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6 Simple Ways To Increase Your Productivity As A Freelancer

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. [Links checked April/19/2017]

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

1. Set A Schedule Link

Define Your Working Hours Link

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.

Work Schedule

Take Breaks Link

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 Link

To-Do List

Set Goals Link

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 Link

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 app5, an online app6 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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link


Do One Task at a Time Link

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 Link

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 reader7, 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 Link

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 Link


Consolidate Your Email Link

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 account8 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 Link

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 Link

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 aggregators9, 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 Link


Respect Your Office Link

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 Link

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 ergonomics10 to learn how to create a comfortable and healthy office.

Go Mobile Link

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 hotspots. Just pack your laptop and go.

6. Get Help Link


Outsource Link

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 Link

Frequent freelance forums 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 Link

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

  • Freelance Folder11
    A multi-author blog dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and freelancers.


Footnotes Link

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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.

  1. 1

    I read somewhere that creative people having messy desks is a good thing. Now if i can just find that article…

  2. 2

    Where nice article. Just what i needed.

  3. 3

    Cheryl D Wise

    August 19, 2009 10:13 am

    I agree with almost everything in the article except the advice to use Gmail. I get information from clients that is proprietary and subject to confidentialty agreements. Therefore I can’t use some third party mail that could be scanned by someone or some entity not party to the confidentiality agreement. I use specific email accounts for those clients.

    Outlook is easily configured to get mail from multiple email accounts and I have filters set to do all my sorting for me. I also have Entourage on my Mac configured to do the same. So why would I need or want some third party web based mail client to do something I’ve been doing for well over a decade?

  4. 4

    Ian Storm Taylor

    August 19, 2009 10:20 am

    Sadly, this article is exactly what is distracting me. It’s OK though Smashing Magazine, I still love you! (And yes good article.)

  5. 5

    Christopher Rampey

    August 19, 2009 10:31 am

    thanks for the great article! now i’m going to go check out those links, and maybe go get a coffee, and then i’m gonna organize my desk, and set up a system to properly sort my email, and then if i still have time for some work….

    ….wait, nope, it’s now 5pm and i clearly remember #1 was set a schedule and stick to it.


  6. 6

    Thanks… this what I needed.

  7. 7

    Just in time since I’m changing the way I do freelance. Trying to structure everything a lot differently to get things done more efficiently.

  8. 8

    I really don’t see how my Gmail account makes me more productive.

  9. 9

    Frederick Luna

    August 19, 2009 10:53 am

    simply AWSOME – – it can be resumed in make a plan and get focused

  10. 10

    fantastic article. I really enjoyed readin it! luv ya smashing!

  11. 11

    I can definitely say it certainly gets harder as time goes on to escape the pj’s to the desk. I found myself rolling out of bed later and later until I smartened up. One big thing that effected my motivation for the worse was not having enough personal interaction with work partners/associates outside of a virtual environment (be it IM or email). There’s much to be said about personal interaction in a working environment to spur creativity…

  12. 12

    very nice article tks i’m need this tools to become a good freelancer :)

  13. 13

    Sonali Agrawal

    August 19, 2009 11:31 am

    Loving this article…..

  14. 14

    Deepak Chopstick

    August 19, 2009 11:50 am

    Great article. I’m doing some of the things mentioned and working on the others.

    The biggest problem is being constantly interrupted during the day on non-coding issues. I’ve now decided to turn off my email, telephone and Skype for 4- 5 hours in the afternoon to get total quiet. Then at the end of the day respond as much as I can. Most folks can wait. I also keep mornings completely free for emails, calls, estimates etc.

    Thunderbird email client has a to do list calendar plug-in that allows me to turn emails into to-do items with different categories. I can then choose one category at a time to respond to or work within.

  15. 15

    Nice to hear that I am not the only person with the pyjama-problem :) Though my pyjama looks better that the standard clothes of Steve Jobs.

  16. 16

    George Egonut

    August 19, 2009 1:40 pm

    I agree with all of these tips, aside from doing one task at a time. A lot of research shows that certain types of people are more productive when they have a few tasks going on at one time. I know that I personally stay much fresher if I have two or three projects open at a time. It stops me from becoming bored or frustrated with any one given project, and it especially allows me to stay creative because I can easily try out an idea that pops into my head regardless of what I happen to be working on at the time.

  17. 17

    “Break Up Large Tasks Into Managable Pieces”, this is very true.

  18. 18

    I’m freelancing for about 10 years now and those are great tips, though everybody has his own personality – some need to set up rules and some adjust on the fly and like to handle many things at once.

    Somewhere I did read that it makes sense to write down to-do lists and just cross out the items every day once it’s done. Firstly I did not see the point – I can pretty much remember my tasks for the day, but later I got it – crossing finished tasks out makes you feel the progress.

    Our days I use online task management lists ( but the principle it still the same – cross out the tasks as you move through the day.

  19. 19

    Yeah. it’s a great article that i need it. thank.

  20. 20

    Or just Be Free.
    Work when you wanna work. Don’t work when you don’t wanna work.
    My way !

  21. 21

    These tips are exactly what I need. I’m always so cluttered and distracted. Thanks. :)

    Also Loomax, it’s great that you can get things done by doing whatever whenever, but many people can’t work that way, and therefore would never get any work done.

