Productivity tips for freelancers in 2023
As a freelancer, one of the biggest themes you could face is learning how to increase your efficiency at the job. Time is money, more so for freelancers paid on the hour.
While studies suggest that freelancers can boast significantly higher productivity levels than regular workers, only a few top freelancers have truly mastered productivity principles that enable them to make the best use of their time.
And with the freelance space on a steady rise, the competition is stiffer than ever.
In this article, you will learn popular productivity tips to help you increase your output while sustaining personal and career growth. Let's dive right into it!
Top productivity tips for freelancers
Occasionally you could take on way more work than you can handle going by your normal routine, only to realize this halfway.
Other times you might be experiencing the fabled writer's block or its equivalent and cannot get the ideas down like you used to. Tick tock. The clock ticks away...
Luckily, there are known ways to improve productivity.
While output can depend on several factors and freelancers need to consider other success tips, here are some tested and trusted productivity tricks that can get you achieving feats and clearing milestones like you never thought was possible:
1. Begin your day right
Many people believe that the morning is the most important time of the day, and starting off on the wrong foot could tip the scales against you.
As a freelancer, you need to be at optimal levels to work effectively. Hence it's crucial to start your day on the right path— with enough energy and enthusiasm to drive you through the rest of it.
Starting off the day strong could mean being in the right frame of mind - motivated and full of enthusiasm or having a clear strategy of how to go about your tasks. Whichever the case, here are a few tips to help:
- Sleep a reasonable amount of hours
- Morning exercise helps clear your mind
- Eat a healthy breakfast
2. Set clear goals
A freelancer without a clear well-thought-out plan and goals to tick off a list isn't playing a fair game. Because it's generally accepted that having clear strategies on how to perform a task is far more favorable than just going with the tides— no matter how cool it sounds.
Setting clear achievable goals is a very important work efficiency tip.
You need both short-term and more crucial long-term goals in a career as a freelancer. These give you a clearer vision and points of focus to help you navigate your affairs.
Freelancing can be a wilderness, with its enticing freedom comes the ease of getting lost.
Ask yourself :
- What goals do you intend to achieve in the day? The next hour? By 12 am?
- What could be described as a successful day? And what are the clear paths to follow to that?
- What are your long-term goals as a freelancer and how does each task contribute to them?
The answers to some of these can help motivate you as you work. So, have them in mind.
Setting goals also includes planning each task. Have a clear outline of milestones to achieve within each job and work towards them.
3. Understand your priorities
Before you begin each task, you need to understand your priorities.
The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a popular technique that can aid you in being more productive by focusing on the most important tasks.
The Pareto principle states that 20 percent of all the tasks you will perform in a day will be responsible for 80 percent of the impact for that particular day.
As a freelancer, you could be facing a heap of projects on your desk coupled with other personal chores. You need to prioritize them. There are several ways you can do this, e.g:
- Which project needs to be submitted soonest?
- Which is more demanding and would consume more resources?
- Are there tasks long overdue?
An important factor in your freelancing career is your relationship with clients, delivering projects way after the deadline will dampen that.
Finally, by setting your priorities, you can focus on working on more critical tasks during your most productive moments in the day.
4. Focus on a single task
One of the biggest hindrances to productivity is multitasking.
Several studies show that the human brain is only capable of maintaining decent performance levels when engaged in single tasks. And these levels drop with an increase in the number of tasks.
In fact, a study by the University of London shows that we can lose as much as 15 IQ points by multitasking.
According to Forbes, multitasking can drop productivity by a whopping 40 percent.
Sorry to break it to you, but our brain prefers we focus on one thing at a time. Therefore, if you want to excel at your projects, do not take on several of them all at once.
While there are people under the illusion that they do well at multitasking, the truth is they are only limiting their potential. The whole idea of multitasking is almost a misconception. What we call multi-tasking is simply shifting our focus from one task to another — this can have adverse effects on cognition.
Only about 2% of the population can comfortably multitask. And this population, of course, is considered the edge case.
That means about 98% of people cannot perform well at multitasking.
It is pretty common to be involved in several gigs at once as a freelancer, but never try to work on them simultaneously. Instead, work sequentially from one task to the next. This is one of the best ways to improve productivity.
5. Divide and conquer
Most people will agree that the toughest part of any activity is the beginning. The first few steps.
And a major culprit in this hurdle is usually the sheer volume of work to do. Sometimes, the size of the project is all it takes to keep you stranded on the next thing to do before you ever do anything. It can overwhelm you.
Therefore, it is wise to demystify the monster staring in your face. Break the projects down into simpler and smaller tasks that you can easily complete. Doing this will help your brain discard the fear and uncertainty allied with the task.
6. Use templates/frameworks for similar tasks
You do not need to do some tasks from scratch. Several activities you do during the day, every day, could follow a certain pattern or be very similar to an existing solution.
Therefore, instead of doing them from the start each time, you could use frameworks to help you quickly complete your jobs and free up time for other freelance work.
For instance, a software developer doesn't need to write 200 lines of code to perform a function when there are libraries out there designed to do just that.
As a freelancer, it's important to be up to date on the technologies and 3rd party frameworks and libraries that can simplify your work.
