6 Simple Ways For Freelancers To Increase Productivity

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The best part about being a freelancer is having the freedom to set your own schedule and make your own rules. This, however, can also be the worst part. Without the normal structure of an office environment, many would-be freelancers find themselves wondering at the end of the day where all their time went. Getting the most out of your workday can be tough. So, to help, we present some simple ways that freelancers can increase their productivity.

1. Set A Schedule

Work Schedule

Define Your Working Hours

Having set working hours creates a feeling of accountability and puts a premium on your time, making you less likely to waste it. Create a clear set workday schedule and stick to it. If you decide to start work at 8:00 each morning, then get up, take a shower, get dressed and get to work on time. Wandering into your home office still in your pajamas doesn’t exactly set the mood for a productive day. Follow this rule and you may be surprised to find your level of productivity increase immediately.

Take Breaks

Studies show that people who take short breaks during the work day tend to get more done . Spending a few minutes away from work will have you returning refreshed and ready to tackle the next task. Go for a walk, grab a snack or take a quick ride to the coffee shop. Set aside 30 minutes or an hour each day at a predetermined time to take lunch. Skipping lunch may mean more time to work, but working on an empty stomach leads to poor concentration. Your focus here should be on quality rather than quantity. Thirty minutes of focused work is much more productive than an hour of distracted work.

2. Make A Plan

To-Do List

Set Goals

Without goals, we would quickly find ourselves bumbling through life aimlessly. Goals keep us on track with a clear vision. Set short-term, mid-term and long-term goals for yourself. For instance, what do you hope to accomplish this week, this month or even this year? Long-term goals help shape your short-term goals. Spend some time thinking about what you want to accomplish and then write it down.

Create To-Do Lists

Use your goal list for the week to create your daily to-do lists. You can use any type of to-do list, whether a desktop app1, an online app2 or just plain old pencil and paper. Regardless of the format you prefer, having your day planned out in order to stay focused is important. Create the next day’s to-do list at the end of each day and commit to it.

Break Up Large Tasks Into Managable Pieces

When creating your to-do lists, don’t write things like, “Work on productivity article” or “Work on logo design.” Be more specific, like, “Do research for productivity article” or “Refine logo concepts.” By being specific, you narrow your focus and work more efficiently. Save the vaguer or more general descriptions for your goals list.

Track Your Time

Several good time-tracking apps out there will help you with time management. Knowing if you’re using your time wisely is important. Record how long you take to complete tasks: you may be surprised to find how much time you waste in a day. Knowing how long certain tasks take can help you better plan your days, leading to greater efficiency.

Evaluate Your Performance

At the end of the day, look back at how well you measured up to the goals you set for yourself. Did you accomplish what you set out to do today? If not, why? Evaluating your performance is a critical step towards improving your productivity. Set realistic but challenging goals, and honestly review your performance to determine if there’s room for improvement.

3. Get Focused

Focus

Do One Task at a Time

Multi-tasking has gone from being a computer term to a part of our everyday lexicon. Many people feel these days that we get more done by multi-tasking. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, doing one task with full attention is much better than doing two tasks with half as much attention. Spreading your focus between multiple tasks leads only to diminished quality and actually less productivity. Do just one thing at a time and you’ll find your productivity go up, along with the quality of your work.

Limit the Time You Spend Surfing the Web

Set aside a certain amount of time each day for Web surfing, and keep it work-related. Use an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader to have new content from your favorite websites and blogs brought to you. This is much more efficient than visiting these websites several times a day to see if anything new has been published. If you already use an RSS reader3, then you could probably benefit from spending a little time cleaning it up and eliminating feeds that you rarely read. Also, organize your feeds into folders so that you’re not browsing non-work-related feeds during the day.

Eliminate Distractions

Allocate certain times of the day to checking email and social media. Rather than keeping your email and Twitter accounts open on your desktop and letting them constantly vie for your attention, decide how much time you are willing to devote to them. For example, you may decide to check and respond to emails twice a day. Handling tasks like these in large batches is best. Which do you think would take longer: reading and responding to 30 emails periodically throughout the day, or reading and responding to them all in one shot?

