When you first imagined your freelance career, you most likely envisioned a productive day of work done from the comfort of your home office.
In reality… You awake with intentions to accomplish a list of tasks, but at the end of the day, very little is actually accomplished.
Nearly everyone wishes they could get more done in a day. Whether you need to optimize the way you work, or you need the motivation to get the work done, there are simple habits you can adopt to make this happen.
Building good work habits and taking control of your productivity can make or break the success of your freelance career, so I’d like to share some of my personal favorite habits and tricks to getting more work done.
The freelance lifestyle is built on the idea of having more time to do what you love.
At its core, it’s all about defining a well-balanced work/life relationship. So it’s imperative you take control of your day to gain more hours and to make a happy, healthy living.
I’ve built a daily routine that’s really the framework to how I get more work done. Without a healthy lifestyle routine, I’d physically and mentally be scattered, which ruins all motivation and productivity.
Waking up early
Would you like to gain additional hours in your day? Hours where you can work distraction-free?
Of course you do – why wouldn’t you? To do this, you simply have to wake up earlier!
If you struggle to find the time to practice your craft or write, then wake up an hour or two earlier, and use that extra time.
I wake up at 5:50am at the latest every morning. This helps me get in a workout, shower, breakfast, and early morning writing before 8am. By the time most people are even pouring their first cup of coffee, my blood is flowing, and I’m already 1–2 tasks into my day.
Waking up early might be hard for you, but it’s one of those things you have to make into a habit. Even if you have to turn your alarm up and set it across the room. Get your feet on the floor! That’s the key to waking up early.
Don’t pick up your phone and look through social media or emails first thing. Instead, immediately walk to the bathroom and wash your face. You’ll have clearer skin, and it’ll help wake you up!
Clear skin. Additional hours in your day. Starting out productive. Waking up early is a major win-win-win!
Also, because you wake up early doesn’t mean you still can’t be a night owl. Most nights after dinner, I go back to work for a couple hours.
Personally, I love the feeling of grinding out work when everyone else is asleep. It means less distractions for me.
If I haven’t convinced you on the power of waking up early, at the very least, give it a try yourself. You won’t regret it.
And if you’d like to seriously learn how to build a great morning routine, check out my pal, Jeff Finley’s book, Wake Up. It’s truly an interesting read with great resources that’ll teach you the habits and mindset to make it happen.
I sit at my desk all day, every day. I need to get my blood flowing, so it’s crucial I get in some exercise.
Most days I get in a simple 15–30 minute walk or bike ride with my dog, Benny. Other days when I have more time, I do a simple strength training routine.
When you work out, you get blood flowing to your brain. The more blood flow to the brain, the easier it is for your thoughts to connect. This is why I excercise in the morning before I begin to work.
Working out first thing in the morning starts the day off feeling productive – I feel energized, and I’m mentally prepared to knock out quality work.
I’ve tried plenty of popular workout DVDs and online programs, but my absolute favorite resource for fitness has been Nerd Fitness. It’s an awesome blog packed with relatable tips and success stories. It’s been a fun, nerdy way to learn more about getting motivated and healthy – especially for someone that sits at their desk all day.
Now it’s time to actually get work done.
Productivity is key to running a successful business, especially when it’s ran by one person — you.
In the 5+ years I’ve been freelancing full-time, I’ve struggled with productivity. It’s so easy to feel unmotivated to do certain tasks. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been putting off writing this article because I haven’t been in the mood to write.
Excuses are the ultimate productivity killer. And it’s so easy to make an excuse to not do something. For example:
“I’m running into too many problems and I feel overworked. I’ll do it later.”
Surprise – we’re all busy and most likely overworked. But the really productive (and successful) people don’t dwell on problems. They just do the work.
“I can’t start creating my new product because I don’t have everything I need.”
If you’re an overly detailed person, then I’m sure you can relate to this one. You wait until you have all of your questions answered and all the necessary equipment to get the job done.
On the other hand, productive people just do whatever they can now and take on tasks as they need to be done. They don’t wait for the perfect time, because there never is a perfect time.
“I might fail, so if I don’t start this then I’ll have nothing to worry about, right?”
The pinnacle of all things unproductive – failure. Failing is scary, but failure means you’re trying new things and staying busy. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is what will take your career to the next level.
Writing a daily to-do list of actionable tasks
My daily routine starts with looking over my list of projects. I write the most urgent tasks on a sticky note that sits in front of me all day.