7. Don't bite more than you can chew
Freelancers can get greedy like everyone else. And for most beginners, freelancing is usually a feast or famine situation. Hence, It is common to see freelancers take on way more work than they can keep up with when the opportunity presents itself.
This is very bad for productivity.
You can end up driving yourself to absolute limits and possibly overwork your brain to a breakdown. And what's worse, the results of your work will likely not be of good quality anyways.
Grabbing every project that comes your way has far more demerits than merits.
So, to deliver impressive results and on the expected deadlines, only pick as many projects as you can comfortably face.
8. Choose projects you can complete and deadlines you can meet
It is always better to choose projects that align with your skills. You cannot be of much use in tasks you have little or no experience handling. For new freelancers, it could be helpful to learn how to start freelancing with experience.
Thus, leverage your strengths by only accepting projects you have a chance at succeeding at. Choosing the wrong project can get you totally drained and clueless midway.
Choose your projects carefully. And do your best in each.
Also, set appropriate deadlines for submission. Do not agree to deadlines that you might not meet. As a recommendation, some freelancers may include an additional 50% of the total time they feel is needed to complete a project.
For instance, if a job will take 2 days, they add an additional day to make it 3 days.
9. Use time management techniques and tools
There are several techniques and tools for managing time to increase productivity at work. Some of these techniques have been the subject of multiple studies indicating that they may indeed be helpful.
Popular among them are:
The 52/17 rule: this time management technique recommends working uninterrupted for 52 minutes and taking a break of 17 minutes after.
In an article published in The Muse, the most productive users of the time management app DeskTime were said to be those who worked 52 minutes and took 17 minutes off their tasks to rest or do other mindless tasks.
The Pomodoro technique: this is a time management technique founded by an Italian named Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s.
It proposes a more lenient framework than the 57/17 principle;
- Using a timer, you can break work into intervals of 25 minutes with breaks of 5 - 10 minutes in between.
- After 4 of such intervals, you can then take a longer break of about 25 minutes.
Both time management techniques have a ton of apps available, most free. A simple Google search is all you need.
10. Take breaks
Whether you use a productivity rule or not, always avoid working on a stretch for long hours. This hinders productivity and also puts you at other risks.
Take a pause. Go for a walk to clear your head, or do other mindless or routine activities.
Sometimes you could be stuck on a blank screen for minutes unable to think of the next step, a short break could be all you need for that "ah ha!" moment.
11. Automate tasks
You can delegate routine tasks that take a significant chunk of your valuable time each day to tools. These tools can perform them for you with accuracy and speed.
For instance, posting on your various social media accounts. This could be necessary but can distract you from finishing that report lying on your desk for days.
With popular tools such as CoShedule and Buffer, you can send updates to your social networks.
By automating simple tasks you free up significant time you can channel elsewhere.
12. Cut out the distractions
Generally, office workers experience more distractions than freelancers. Chatting with colleagues, general office noise, etc.
However, according to a study by Vouchercloud, social media tops the list of distractions at the workplace with 47% of workers reportedly leaving their tasks to engage in it.
Freelancers aren't hermits. They are not impervious to the charms of social media and other distractions around them. In fact, these distractions can be more of a problem.
Having so much freedom and no boss to call you to order could lead to the abuse of liberty.
From replying to a private message you could get caught for hours in an argument with a dude on Twitter who thinks the earth is flat when you know clearly it isn't!
Other forms of distractions can be people: friends and family who invade your workspace.
Consequently, some important work efficiency tips include:
- Using tools that can help you avoid distractions e.g Cold turkey or Freedom can block out your social media notifications.
- Using the time-blocking technique.
- Setting clear physical boundaries.
13. Stay healthy
Staying healthy is probably the most important tip for anything, your productivity as a freelancer isn't any different.
Bad health can render you both intellectually and physically weak. As a freelancer, you should not neglect your health because of your work. Doing so will end in delivering bad output.
To operate at optimal levels you need your mind at its best.
Mental health is also another important factor to prioritize. Do not drown yourself in such much work to the point you begin to lose touch with reality.
Here are a few tips to stay healthy as a freelancer:
- Get quality sleep
- Eat enough food
- Exercise regularly
- Stay hydrated
- Make time for medical checkups
- Talk to someone
14. Accountability partners
For some freelancers, especially newbies, the discipline to steer their affairs as bosses of their own is totally lacking.
Of course, the downside of freelancing is the lack of accountability to anyone. If you fail to submit a project there is no boss to question and maybe fire you.
While there isn't an equivalent substitute for such a boss in the freelancing realm, accountability partners can go a long way in helping you stay on track.
You can find accountability partners — fellow freelancers who can help motivate you to do your tasks. And you do the same for them.
Additionally, there are popular accountability apps out there that are quite effective at helping people enforce self-discipline, for some of them you don't even need a human participant, e.g. Stickk, GoFuckingDoIt and Coach.me.
For freelancers, how far you go might depend on how efficiently you handle tasks given to you— and how you manage distractions.
Your productivity is an important element to continually improve. Using our productivity tips you can build a strategy that gets you the best outputs.