10 Productivity Musts for Freelancers

By Soham Amatya

August 29, 2016   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

productivity tips for freelancers

As a freelancer, you’re in charge of planning your day. You get to decide which tasks you want to work on first and when to take your breaks.

Unfortunately, this freedom can either make or break your career. If you’re not careful, hours can tick away without you finishing a single project.  Worse, you can even end up with a messy desk and an almost untouched to-do list.

Wondering how to get the most out of your time? Follow these 10 productivity tips for freelancers to get more out of your workday.

Bonus: you’ll get more out of your free time, as well!

1. Prioritize Your Tasks

It seems like a no-brainer. You get the most important things done first and you can finish the rest of your tasks quickly.

Unfortunately, not everything turns out the way we plan the all the time.  As your creativity and energy can vary throughout the day, it’s best if you can assess yourself first before getting straight to work. You might even be surprised at what you’ll find.

Some people who identify as “morning people” have major breakthroughs at night. There are night owls who discover more creativity in the morning. If the nature of your business is creative, be mindful of when you get your best work done. It may be the opposite of what you think.

As you prioritize your task, make sure to structure your to-do list to match your energy. Once you finish work for the day, make a list of any leftover tasks and engagements approaching deadlines. (Evernote is a favorite for lists). Doing this will enable you to begin the next day with a fresh energy and gameplan.

See Also: 6 Tools to Increase Your Self-Employed Productivity

2. Make a Schedule- And Stick To It


make a schedule

Armed with the list you created at the end of your last work day (#1), plug in your schedule for the day. Most freelancers balk at this suggestion, as avoiding the 9-5 workday is often why we get into freelancing in the first place.

Making a schedule doesn’t mean giving up your flexibility. It means setting times when you’ll be ultra-efficient so that you can have the freedom to enjoy your time outside of your workstation.

See Also: 14 Problems Freelancers Usually Face

3. Set A Specific Time for E-mail

How many times have you thought “I’ll just answer this one quick e-mail…” and then realized an hour has gone by? Or noticed that “New Message” notification, only to get tied up responding to a series of questions?

As a freelancer, you want your clients to know that you are attentive and available. But you also have a million other things to get done.

The solution?

Set a specific time to check and respond to e-mails. Studies suggest that good email etiquette means responding within 24 hours. Optimally, you can check your inbox once in the morning and once in the afternoon. While you’re away, you can set an auto-response to explain when you’ll be actively responding.

4. Realize Repeat Tasks and Assign a Process

Do you remember what life was like before we had applications for everything? Rolodexes, paper charts, and battery-powered Dictaphones were standard in most medical offices.

We can learn a lot from modern technology in this aspect: if there’s a way to simplify, do it. Noticed that you get a lot of calls at 9:00am? Make that your window of availability over the phone. Tired of typing out the same e-mail over and over? Use a canned response system (MailChimp has some great ones).

Try to recognize when you’re doing something more than once and create a process for it. It will save you time, and sanity!

5. Get Organized. Really.

Albert Einstein once quoted: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what, then, is an empty desk a sign of?”

Getting organized is one of the best ways to boost your productivity and control your madness.

Do you waste time trying to locate documents on your computer? Throw them in a “Common Documents” folder in Google Drive. Spending too long scrolling through your clients in your smartphone? Use a spreadsheet or CRM of your choice to organize your contacts.

You’ll be amazed how much better you can feel once you have everything in one place. You’ll also save precious time off of your workday.

6. Complete the Small Stuff

Have you noticed that tasks seem to multiply when you’re in a hurry? The presentation you were sure was complete is missing a crucial point. As you add it, you realize the image you attached is the wrong size. Just before you submit the final draft to your client, you realize that you have two e-mail addresses for her, and aren’t sure which one to use. Now you’re right up against your deadline.

How did this happen?

Often, we brush simple tasks aside,thinking that we can quickly complete them at a later time. This leaves us rushing to complete a stack of projects that often are more complex than we first realized.

Here’s a great solution:

Get the small stuff out of the way. Not only can this help lessen your workload, but it can also give you a sense of accomplishment which is essential particularly when you’re dealing with multiple projects.

7. Do The Worst Task First

Dreading that phone call with an unhappy executive? Tempted to wait until later to dial the number?

Don’t. Just do it now.

By addressing the least desirable task first, you’re avoiding the dangerous lure of procrastination. You’ll also be able to move forward without it hanging over your head the rest of the day. And once you’ve tackled the tough stuff, everything else suddenly becomes more simple.

8. Compete Against Yourself

One of the most common complaints of freelancers is that they no longer have the healthy peer pressure to over-perform. It takes a great deal of integrity to be productive all day.

Without a cubicle partner to compete against, how do you push yourself to get more done?

By challenging the best competition out there—yourself. Start by setting a timer for 30 minutes, and work on one task. This means no e-mail, phone, social media, snack breaks or conversations with the roommate. Try to finish the work or just make any tangible progress.

When the timer goes off, move on to another task, and set the timer again. By working in dedicated increments, you are committing yourself to resist all distraction. You also get to approach each new 30-minute interval with renewed energy.

9. Take (Timed) Breaks

timed break time

You’ve drafted a schedule, with your least favorite task first. You’re finishing small tasks as they come. You have specific times for processes that reflect your creative energy. Now, there’s one more thing missing in the equation- planned breaks.

More and more studies are revealing the importance of taking regular breaks during the workday. More energy, better health, and a boost in motivation are only some of the benefits you can get from giving yourself a few minutes to breathe freely during the day.

And it’s not just about the number of minutes, the quality of your breaks is important, as well. Try to get a little exercise, drink a glass of water, and detach yourself from your computer screen for at least five minutes every hour.

If you’re competing against the clock (#8), you can schedule this hourly. Don’t forget to schedule longer mealtime breaks as well, so you can prepare something that will give you sustained energy.

10. Set Goals and Reward Yourself for Your Progress

Are you missing the incentive programs and bonuses you got to enjoy with traditional employment?

You don’t have to miss out on any of those things just because you work on your own. Now that you’re organized (#5), it shouldn’t be that difficult to throw together a list of goals. Try to create  weekly, yearly, and long-term goals for yourself. Keep yourself accountable by scheduling 5 minutes to review and assign new goals each week.

As you complete each milestone, don’t forget to reward yourself. Sure, you may not have the monetary incentive, but as your productivity soars, so will your income. Reward yourself with that trip you’ve been putting off for some months already.  Get the new pair of shoes you’re dying to have or just take an enjoyable dinner at the new restaurant downtown.

You work hard to make it as a freelancer. Matching your passion for work with your hobbies can make your job a lot more enjoyable- and productive.

What are your productivity musts? Have you successfully put any of these into practice?

Soham Amatya

Soham is a freelance writer, blogger and internet marketer. When he’s not working, he’s probably talking science and spirituality with his friends at some café around the corner in Kathmandu.

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