This way I focus on 4–8 things I want to accomplish in the day.
As I complete each item I simply cross it off and move onto the next. I find that motion of physically crossing off a task very satisfying.
Then, anything that doesn’t get completed carries over to the next day’s sticky.
For extensive to-do’s that need a bit more planning and notes, I use an app called Wunderlist. My brain can’t store all of my concepts, ideas, and topics, so I have a designated spot for these tasks on my computer.
Don’t rely on the moment to figure out how to spend your time. Take a step back and actually plan out your priorities so you can accomplish your goals faster.
Most importantly, break your goals up into actionable tasks. If you’re developing a product, don’t just write, “Develop product”. Get specific. Do you need to outline the details? Research? Schedule a video shoot?
If you can break a goal into manageable tasks, then break those tasks into smaller tasks that can be done within an hour or less, then you’ll find yourself blazing through your to-do list and making amazing progress.
Don’t focus on hours, focus on goals
To me, there is no working too much or too little. There’s only working enough.
You work as much as needed and you define what you’re capable of working. Obviously the more you work, the better, but don’t let hours in a day define what actually needs done.
It could take you 2 hours to finish a design. You aren’t required to spend weeks on something because it’s expected. The more time you spend working on something doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll get better with more time. I can design an awesome t-shirt in two hours for a client. I get paid, and two hours later, the design is out the door. Then I do this 3–5 times a day and I’m making good money.
You work for the goals you set for yourself. Unless you have plans scheduled throughout the day, then you should obviously spend your time working. When you work on a task and complete it, take a small break before you get to the next item.
There’s always something to be done. So work, ship it, and shift to the next item on your list.
Taking Productive Breaks
Sometimes after completing a large task, you don’t have to relax or walk away from your work. Sometimes, it’s nice to just be done with it, so often, I like to take a break and work on the less important tasks.
Even though it’s still work, it’s also a break from what I was previously doing.
I keep a list of not as important things that can be done during my breaks. This could also mean mundane tasks such as tidying and organizing your workspace, doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, etc.
They key is to use up more of your time effectively.
Although I work hard, I’m still human, and I struggle often to find motivation.
The little things like the music I listen to, brewing a cup of coffee, or writing in the dining room on my iPad vs. in my office can completely rejuvenate my productivity. So I want to share some fun things that get me going when I’m dragging.
Make an awesome music playlist
For me, music plays a major role in my work day. Spotify and I are best friends!
I tend to base my music on the type of work I’m doing: If it’s design related, it’s most often faster-paced. If I’m writing, it’s a lot more chill.
I made a Spotify playlist with a diverse selection of some most recent songs I’ve been listening to. Give it a listen if you’re interested.
Watch your favorite motivational video
When all else fails and I need something to fire me up, I turn to a small playlist of my favorite inspirational videos.
Rather than talk about it, here are three videos that motivate me everytime without fail:
How to force yourself to get more work done
You know you need to get work done. It’s piling up, but you just don’t know where to start!
Trust me, you’re not alone. I’m going to share two tricks I turn to when I’m feeling overwhelmed with work.
Start a work sprint
When I need to force myself to get a lot of work done, I use what is called the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique is when you use a timer to break down work into intervals – traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by small breaks.
This works for me, because I’m setting a small attainable goal, which is just work for 25 minutes completely focused with no distractions.
After 5–10 minutes of working, I’m in the zone, then it’s all uphill from there.
Simply use your timer on your phone, or even Google “25 minute timer” and let the countdown begin!
Switching to a new task
There are times when I’ve completely hit a wall, and I’m on the edge of just going and lying down.
But my income and life depend on my productivity, so I have to somehow keep going.
When I’ve hit a wall, for example with my writing, I’ll switch to a new task. Maybe I’ll take a break to do some deliberate practice with design, work on a new product, etc.
What really helps is if you switch to a completely different type of work. I’ll go from writing to sketching a design, back to writing, to shooting a new video, and so on.
It refreshes my mind, and goes back to my tip above on taking productive breaks.
It really works!
Taking control of your time
You need to take responsibility for your actions and how you spend your time. If you’re freelancing full-time, your life depends on it.
It truly does make or break your freelance business, so take what I’ve shared here, and start applying it little by little.
Trying new techniques will form long-term habits, which enhances your productivity. Tweak them to what works best for you, and then stick to what works.
I’ve shared my techniques and tips, so now’s your turn! How do you like to stay productive? Add to this post and leave a comment below!