4. Get Organized

Organize

Consolidate Your Email

Many of us have several email accounts for different purposes. Why not put all of your email in one place? If you don’t already have one, sign up for a Gmail account4 from Google. It’s free and by far the best Web-based email out there. Once you have set up your Gmail account, you can have it fetch email from all of your other addresses. You can even set up filters to organize emails as they come in so that you don’t get confused. Now you can deal with all of your email in one convenient place.

Use Labels to Organize Your Email

Gmail has labels instead of folders. Labels work like folders except that an email can have multiple labels instead of having to reside in just one folder. Set up labels (or folders if you don’t use Gmail) with names like “Urgent” and “Follow up” to prioritize messages, and names like “Account info” and “Website client” to stay organized. With Gmail, you can even automatically label and sort incoming email instead of doing it manually.

Update All Your Social Media Accounts at Once

Networking is a great way for freelancers to find new clients, keep up with trends in their industry and stay connected to colleagues. Most of us have accounts on several social media websites, such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. Just keeping track of all these services can be challenging, not to mention a huge time drain. Instead of visiting each of these websites individually, why not update them all in one place? With social media aggregators5, you can stay in touch as well as post updates to all of your social media accounts at one time, in one place.

5. Set Up Your Office Properly

Office

Respect Your Office

Keep your office clean and orderly. Have only the essentials on your desktop: computer, phone, printer, etc. A cluttered desk negatively affects your mood, which will spill into your work. Working in a constant mess is counter-productive. Take the time to set things up so that everything you need is right in front of you. Searching for supplies, walking to the printer and other small actions can really add up to a lot of wasted time.

Get Comfortable

Make your work place comfortable by opening up the window on a nice day or playing some of your favorite music. Your place of work shouldn’t be a dark dudgeon where you feel like you slave away all day. You should enjoy being there. Invest in an ergonomic chair, keyboard and mouse. Back pain or carpel tunnel certainly won’t make you more productive. Research ergonomics6 to learn how to create a comfortable and healthy office.

Go Mobile

One of the best things about being a freelancer is that you don’t have to report to a certain place every day. If you find yourself getting in a rut, change things up by working at a local coffee shop, bookstore or park. A change of scenery can go a long way to keeping things fresh, and most cities have a lot of free WiFi hotspots7. Just pack your laptop and go.

6. Get Help

Help

Outsource

Consider hiring an assistant. You will more than make up for the cost of filing and invoicing services with the extra time you’ll have to focus on the work you do best. Hand your taxes over to a professional; an accountant will do them properly and give you one less thing to worry about. All kinds of services for small-business owners are out there. Which ones make sense for you?

Learn from Other Freelancers

Frequent freelance forums8 and connect with your peers. A wealth of knowledge and new ideas is shared on forums every day. You could learn such things as how to better deal with clients and what is the best invoicing software. Become a member and reap the benefits of the collective experience of freelancers just like you.

Further Resources

Don’t stop here. Check out these other great resources on productivity.

(al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.solutionwatch.com/450/25-to-do-lists-to-stay-productive/
  2. 2 http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2009/08/06/online-to-do-list-tools/
  3. 3 http://lifehacker.com/390619/best-rss-newsreaders
  4. 4 https://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount?service=mail&hl=en-us&continue=http%3A%2F%2Fmail.google.com%2Fmail%2Fe-11-109a5a55d7610df0e7957ac039c47579-ed2a46d7696ce586b7fe29a45c9ba0be71a9c732&type=2&utm_campaign=en&utm_source=en-ha-na-us-bk&utm_medium=ha&utm_term=sign%20up%20gmail
  5. 5 http://www.pcworld.com/article/169515/3_social_media_aggregators_that_bring_it_all_together.html
  6. 6 http://www.office-ergo.com/
  7. 7 http://v4.jiwire.com/search-hotspot-locations.htm
  8. 8 http://blog.uprinting.com/5-top-freelance-forums/
  9. 9 http://freelanceswitch.com/
  10. 10 http://www.allfreelance.com/
  11. 11 http://freelancefolder.com/

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Tim Mercer is a photography enthusiast, graphic designer, artist and blogger. His blog offers free resources for the digital artist and graphic designer, as well as tutorials, artist interviews, inspiration and more.

