I’ve been a freelance writer for quite some years now, and during that time, I’ve realised the one thing holding me back from reaching my earning potential is myself. I mean, that’s freelancing, right?
The problem isn’t that I work too few hours every week, or that I don’t set my sights on ever-better clients, but rather that I’m just not as productive as I could be during the workday.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to switch over to YouTube or Reddit in the middle of a tough article, and I love spending hours writing emails, but these are things that add to the length of my workday without rewarding me proportionally.
With that said, I’ve compiled a list of six tips that I’ve been employing to improve my productivity as a freelancer. I hope they’ll work equally well for you!
6 Tips for Improving Productivity
Identify what matters.
The first step in improving productivity is identifying what is productive. For most freelancers, the primary goal is to provide a service that someone else wants in exchange for money that we want. Thus, start with this litmus test to determine if something is productive: are you providing the service that you’re ultimately going to be paid for? If not, you need to reconsider whether it’s worth doing or at least find a way to streamline the process.
Example: Writing emails to clients. Are you getting paid for it? Probably not, so either stop doing it or streamline it. In this case, you wouldn’t want to completely forgo sending emails, but you can set yourself a limit for how long you’ll spend on each email and stop trying to write them as sonnets.
Set yourself goals.
Haven’t we all heard this bullshit, “set yourself goals”? Yes, we have, but setting goals is extremely important, both on a macro and micro scale. In this case, I want you to focus on setting smaller goals — not how you want your life to look in 40 years time, but more “what am I going to achieve today and how long is it going to take?” I’ve found this a really helpful way to quickly determine whether I’m on track to meet deadlines and personal quotas; I only have to think about what I’m trying to achieve once a day, and then I can create a to-do list and refer back to it throughout the day without having to rethink it all (see Tip 1).
Example: “Complete presentation for John, write 1000 words of Volkswagen article, start copy for Dan” (it’s assumed that this will all be done by the end of my work day, and it’ll be entered into something like the Momentum Chrome extension or scribbled down on a piece of paper).
Prepare for work sessions.
Another thing I like to do is split my day up into highly-concentrated sessions (like most do, instead of keep stopping and starting), and for that it’s essential that I prepare for the sessions. Before I sit down and put pen to paper, I make sure that I can see the session through to the end by preparing myself. This includes preparation to write at all, and preparation to write what I need to — see the example.
Example: Before I get started on one client’s copy, I’ll make sure I’m ready to write (have I been to the bathroom, am I hungry, will I be hungry, do I have other commitments?), and if not, then I’ll fix that first. I get everything I need to out of the way and if I think it’ll be needed, I prepare myself a cuppa’ and some sort of snack. I’ll also make sure I’m ready to write what I need to (has the client send me the resources I’ll need, have I done the research, do I know the requirements of the job?).
Make time to catch-up.
Another really helpful strategy is simply creating time to catch-up. We’re only human and we can’t account for every single complication, so it makes sense to set aside a few hours every week to catch-up on work we don’t manage to achieve within the predetermined timeline.
Example: It’s beautiful weather right now, so maybe I’ll cut the workday short, go out for a long walk, and worry about finishing that translation assignment on Saturday. I mean come on, there’s a reason why both you and I freelance — let’s not constrain ourselves too much!
Block any temptations.
This is a big one: blocking temptations. There are some things, like browsing the web or raiding the cookie jar, which I will just find myself doing if I’m not careful. It’s important for me to block these temptations as much as I can, either mentally (i.e. by resisting the urge) or physically/technically (e.g. not buying cookies or installing Chrome extensions to restrict pleasure-browsing).
Example: It’s easy for me to end up browsing Facebook, YouTube, or Reddit, so for a while I experimented with extensions to block me from accessing those sites during certain hours, or after I had exceeded a certain number of minutes on them. Nowadays I just try to resist the urge, and I do so by preparing myself for the work I do and then completely and whole-heartedly involving myself in it.
Another important tip to improve productivity is to remove distractions. This is pretty similar to what I just described with blocking temptations, but I think the distinction is that temptations are caused by my own imperfections (like poor focus) whereas distractions just happen. That means I can’t mentally resist distractions, I just have to minimise them.
Example: My phone ringing might be a distraction, so I’ll mute it before a work session (and I might also put it in another room, but that would be more to block the temptation of using it). Similarly, I’ll the turn the TV off and close the door.
Wow, that’s six tips already! The proof that these have worked for me lies in how I just completed this 1000+ word post in under an hour, but I guess you have no way to validate that claim…
I really hope this advice proves useful for you. If you enjoyed reading, then be sure to enter your email in the sidebar and I’ll give you a shout every week or two when I publish something new.
Also, feel free to leave a comment below — I’d love to hear from you! Questions are welcome, too.