Work the perks, avoid the pitfalls: staying productive as a freelancer

Whether you’re partial to curling up on the couch or settling in at a coffee shop or park to tackle your projects, the lack of a strict schedule and direct supervision take a toll on productivity. But they don’t have to – use the perks of freelancing to your advantage while simultaneously avoiding the pitfalls with these tips.

Do the thing you’re dreading most, first

There’s always one task that you’d rather not do; sometimes, that ‘thing’ makes you fall down internet rabbit holes or work on much less pressing assignments just so you can avoid it. Push yourself to do that first, and the rest of the day will coast along much more smoothly. Despise filling out invoices, but it’s that time of the week or month? Get it out of the way. Avoiding putting together a quote because the research involved is daunting? Tackle it first thing in the morning.

Set a timer

With no boss breathing down your neck, it’s easy to put things off, especially when Netflix is right there, laundry is piled up, and Fido wants to go for a walk. Grab a timer and set it for anywhere from 15 minutes (for the truly adept procrastinator) to an hour and work through until the timer goes off. Then, reward yourself with a break. This method, pushed by an endless array of experts, increases productivity by up to 20%.

Group work by task, not project

It makes sense to start one project and see it through to completion, but depending on the type of work you do, that method prevents you from getting into a grove. Instead of spending an entire day on one project, take a look at your work process and group your day by task type. For example, if you’re a writer, spend a few hours working on keyword research and/or topic generation for multiple projects, then move on to research and outlines for several articles and posts, and then get to writing. Finish off by finding images and links, proofing, and sending the project in or uploading it.

Set a reliable, but creative, schedule

If you roll out of bed at a different time every day, start work when you feel like it, and finish when you lose motivation or it’s time to head out for drinks, it’s easy to lackadaisically move throughout your day. Avoid this by setting a concrete work schedule, but don’t try to abide by corporate culture’s 8 to 6 (or 9 to 5) mentality. If you aren’t a morning person, set your schedule accordingly; if you are most productive early in the morning, but the afternoon has you mindlessly watching YouTube instead of tackling your to-do list, get up early every day, dive in to your projects, and then give yourself time for a long lunch.

Minimize distractions …

Use an app to block sites that you regularly waste time on, disable the popup that your email creates when you get a new message, and leave your phone on silent in another room. In conjunction with the timer method, this ensures that you don’t randomly decide to click on your favorite time-waster for a few minutes, get curious about a new message the instant it pops up, or fall into a group chat in the middle of a work day.

… but take distractions as a sign you need a break

When you can’t focus to the point that you’re disabling apps, opening your email just to check it, and randomly glancing at your phone on the way to the bathroom, give yourself a bit of grace and take a break. Grab that timer again, decide how long you can afford to goof off, and then do so. Freelancing has plenty of drawbacks, but enjoy this perk – you are in complete control of your schedule, and if you function better with regular breaks, take them.


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