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  1. 1

    Nice to know that we already do all of this for our business!

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  2. 52

    I really needed this. thanks a million

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  3. 103

    i really like that smashing pointed out ways to get help. it’s almost impossible to be a one-wo/man powerhouses.

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  4. 154

    Just what I needed!!! Thanks!!!

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  5. 205

    Really nice article.

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  6. 256

    www.suivi-editorial.fr

    August 20, 2009 12:09 pm

    About Get Comfortable: don’t forget to get pictures, paintings, guidebooks…around you.
    Just to feed your eyes when you are thinking

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  7. 307

    Great article! It’s like looking into the mirror and finding some spots on my face.

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  8. 358

    Great job!
    Tks

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  9. 409

    Good article. The best thing I do is to stay organized and have a to-do list. It’s difficult staying on top of everything with multiple clients/projects while running a business and meeting with clients. With the to-do list I have it broken down into priorities and as I have non-essential ideas for things that would help with the business, I add them to the bottom… not that I ever seem to get to them. The difficult thing is trying not to spend too much time reading blogs and industry-related news, procrastination can be a problem.

    Web Design Syracuse

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  10. 460

    Google has information on how to setup your GMail account to send from another email address, just took some quick Googleing to find it:
    http://gmailblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/send-mail-from-another-address-without.html

    The other option if you control your domain is to have your email hosted at GMail as well through Google apps: http://www.google.com/a

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  11. 511

    i enjoyed lot while reading this article

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  12. 562

    This is really a great article! It’s stuff that I know I should be doing as a Freelancer, but it’s great to actually read something about it to drill it into my head.

    Starting tomorrow morning I will be following these rules. THANKS!!

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  13. 613

    Great article SM and one which may prove very to be crucial if I am to make is a freelance web designer.

    There is work out there and by applying some of these rules hopefully I can make my start up THD (tim-holmes-design) business a success.

    Many thanks for the article SM, lets hope it works :o)

    Cheers

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  14. 664

    Great article!…
    Actually i was following the same, but i got article a little late.
    but yet i liked it a lot….!

    Thanx to the author.

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  15. 715

    I couldn’t have written this better if I tried. Very, very wise suggestions.

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  16. 766

    Really good article related to task managament. It is useful for every person who has internet related job.
    Link | Link

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  17. 817

    Very good article!

    Regarding Gmail being a good/bad idea for freelancers:

    It’s not only GMail but the access to Google Apps that makes the idea potentially efficient. GMail may not be your “email client” of choice, but the fact that allows you huge storage capacity (min. 7 GB for email) and it is seamlessly integrated with GDocs, GSites, GTalk, GCalendar and GContacts…as a “groupware”, and so you can share information with others (providing access control and control versioning for GDocs) and also access the information everywhere you go without the need of carrying your own devices (unless you want to), or you may only need a PDA (blackberry, iphone, g1, others)…Come on!

    Oh, and you may set Google Apps to work with your own domain for free, so you could actually save all types of IT costs.

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  18. 868

    @shoots – lol, nice catch!

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  19. 919

    What a brilliant article!

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  20. 970

    Working as freelancer

    First, i think that all said is a great basic guide to a world of freelance and a very good start for a newbie or a person that just started to work at home.

    I would just mark a few important facts about working as established freelancer and improve its productivity.

    Through many years of freelance one of the most important keystones of freelance success which was not even covered here is Deep and close communication with a client. Yes, great and professional communication would give you 50% of successful projects. You must remember that you are far away from being the only interested freelancer and your prime goal must not be setting up a cosy office but training your self to treat the customer the best as you can, to treat the client better then others.

    Learn to present and sell your self, as the client has no idea of what he would get at the end but he cat get a very clear picture of the person he is planning to work with.

    Consider, building a very clear highly professional communication plan of presenting your skills and portfolio. Your goal is to make customer feel that you are not just a professional with skills but you are also highly reliable and responsible, ready to negotiate and prove you deserve the work.