  22. 22

    Why am i still like anything but mentioned above? Thanks for the list! Sooo helpful and directing.

  23. 23

    Michael Cassius

    August 19, 2009 7:42 pm

    Serious??? … This article is just stating the obvious… anyway i recommend ‘Things’ for the To-Do lists, it’s amazing.

  24. 24

    Osvaldo Osorio

    August 19, 2009 8:09 pm

    Excelentes consejos para revisar si a lo largo de los años no hemos deteriorado nuestra propia productividad incorporando hábitos roba-tiempo. Gracias por el recordatorio.

    Al parecer están haciendo buen trabajo, porque vine aquí por un link de twitter. Gracias @inti

  25. 25

    @ #2 Well not everybody works for the bloody Pentagon where Google’s security is sub par…

    People most often choose to use things like GMail because they can access it from anywhere. That’s the real benefit from online applications, it’s bound to who you are, not where you are.

    Now why should I try this computer thing? I’ve been doing just fine with pen and paper for well over a century.

  26. 26

    Anthony Lepki

    August 19, 2009 9:23 pm

    These type of articles we need more of.
    My advice: schedule client call and have a good PIM to keep track of projects worked on. Helps to determine if project was successful or not.

  27. 27

    I have to say this is an awesome article (which I bookmarked). I agree with the breaks and in fact I take several a day and visit Starbucks so much that they know what my order is and have it ready when I come in the door…lol…ok, maybe not when I come in the door. One of my problems though is that I have a tendency to be a workaholic at times and forget to have a life. I think adding in a balance of work and definitely social activity is important, especially when working from a home studio (as a single person). Anyway, this was a well thought out article…thanks.

  28. 28

    Useful article not only for freelancers, thanks.

  29. 29

    Very nice article!
    Although; research actually show that people with cluttered offices are more creative, and that they in fact has an enormous controll over where they keep/store things – it`s just not obvious to the rest of us…

  30. 30

    As a freelancer, just started, I know what to do to get in serious business. But how to achieve it..?
    Thanks for sharing this article!

  31. 31

    Stieve Hansen

    August 20, 2009 12:11 am

    Yeah defenitly nice post, works for me!! im starting my own freelacin jobs pretty soon, and this keeps my things on prespective.

  32. 32

    Stieve Hansen

    August 20, 2009 12:13 am

    Have to love SmashingMag for those usefull hints

  33. 33

    As much as I agree with all these points, they all just seem like more ways for me to procrastinate! If only i knew how to not do that.

  34. 34

    great, it helps lots….
    thanks for sharing…..

  35. 35

    Good one. Thanks for that!

  36. 36

    well this is an interesting article but i think gmail is not so great . windows live have an easy live client that extreamly helps me on doing email fast .

  37. 37

    I wish I could use the gmail suggestion, but AFAIK your replies have to come from your gmail account and not the account the original email was sent to.

  38. 38

    Roberto Blake

    August 20, 2009 3:40 am

    Amazing article, this is really sound advice and a lot of how my own work flow is now more or less. One of the hardest things is getting organized and eliminating all those distractions.

  39. 39


    August 20, 2009 3:57 am

    I don’t agree with gmail, is dispersive and doesn’t give me a real benefit. Navigating through mails could be very boring at times and if it wasn’t for the search mail functionality some of my customers’ email should have been lost.
    For those who are bored with Gmail I suggest Zoho, they have a stunning UI and everyday is going to be better and better

  40. 40

    @ Amanda : Sure, I guess so ;-)

  41. 41

    Jorge Hitachi

    August 20, 2009 5:08 am

    Great article, Im just starting to freelance and all this tips are very useful… thanks!

  42. 42

    Outsourcing is key. I learned the hard way and had previously tried to do too much on my own for the sake of saving a little here and there. Also, Gmail can be set up to send email from other email accounts.

  43. 43

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

  44. 44

    Gabriel shaze

    August 20, 2009 6:55 am

    I really needed this. thanks a million

  45. 45

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

  46. 46

    Aaron Zipagan

    August 20, 2009 9:04 am

    Just what I needed!!! Thanks!!!

  47. 47

    Really nice article.

  48. 48

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

  49. 49

    Great job!

  50. 50

    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

  51. 51

    i enjoyed lot while reading this article

  52. 52

    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!!

  53. 53

    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)


  54. 54

    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.

  55. 55

    Charlie Pratt

    August 21, 2009 5:01 am

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

  56. 56

    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.

  57. 57

    @shoots – lol, nice catch!

  58. 58

    What a brilliant article!

  59. 59

    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.

  60. 60

    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.

  61. 61

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

  62. 62

    claudio merino

    August 24, 2009 7:30 pm

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

  63. 63

    Nice article with some good insights. Thank you!

  64. 64

    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.)

  65. 65

    Good insight. Thanks so much.

  66. 66

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

  67. 67

    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?

  68. 68

    I sooo, this one! from the Philippines! freelancers unite!

  69. 69

    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.

  70. 70

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

  71. 71

    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.

  72. 72


    October 16, 2009 5:59 pm

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

  73. 73


    October 16, 2009 6:03 pm

    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 …

  74. 74

    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?

  75. 75

    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 really big helps!!

    Godbless all of us!

  76. 76

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

  77. 77

    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 ( 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!

  78. 78

    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:

  79. 79

    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.


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