As the old adage goes, ‘time is money.’ Without the comfort of a fixed, regular salary, freelancers should keep that saying firmly in mind. After all, when you spend an hour unproductively, you wave goodbye to that hour’s earnings.
As a freelancer myself, I’ve learned this the hard way (many, many times!). There are distractions galore out there, and this often results in my WordPress editor staying blank for longer than I’d ideally like.
Unfortunately, freelancers, it’s up to you to stay productive. You don’t have the luxury of a manager looking over your shoulder to keep you on task. In other words, it’s on you to stay focused.
There is good news, though: for anyone able to crack the productivity conundrum, freelance riches await. In my mind, working more productively is one of the three main ways to earn more as a freelancer – the other two being finding more clients and increasing rates.
Just think: if you can boost productivity, you can perform tasks more quickly. This has the effect of increasing your hourly rate without asking your client for more money. You’ll also lose fewer hours to procrastination, too – and losing money to procrastination never feels good!
If you’re looking for a much-needed productivity boost, read on. Today, I want to share 12 quick win strategies for increasing productivity.
1. Avoid Distractions at All Costs
This one is a relatively straightforward one: understand what distractions you’re prone to, then avoid them at all costs.
If you leave the TV on in the background, but often find yourself fixated on it, the solution is simple – turn off the TV when you work. The same applies to background music.
For those that work online, certain web pages might be your productivity kryptonite – I’m pointing at you, Facebook. It takes a lot of willpower to avoid visiting your favorite websites, but you can always install a tool to help you out.
My recommendation is the free StayFocusd software (for Google Chrome). In just a few minutes, you can configure the software to block your main productivity-killers during working hours.
2. Create Daily To-Do Lists
To-do lists are the cornerstone of all good time management strategies. A good to-do list will help you allocate your time more efficiently, prioritize tasks, and stay organized.
Get into the habit of creating the next day’s to-do list before you go to bed. That way, you won’t have to waste time scheduling your day the following morning – you can jump straight into the tasks that need doing.
You can use a free app like Evernote to write your to-do list, or good old fashioned pen and paper. Personally? I use Microsoft Excel.
Another benefit of writing to-do lists is the small satisfaction you get from ticking off a task. I find it incredibly satisfying to watch my to-do list shrink as the day progresses, which motivates me to keep going. Try adding smaller tasks to your to-do list – this allows you to tick off more completed tasks, which tricks your brain into feeling more productive.
3. Break Your Task into the Smallest Possible Component
For many freelancers, getting started is the primary battle – we avoid the tasks we don’t want to do for as long as possible, but when we get started, we can usually keep going for ages. As such, one of the best strategies for boosting productivity is to make it as easy as possible to begin a task.
Here’s my tip for you: to make a task less intimidating, break it down into its smallest possible component, then commit to doing just that.
For example, not enough people floss their teeth. It’s a simple task, but it’s a bit of a chore, so lots of people avoid it. However, if you commit to flossing just one tooth, the task feels far more manageable, right? You’re far more likely to floss that one tooth, after which it feels like less of a hassle to complete the job in full.
This tactic exploits our tendencies, but it really does work. If you’re a writer, set yourself a goal of one or two paragraphs. For developers, commit to a few lines of code. You’re far less likely to avoid such a simple task, and from there you can use that momentum to complete the entire job.
4. Dress for Success
I’ve no doubt that all of your client work is completed to the highest possible professional standard. But what about what goes on behind the scenes? Is that equally professional?
If you sit at your desk in a dressing gown every day, subconsciously you might feel like a bit of a slob – hardly the best mindset for working productively.
The clothes you wear will also help you disassociate ‘downtime’ from ‘worktime.’ If you make the effort to dress professionally – don’t worry, I’m not recommending that you sit at home in a suit and tie! – then it’s far easier to get into a professional, productive mindset.
5. Have a Space Just for Work
You probably associate your living room with kicking back and relaxing – in other words, ‘leisure mode.’ The problem is, entering this space triggers your body into leisure mode, making it harder to get things done.
The best way to counteract this is to have a dedicated space just for work. If you have limited space available, using a dedicated work desk can help – or leave your house for a shared working space or a coffee shop. When you associate a particular place with work, you’ll find it far easier to get into gear when you’re there.
