How to Be Productive: A Comprehensive Guide for Freelancers

How to be productive - A comprehensive guide for freelancers.
Reading Time: 9 minutes

As a freelancer, what’s the easiest way to earn more? By taking on more projects and finishing them successfully. With the way the Indian freelance economy is taking off, there will definitely be a lot more projects up for grabs. The onus is on you to land them.

You may not have the bandwidth for that now, but you can always build it by becoming more productive, in every aspect and not solely in your focus area. For that, you need to be strategic, proactive, and mentally and physically fit.

We have listed down six simple hacks to help you get started on your path to productivity.

How to be productive as a freelancer?

1. Create micro and macro scale to-do lists

Creating a to-do list on a daily basis is all well and fine, but how do you track if you are making progress with respect to long term goals?

That’s why you need micro and macro scale to-do lists. Micro to manage your daily or weekly tasks and macro to monitor your overall progress.

How to be productive -- short term to-do list and long term to-do list

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This division helps break down bigger tasks, differentiate urgent and non-urgent tasks, and track your short and long term progress.

Here’s how you can go about it:

  • Define what ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ for you is. Set guidelines for categorising tasks, it could be based on the time required, the end goal, and so on. For instance, completing an online certification course could be a macro task, while writing a blog post for your client can be a micro task.
  • Break down macro tasks, add them to your micro list. It makes macro lists less overwhelming. Here’s an example:

Breaking down big tasks into smaller ones.

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  • Maintain a close eye on both the lists and monitor your progress regularly. Keep rearranging items based on their priority level.

Micro and macro to-do list

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Pro-tip: In case of micro lists, always schedule the most difficult tasks during your peak productivity hours. 

2. Stop multi-tasking, do batch tasking instead

Did you know that multitasking can reduce your productivity by 40 per cent?  It is a scientifically proven fact that multitasking breaks your flow and thought process. So, what’s the alternative?

Try batch-tasking. It is the process of grouping similar tasks together and completing them in one go. You won’t have to break stride as all the tasks will require similar sort of skills, thought-process, and concentration levels. 

Here’s an example of how you can batch task your to-do list:

YOUR TO-DO LIST AFTER TASK BATCHING - how to be productive

Pro-tip: Sort the categories and the items inside according to their level of urgency or difficulty. 

3. Productivity tools are your allies, use them

As a freelancer, you have to wear multiple hats — from settling your taxes to marketing yourself. Managing all of it can get very overwhelming. 

Thankfully, there are enough tools out there to simplify or automate many of your day-to-day tasks.

Here are the top picks from each category:

a. Marketing

Hootsuite

An all-in-one social media management tool to schedule posts for your social media networks from one place, curate content, and generate analytics reports.

MailChimp 

An easy to use email marketing tool that helps you build email lists, set up campaigns, and find out what’s working and optimise for your campaigns.

Medium 

A popular online publishing platform where you can share your expertise and gain followers.

Weebly 

A simple drag and drop website builder which you can use to build an online portfolio.

Sumo

Use this tool set up welcome mats and pop-ups to capture leads.

Canva

An online app that lets you create professional looking graphic designs.

b. To stay organised

Evernote 

It is an all in one note-taking app which allows you to collect all your research notes in one place.

Google Calendar

It is a free online calendar management application that lets you share calendars, schedule appointments, and collaborate.

Wunderlist 

An app that lets you make and organise your to-do list, set up due dates and reminders for tasks, and more.

RescueTime

A time management app that helps you track and review the time spent on various tasks, and also block distracting websites.

Trello

A project management app that utilises Kanban cards, lists and boards to help you track your progress.

Harvest

This app lets you track time and expenses, create timesheets, generate invoices, and so on.

c. Project workflow

TapChief 

A platform where you can find open projects, interact with companies, build relationships with fellow freelancers, and more.

Proposify

A cloud-based tool that let you create and manage project proposals efficiently.

OneSheet CRM

A simple spreadsheet-based CRM tool to manage your sales pipeline and close deals faster.

Bonsai app

An all in one app for freelancers to build proposals, contracts, generate invoices and so on.

HelloSign

A document management tool to fulfil your e-signing needs.

Iubenda

An online solution that helps you create documents such as privacy policy and terms and conditions.

d. Accounting and bookkeeping

ClearTax 

An online service that assists you in filing tax returns.

PayPal 

An online payment system that lets you send/receive invoices and facilitates online money transfers.

Mint

A free online money management tool that lets you create budgets and collect all your bills in one place.

Freshbooks

A cloud accounting software for invoicing, monitoring expenses, collaborating with clients, generating accounting reports, and more.

e. Communication

eM Client

An all in one solution to manage your calendar, tasks, and multiple email accounts.  

Join.me

A simple web conferencing app that has features like one-click scheduling, screen sharing, audio calls, and more.

G Suite 

A powerful cloud-based office suite with features such as a custom email address, 30 GB of free storage, advanced security and file sharing, and productivity tools such as Sheets, Docs, Slides, Drive and more.

Boomerang  

An email management tool that lets you schedule emails, set up email reminders, and so on.

4. Slumps are okay, just find a way to overcome them

No matter how motivated you are and how much you like your job, you are bound to fall into ruts and procrastinate. It is only normal.

Freelancers tend to push themselves harder in such situations. They believe they can’t afford ruts. However, it only makes matters worse.

Season 8 Ok GIF by Mr. D - Find & Share on GIPHY

Instead, take a few minutes to introspect, try to find the root cause and address it. Here are a few possible reasons and how to overcome them.

Cause 1: You are lonely.

Because most freelancers work alone, there is always a chance that you feel socially isolated. You don’t have anyone to bounce off ideas with, have water cooler conversations with, or ask advice from. Simply put, you lack a support system.

