One of the most difficult responsibilities you will have as a freelancer is managing your time.
At a traditional job, this isn’t something to be concerned with. Sure, you need to remain productive so your boss doesn’t catch you playing games or looking at Facebook on the job. But no matter what you do, you’re clocked in. If you’re salaried, you’re being paid for your time regardless. As a freelancer that’s not the case.
It doesn’t matter whether you use time tracking software like Hubstaff or Time Doctor Pro, or you’re being paid per project. If you are not productive, you simply are not getting paid.
So, you learn to adjust and ensure you remain productive even when you don’t feel like it.
I’ll be the first to admit, that’s not as easy as it sounds. Whenever people ask me how much I love working at home on my own time, I always tell them managing that time is the most difficult thing I do. Some people understand while others scoff. But it’s true.
Managing your time is super hard, whether you’re good at it or not. That’s why I’d like to take a moment to discuss some ways that I keep myself on task. If this only helps one person out there, I’ve done what I set out to do.
Tips to Stay Productive as a Freelancer
Here are some things I do to stay productive throughout my day.
Create a List
At the beginning of each day, take a few minutes to compile a list of all the things you’d like to do with your time. Then, throughout your day move down the list and complete each task until everything on the list is done.
I know it seems extremely simple, but it helps.
Also, you may have a project or two in the works that will take a while to get done. That’s fine, but it helps to choose goals you can accomplish along the way.
For example, with an assignment that requires me to write a 5,000-word piece, one of my tasks for the day will be to write 1,500 words. This ensures that I meet my deadline and that I’m productive with my time even for projects that will take me longer to finish.
Set a Schedule
Freelancers get to set their own schedule, which means they can work on their own time, whenever they want. This is pretty awesome, I agree, and it’s one of the best benefits of working for yourself.
The problem with it is that it’s easy to choose odd hours where you are not productive at all. Don’t fall into the trap of doing whatever you want, whenever you want, every single day. Set a strict schedule and try to keep to it as much as possible.
If you work better in the mornings, then go to bed a decent time, and wake yourself up. If you work better in the evening, then so be it, do the same.
The trick is to get your body used to a regular schedule just as if you had a traditional job. I find that when I sit down in my office during hours I have designated for work, both my mind and body are ready. This can make all the difference for your productivity.
Getting in some cardio will boost your energy and keep you awake. I use this as a focus method when I’m running low on gas, or when I hit a creative wall.
I keep a pair of 25-pound dumbbells in my office, and when I’m stuck I’ll get up and do some arm curls, overhead presses, and jumping jacks. No, I’m not trying to get super buff. What I’m really doing is getting my blood pumping and my energy jacked up.
I find that after a quick exercise, I can sit down and jump right into my work. Trust me when I say, writing all day, every day, is a largely creative process. So, it’s safe to say I know what it’s like to run into a creative block.
Human beings were not meant to multitask, no matter how good you think you are at it.
An MIT neuroscientist named Earl Miller, claims when you multitask “there’s a cognitive cost.”
You’re killing your brain.
Just stop multitasking altogether. Don’t do it. Focus on one task at a time and see it through to completion. You may find this difficult when you start following this rule, but it gets easier. I’m confident you’ll find yourself more productive when you focus on one thing too.
Take a Shower and Get Dressed
I know, this is a crazy suggestion! Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I love to roll out of bed and work in my pajamas. But I almost always get more done, if I’m in the mindset I’m at work. That includes taking a shower and getting dressed as if I were leaving the house.
This doesn’t apply if you work from a rented office or coffee shop, but if you work from home, you should consider it. Please don’t think I’m calling everyone a bunch of slobs either.
Give Yourself a Reward
This is another point that seems silly on paper – or a screen – but it definitely works.
Set milestones and goals, and then treat yourself with a small reward for a job well done. For doing great at a traditional job, you might receive praise, sweets or candy, or even a pay bonus. As a freelancer, it’s easy to forget these things because you’re working alone.
The reward can be just about anything, and you don’t have to spend a ton of money. Just choose something you really enjoy.
Go play a round of golf, take a shopping trip, or enjoy a cigar.
I have found that the best reward is more free time to do whatever I want. The beauty of this is that so long as you’re productive when you do work, you can usually get done sooner – leaving more free time as a reward.
Just be careful not to take too many liberties with your rewards, which can have the opposite effect on your productivity and hustle.
Take Frequent, Small Breaks
We all have our off-days; those times when you just don’t feel like doing any work. When that happens to me, I like to take frequent breaks – albeit small. For about every two hours of work, I take a fifteen to thirty minute break. I get up, stretch, and then spend the time doing something I enjoy.
My release is playing games. Luckily, I own a PS Vita so I can pause and continue no matter where I am in the game. For you, this may be reading books or articles. Maybe it’s spending some time with your loved ones. Maybe it’s even a quick exercise or run.
The trick is to force yourself to focus and get back to work, as difficult – and painful – as that may be. The quick breaks allow you to keep focus even when you’re not in the mood.
Check Out Habitica
Now, I’m a gamer so this might not be for you, but I still encourage you to check it out. You might be surprised at how well it works for you.
Habitica is a neat service that allows you to gamify your habits and tasks. It’s structured like an old-school RPG. You create your own to-do list and then check them off as you complete them earning experience, gold, and loot.
Remember that list I told you to create? You can use Habitica to do that, and have fun while you sort through your list.
Did I mention it’s free? There are mobile apps for Android and iOS too. You can install a browser extension that keeps you on track and productive – you get penalized for sites that cause a distraction.