food. Create your own system that rewards you for doing good things in your freelancing career.

You can modify your reward system to feature what you treasure the most. It can be tough to stick to a rewards system that you make up, so feel free to get creative with it. If you want to reward yourself with time on your phone, you could set a lock on it for a given timeframe within which you need to get to work. Once you finish an hour’s work, your phone unlocks, giving you the reward.

This is just one example, and this approach might not work for you. However, it’s a great way to get more enjoyment out of your workday as a freelancer, and it can help you become more productive in the process.

How to Be Productive as a Freelancer

If you want to learn more about how to be productive as a freelancer, check out our other articles on the Sophical Blog. We have plenty of content all about getting the most out of your freelancing career.

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