Loneliness and productivity

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Solutions:

  • Join online and offline communities and forums of like-minded people.
  • Start working from a co-working space.
  • Choose a hobby that you are passionate about, one that can create opportunities for you to meet new people.
  • Reach out to friends and family members that you trust.
  • Cut back on coffee and alcohol; they can lead to anxiety and panic attacks.

Cause 2: You feel behind at work.

Often you feel stuck on a project. You can’t seem to complete it no matter what. You feel terrified that you will miss the deadline.

Solutions:

How to be productive

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  • Break down the task into smaller units and set a deadline for each.
  • Eliminate every non-urgent task from your to-do list.
  • Outsource less important tasks.
  • Finish some other job that you had begun but didn’t finish.
  • Don’t take on any additional projects.

Cause 3: You lack creative inspiration.

This is what is called a creative block. It is a condition where you are not able to access your internal creativity. It could be due to exhaustion, personal problems, lack of confidence, perfectionism, and so on.

Creative block

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Solutions:

  • Let your mind wander, don’t try to restrict it.
  • Write down why you are not able to work.
  • Write down whatever ideas that come to your mind, but don’t judge them.
  • Think about the problem from a different perspective.
  • Don’t beat yourself up for the block, instead, tell yourself that you are waiting for better ideas.

5. Build a “me space”

The flow state is a state where you are at our optimum level of productivity. To achieve it, you need a setting that fosters intensely focused attention. Simply put, you need a distraction-free workspace that improves your focus and concentration.

It could be a room in your home or a desk space at a co-working space, but ensure it is de-cluttered and organised, ergonomically optimised, offers privacy, and stimulates creativity.

Here are a few tips to help you with that:

  • Have a DND sign on your door.
  • Organise your workspace with files, folders, and sticky notes.
  • Maintain a list which tells you exactly where to find what.
  • Ensure there is enough ventilation and also, maintain comfortable room temperature.
  • Allow natural light to come into the room. If not, maintain a daylight colour temperature of 5000K and 7000K. See if you can get LED bulbs instead of fluorescent ones.
  • Researches have also shown that having indoor plants like Philodendron and Dracaena help in productivity.
  • Don’t limit yourself to one desk, instead, have multiple places to sit.  Assign each site for something specific like reading, calling someone, writing, and so on.
  • Fragrances can help invigorate your workspace. Rosemary can assist in improving memory and promoting clear thinking. Whereas, Peppermint’s smell is supposed to be enlivening and motivating.

A great example of a remote workspace:

seperate-workspace.Source

6. Make time for yourself

Let’s get one thing clear, working 24/7 will not make you productive. Sooner or later, you will burn yourself out. Instead, you need to maintain a balance, so that you can rest, unwind, and refresh. How do you do it? By taking meaningful breaks. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help you get more out of your breaks:

Short breaks

how to be productive - short breaks

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  • Use a tool like Marinara to ensure you are taking breaks at the right time.
  • Don’t sit in the same place, walk around instead. Do a bit of stretching, drink water, and eat healthy snacks such as dark chocolate, nuts, eggs, apple, banana, and so on.
  • Be sure to spend a few minutes to meditate during your breaks. Use meditation apps such as HeadSpace, Calm, or the Mindfulness App. You can also try power naps.
  • Other things that you can do: listen to music, listen to your favourite podcast, read a book, take a power nap, wash your face with cold water, phone a friend, and doodling.
  • Things that you shouldn’t do during breaks: don’t check email or social media, don’t read the news either.
  • Try these relaxation exercises for your eyes: blink repeatedly, focus on far off objects, and move your eyes in clockwise and anti-clockwise direction without moving your head.

Long breaks (vacations)

  • Researchers suggest that an ideal vacation should last for 7-11 days.
  • Plan your vacation far in advance so that it won’t clash with your work schedule.
  • Set your expectations for the vacation beforehand: Relaxation? Connection? Adventure? A change of pace?
  • Don’t let the vacation pass you by, instead take time to relax, unwind, and take everything in.
  • Inform clients beforehand about your unavailability.
  • Try to complete all the projects in hand beforehand. Ensure that you follow up with the client to ensure that the output is satisfactory and won’t have further questions about it.
  • Set-up autoresponders to inform everyone that you are on vacation.
  • If possible, disconnect from the internet, and give up on mobiles and tablets.
  • Be flexible with your vacation schedule, don’t cramp it with hundred different plans, include only what is doable.

Besides the six tips listed above, there are a few rules that you should follow to ensure your days are more productive than ever.

Golden rules of productivity

  1. Set a clear boundary between personal hours and work hours.
  2. Switch off social media and email push notifications unless otherwise required.
  3. You may have to use Facebook or LinkedIn for marketing purposes during work hours, in that case, plan what you are going to do and allocate a specific time slot for the same. The same goes for email.
  4. Automate or outsource less important tasks.
  5. Always a establish a personal routine, don’t copy someone else’s.
  6. Build your schedule around your peak productivity hours.
  7. When you feel distracted, ask yourself why and note it down.
  8. Always be clear about the client’s expectations.
  9. Plan each workday the night before.
  10. Ensure you sleep for 6-8 hours every day.

Final thoughts

When you are juggling multiple projects, the question “how to be productive” often gets overlooked. Your entire focus goes into the completion of the project. However, that will hurt you in the long run.

Implementing productivity hacks like the ones mentioned above is not rocket science. You just have to get out of your comfort zone and experiment with the way you work. After that, it is only a matter of evaluating and optimising it.

 

Sucheth

Sucheth is a Content Marketer at TapChief. He is a marketer by day and an avid reader by night.

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