If you’ve come to this page, you’re probably trying to get more done. Who isn’t?
For self-employed people in particular, who are oftentimes juggling multiple clients and engagements—not to mention running the operations of their businesses—finding ways to squeeze more work out of the day isn’t just a competitive advantage. It’s table stakes.
Looking for a leg up? You can quickly venture down a Google rabbit hole of productivity hacks, with search results advising you to do everything from switching up your lighting to queuing up a particular type of playlist on Spotify. We know you’re busy, so we’ve distilled the secrets to freelance productivity into five simple steps.
Hold yourself accountable
One of main things missing from a freelancer’s day-to-day is the presence of a direct manager, though some may argue that one boss is quickly replaced by several when you work for multiple clients. That said, self-discipline can have its shortcomings, and not having a support system in place can make it all too easy to start slacking on your goals.
Our advice: Create a self-check in schedule. Block 15 to 30 minutes on your calendar once per week to give yourself a pulse check on key priorities and progress. This need not be entirely negative—in fact, you should give yourself credit where it’s due and highlight places where you are getting things done in a big way.
Take this concept one step further by identifying a friend, colleague or collaborator (perhaps someone who also works independently) who can help keep you honest, without babysitting, of course.
Carve out your calendar
One problem with the catch-all productivity advice that you may see is that it fails to recognize that everyone’s optimal rhythms are different. In the professional realm most snowflakes will have to conform to the norm, but as a freelancer you have the freedom to schedule yourself. The key is to figure out your peak times, and start with the task you least want to do first—and stick to that routine.
Notice we said these blocks should be devoted to one thing at a time. Gone are the glory days of multi-tasking. Single-tasking is king, and so much more rewarding. Many entrepreneurs will indicate that their top productivity hack is to do away with to-do lists in favor of calendar blocks. Elon Musk, as it turns out, plans his day in five minute increments, each with a discrete goal and purpose.
While you’re at it, make exercise a crucial part of the routine. Physical activity has been proven to get your brain primed and ready to work long after you stop sweating, so once you’ve figured out when your energy hits its high, put that workout in the books.
Take a break
Throw out the notion that taking a break means slacking off from the task at hand. Short breaks throughout the day, thoughtfully scheduled, can help to prolong your productivity, and improve performance, by keeping your mind fresh and your juices flowing. Take a walk around the block, meditate, or just briefly unplug, and know that you’re restoring the well to keep up the good work. This may be the best bit of news, or the most dreaded for you, so just be aware and make sure you’re not over- or under-doing it here.
Outsmart your smartphone
The titans of modern technology would have you believe you are invincible, packing the power of unlimited information and connectivity into the palm of your hand. And it’s true, we live in an age where almost everyone carries the capabilities of a personal assistant with them constantly—but to get that assistant to work for you and not against your productivity, you’ve got to give your phone a detox.
Removing social media time-sucks like Facebook and Instagram—and their accompanying alerts—frees up space on your phone and in your day, probably far more than you even think until you get rid of that noise. Twitter, we’ll allow on a probationary basis, if that’s how you get your news, but the scrolling should stay within the parameters of the schedule you’ve built.
Replacing social feeds with tools like Trello, Evernote, and yes, AND CO, if we must plug, will put the focus back on your work and keep you on track with your day. In an informal poll of veteran freelancers, Trello and Evernote win points for impeccably organizing to-do lists and goals both big and small without the risk of losing a Post-it, or lugging around a notebook. Pick which one works for you, or stick with the notebook, as long as you’re keeping it neat and writing everything down. AND CO, for example, serves as a dashboard to streamline your freelancing operations so you can run your business, well, like a business, and make sure you’re getting paid and scoring gigs.
Learn when to say ‘No’
As an independent worker, it can be hard to turn down business. You are passionate about what you do and you want to jump at the chance to forge new relationships, take on exciting new projects and build your business. But wait just a minute.
Taking on more than your bandwidth will allow is a surefire way to stifle productivity and decrease your quality of output across all your projects. It can be difficult to know where your individual threshold lies when it comes to hard work vs. overwork, but part of being a freelancer is navigating your personal habits and optimizing for peak performance.
The simplest way to know if you should say “no” is to analyze where your time is being spent, and how many hours a day you’re putting in. Keep a journal of your daily routine for a few weeks and write down how you feel in terms of your mood and productivity. Combine how you feel with the raw data to determine if it’s time to hustle harder or take it down a few notches.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, productivity hacks out there, but the basics boil down to just a few things: taking care of yourself, holding yourself accountable, maintaining a laser-sharp focus on your top priorities and optimizing and automating tasks whenever possible.