    Show your self but do not show off! Provide your picture and client will 20% be more secure with you, know you in face and feel that you have nothing to hide behind. Provide maximum contact details and explain your working hours as well as time zone to be able to response your customer as fast as possible and not to make the client worry.

    Follow those basics and you gain 90% more work in no time.

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  21. 1021

    Simply one of the most useful article/advice for any freelancers out there including moi, aye.

    Anyhow, for the even more lazier bunch, one thing you must consider is to take away any sort of multimedia (TV, PS, DVD) from the room they actually end up working at.

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  22. 1072

    really good thanks to my friend for this link ……….

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  23. 1123

    you rocks guys. great article with great links also. tnks :)

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  24. 1174

    Nice article with some good insights. Thank you!

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  25. 1225

    Being a freelancer I couldn’t have managed my time without LogMyTask http://www.logmytask.com

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  26. 1276

    Nice stock imagery! I’ll be sure to get my rolodex and old Dell laptop in order!

    (For this crowd, perhaps an OS X Address Book and MacBook might have been more appropriate.)

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  27. 1327

    Good insight. Thanks so much.

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  28. 1378

    Never can get enough posts that give tips on how to better manage your time and be more productive.

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  29. 1429

    You state that you should look up ergonomics and on the same page you write to move your printer so you don’t have to walk there all the time? Did you even read anything about an ergonomic workspace?

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  30. 1480

    I sooo like..love, this one! from the Philippines! freelancers unite!

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  31. 1531

    guiritl asor ors ksu hdksie salao!

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  32. 1582

    I couldn’t agree more on multi-tasking. That should be left to computers and machines for which they were created in the first place. Muti-tasking is a term used by employers for individuals to fill more than one job.

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  33. 1633

    That’s really good article and proper guide to proceed ….

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  34. 1684

    Another thing I’ve found useful is to have set times in the day for checking email/blogs/forums because (at least for me) it’s easy to spend more time on those than I can really afford.

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  35. 1735

    I just got all worked up reading this article … thank you very much!

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  36. 1786

    Never mind … that waas all too good … thaanx! but sm1 just trashed me wel enuf to ruin my 7 hours of hard work … and it wsnt evn my client !!! i really dnt kno , how anythins suppsoe to help me …

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  37. 1837

    this was all very good … but some1 just ruined my 7hours of hard work and inspiration ! its sooo killin me 4m insiide! aand it wasnt evn my cilent ! Any help with that?

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  38. 1888

    wow..this is so great article for me now.. i just resigned on my office work.. im so excited to start my freelance work.. hopefully i can manage all what need to manage..thank you for this articles..it really big helps!!

    Godbless all of us!

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  39. 1939

    Well, this is a good article, these are topics that we forget when doing our job.

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  40. 1990

    I definitely agree with outsourcing the accounting part. I’ve been that person who tried to do it on her own and the amount of time i spent trying to figure things out, it was time away from my contracts. It was much better to leave it to the professionals.

    For my invoicing, I do it myself. I use Billing Boss because it’s free for invoicing and it cuts down the time I spend invoicing (http://www.billingboss.com). It’s not really my favourite task :) But ever since I started using it, i find that i get paid faster because when I email my invoices to clients, my payment method is also automatically emailed along. So when clients receive my invoices, they can pay with their credit card at their own time. They don’t need to call me with their payment info or drop the check in the mail. I can better manage my payments because Billing Boss tracks who paid me for what and who hasn’t.

    Full Disclosure: This author has been compensated by Sage. I am their Social Media Consultant but I was using their product well before they contracted me. They found me when I sent them an email giving suggestions about Billing Boss!

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  41. 2041

    Tip #5 is really important. There has been a lot of research done on how different work environments affect productivity. Even simple things like changing the type of light bulb you use in the office or adding some desk plants can improve productivity. More tips on setting up a productive office here: http://grokcode.com/655/how-to-increase-productivity-by-reordering-your-office/

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  42. 2092

    Very good article!!! Just thought to share online invoicing software we are using. So far so good. it even has a cash flow, no need to have a separate cash flow software. startinvoicing.com/

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