6. Tackle Your Easiest Task First
This strategy also focuses on the belief that the hardest battle is simply getting started.
If you’re already creating a daily to-do list, this strategy shouldn’t be too difficult. Simply order your tasks from easiest to hardest.
You’re far less likely to avoid work when faced with your most straightforward task first. Then, with the first task out of the way, momentum will carry you through to the more challenging stuff.
7. Or Tackle Your Hardest Task First
However, not every expert agrees with this. Some believe that the best approach is to start with your most difficult task first.
After completing your hardest task, everything else will look easy-peasy in comparison – so it’s a downhill ride from there.
Give both strategies a try; see which works best for you.
8. The Pomodoro Technique
Scientists have proven that the human brain functions most effectively in short stints. This revelation led to Francesco Cirillo creating the Pomodoro Technique – named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timers.
The Pomodoro Technique involves setting a timer to sound after (typically) 25 minutes. You should work full pelt during this time. Then, when the timer rings, take a 5-minute break. Rinse and repeat. Easy, huh?
A common alternative to this technique is working for 50 minutes, then taking a 10-minute break. Again, it pays for you to test out both methods, until you know which works best for you.
Of course, these days you don’t need an actual kitchen timer to use the Pomodoro Technique – there are interactive Pomodoro tools available online.
9. We All Deserve a Treat Sometimes
So far, we’ve focused on how to eliminate undesirable tendencies. However, some freelancers will benefit more from implementing some form of reward system.
For example, a golf lover may agree that a Friday afternoon round of golf is a fair reward for completing a pre-specified amount of work by Friday lunchtime. Others might prefer to break their reward-period down to smaller chunks of time – a nice meal after a day of hard work, or an extra half-hour lunch break following a productive morning.
The important thing is to make the reward something, well, rewarding – something that drives you to work productively to meet your targets, so you won’t miss out on the prize. As you’ve probably guessed, implement a reward system requires a certain amount of willpower (you can’t enjoy the reward if you fail!).
10. Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Keeping fit and healthy might just sound like one additional task in an already-packed schedule. However, regular exercise and consuming a nutritious, balanced diet is proven to give you more energy. It will also help you to stay focused for longer.
If you find yourself crashing by mid-afternoon, perhaps it’s your diet or lack of exercise that’s to blame. Hit the gym a few times a week and try to eat well and your productivity (and bank balance) will thank you. Oh, and healthy people tend to lose fewer days to sickness, too.
11. Accountability as a Motivator
When I was a student, I wasted far too much time and spent far too little time studying. To solve this problem, I began recording how many hours I spent revising on a wallchart.
By creating a visual record of my study habits, it would spur me on to do more work. On one hand, I was driven to do more work to keep my chart moving in the right direction. On the other, if I procrastinated too much, there would be a permanent blip on my chart, there for all to see.
Surprisingly, this really worked, and it’s a practice I still use when I’m having a bad month.
Of course, I only recommend this as an anti-procrastination technique. If you’re already working full-time hours, you probably don’t want to continue extending your working week indefinitely.
12. You Can Always Outsource
If there are some tasks that you simply don’t have the time for – or that you hate doing – you could consider outsourcing them.
Hiring an assistant will free up your schedule, giving you more time to focus on billable hours. It will also give you the peace of mind that you’re up-to-date with all of your tasks, and there are no loose ends. In fact, outsourcing some of your tasks is often the next step in the evolution of a freelancer’s career.
So there you have it: 12 quick wins for boosting productivity and eliminating procrastination.
If you think that reading this article alone will make you a more productive person, you’re sadly mistaken. Sure, you might have a few new ideas to implement, and that might work for a short period. However, to boost productivity in the long-term, you need to make productivity a habit – becoming a productive person takes hard work.
If you try to implement every single technique in one go, you’ll burn yourself out. The best approach is to pick two or three of your favorite strategies, then apply them daily for a month. After a month, those productivity tricks will feel second nature to you – they become habit.
Over time, you can begin to add more strings to your bow, as you look for even more ways to boost your productivity levels – and your income!
How do you boost your productivity levels? Share your strategies in the comments below!
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