Taking the ‘free’ out of freelance: 10 ways to boost your productivity

Welcome to the first edition of The Freelancing Post, a blog for all those who march to the beat of their own drum.  Here you will hopefully find tips, comments and inspiration from someone who has been freelancing for over 12 years and is still surviving. You can find out more about me in About. And if you’re thinking about freelancing, check out “Is freelancing for you?”.

This first post is all about being productive.

Do you ever wish you could claw back some extra time?And achieve more in the time that you do have? Freelancers have the ‘freedom’ to live without the constraints of the corporate 9-5, but this often leaves ample opportunity for timewasting or filling your hours with the ‘wrong’ kind of work, leaving you wondering why you aren’t earning enough.

Increasing your productivity is all about doing the right things at the right time for you and your clients. It’s about working when you are at your best, and eliminating procrastination by saying no to time stealers and the wrong customers, and saying yes to more of the sort of work that made you turn freelance in the first place. Everyone likes feeling productive. When you are productive you feel enthused. And your clients notice it. So here are my top 10 tips that have worked for me in my business. Feel free to add your own!

1)   Start every day with 3 wishes: At the start of each day imagine how you’d like to feel at the end of it. What 3 things do you need to achieve to end the day feeling positive, productive and energised? Whatever they are, give them top priority in your schedule. Don’t expect success every day, sometimes the unexpected happens. However, by putting 3 ‘successes’ in your mind at breakfast time, you greatly increase your chances of actually achieving them by dinnertime.

2)   Be there: Make it easy for your clients to do business with you. I am often amazed at how hard it is to get hold of other freelancers during regular business hours – often the very hours their clients work. If you want to establish yourself as a productive professional make sure you are present and contactable when your clients are likely to need you – and operate a 30 minute max. response rule for getting back to them with emails and messages.  In my experience clients usually want an answer to something straightaway – if they have to wait too long, they go elsewhere. Act how you want to be treated – perhaps 10.30 on a Tuesday morning isn’t the time to switch your phone off and go shopping, ‘just because you can.’

3)   Establish a routine: Always try to work at set times of the day, preferably around your clients. The more you stick to a routine, the more likely it will become ingrained as your ‘work time’, and the more likely you will be to start turning down tempting distractions during that period.

4)   Work smarter: Being busy doesn’t mean being productive. So only work when you feel at your most productive. Save your most important jobs for when you know you are at your best. Within that time try breaking your work into manageable chunks and make this your ‘achievement time’. Avoid all time stealers in that period.

5)   Eliminate time stealers: What are your biggest time stealers? Facebook?  Odd jobs staring you in the face? Try noting down every time you do something that isn’t work related – and time it. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to lose 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there, and more importantly, how your mind then becomes defocused. If you find your mind wondering, take a proper break instead. Save the ‘fun’ stuff for outside your achievement time and avoid scheduling in odd jobs during your working day ‘just because you can’. You will only become stressed from achieving neither of your jobs effectively by trying to do both at the same time.

6)   Take proper breaks: Your working day should ideally consist of several small breaks and one longer one. A proper break means time completely away from your work environment. So if you work in front of a screen, playing Candy Crush for ten minutes does not constitute a proper break, it constitutes a time stealer. Too much screen time does not rest your mind. Instead, set the timer and do something different, far away from your work environment. When your time is up, go back to your work, no detours.

7)   Love your work environment: Is your work environment as optimum as it could be? Do you have a dedicated area, the right desk, chair, tools, lighting? Or are you working from a sea of clutter and half empty coffee mugs? I don’t know anyone who isn’t seduced by a comfortable, clean, light and minimalist workspace. Add a couple of nice plants, a print on the wall, some new stationery to bring order to your paperwork and you’d be surprised at how many people actually want to ‘go to work’ and stay there.

8)   Prioritise the ‘right’ customers:  At least 80% of your day should be doing paid, satisfying work for your top customers. If you are enjoying your work and are getting paid reasonably for it, you will naturally become more productive because you will want to retain the customer who gave it to you. Make them your priority. Gradually eliminate the wrong customers – the ones who don’t pay enough, who don’t pay on time or give you work that doesn’t use or stretch your skills. We all have them – they are the ones we often say yes to during slow periods, or because we need the money. Sometimes it’s worth spending an extra bit of ‘unpaid’ time to get more of the ‘right customers’, the ones who make us love our work and want to be productive.

9)    Look after yourself:  You can’t be productive if you’re ill, tired, hungry, hung over or sluggish. Get enough sleep, eat well, don’t overdose on caffeine and take regular breaks and exercise. Pulling sickies when you freelance hurts your business because if you ain’t working you ain’t getting paid. And there’s no corporate health scheme to support you either. So make a point of investing in yourself, and ensure you feel on top form when you work.

10) Ten minute marketing:Spend ten minutes a day marketing your business. Even if you’re inundated with work. Because you never know what’s round the corner. These days there’s no excuse not to market yourself – we are spoilt for choice on the options available. A little bit of regular marketing goes much further than a panicked big hit during a dry spell, and helps you get enough work to stay productive. Even if you’re just joebloggs.com, you’re still a business – and all those ‘right’ customers need to know that!

Your turn: What are your tips for boosting your productivity?