How freelancers can stay productive

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14th September, 2020

5 ways successful freelancers and sole traders stay productive

As the future of working from home becomes a present reality, everyone – especially sole traders and freelancers – need to focus on how to maintain productivity in an isolating environment. In this article, digital editor Stevie Nicks shares his pro tips.

The appeal of working for yourself is usually the flexibility to pick and choose what you want to work on and when. But in reality, most freelancers and sole traders will end up working long hours all over the place, relying on large quantities of caffeine to keep them focused and motivated.

These are a few alternatives that will help you to maintain productivity when you’re freelancing.

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Stick to a routine


When you’re in charge of your own working day, deciding which projects and clients to take on, it can be easy to slip into the habit of working sporadically at random hours. But to maintain a continuous level of productivity, it’s important to set yourself up with a routine.

Sticking to a set routine will help you to separate your working life from your personal time, especially if you’re freelancing full time. When you have established hours that you know you’re going to be working it’s easier to switch into a more focused, productive mindset.

Try to get up and start working at the same time each day, take a break around the same time, and finish on time as often as you can. If your working day just blends into your evenings and weekends you’re going to struggle to find the motivation to get your assignments and projects done.

It’s also important to incorporate other things into your schedule — make time for exercise and other hobbies or activities. You need to do something that helps you completely switch off from work so that you can come back to it with more focus.


Stay organised


Freelancing can often mean you’re working on lots of varied projects for different clients, and it’s easy to flick between different work without making real progress on any of them. Try to keep a clear record of what projects you’re currently working on, the work you need to do for them, and the deadlines you need to meet.

Using a good project management tool can help you to keep on top of your workload without wasting a lot of time on admin. Once everything is organised you’ll be able to plan out your days to ensure you’re working on the right things at the right time and nothing’s going to get overlooked. You could also use a time tracking tool to keep an eye on how much time you spend on each task — it can help you stay focused and avoid wasting time if you know the clock’s ticking.

Keep in mind, as your workload and revenue grows, staying on top of your financials will place a burden on your time, particularly if you’re planning on relying on spreadsheets to manage everything. Instead, consider an online accounting software to help automate your quotes and invoicing processes, as well as help manage cash flow and reporting.

If your workload’s stacking up then don’t forget you can always say no to new projects. It’s sometimes better to be upfront about what you actually have time for then saying yes to everything and running out of time or doing a poor job.


Optimise your workspace


Freelancing might be your side hustle that you fit in around a full time job, or something you’re doing while you’re traveling about, but wherever you are it’s important to set up a proper workspace with the right equipment.

Adjusting your screen set up, or having issues with your keyboard or your internet connection can easily turn into bigger distractions, preventing you from maintaining your productivity.

As a freelancer, you might choose a MacBook because they’re lightweight, high-powered, and very reliable. But that’s not the only thing you need — you have to be able to connect all your other devices using a Mac-compatible docking station. Finding a decent docking station for Macs will ensure you can easily connect external hard drives, and import videos and images.

You’re also likely to need a good keyboard, mouse, and noise-canceling headphones to help you block out distractions.

Set yourself up with all the equipment that your work might require so you don’t waste time trying to find workarounds.

You should also find a dedicated workspace to maintain your focus. Being able to set up properly with a decent chair and minimal distractions will help to maintain productivity. If you can’t do that at home look out for hotdesking and shared office spaces.


Take regular breaks


As well as setting yourself up with a good routine, you also need to make sure you take regular breaks from your work. Our attention drops and we lose focus if we try to keep working for hours on end, especially if you’re working on one project continuously.

If you’re working a full day then aim to take a few 10 or 15-minute breaks throughout the day.

By taking a break you’ll actually be more creative and productive after, and it gives you time to look at work from a different perspective.


Avoid any distractions


Checking your emails, messages, or social media regularly is all going to waste a lot of time and distract you from the work you need to do. It might feel like it’s important to keep an eye on them and respond to things straight away, but it’s a lot more productive to switch off completely and focus on one thing.

You can schedule in set times to check up on everything, but for the rest of the time, you should close down your email, sign out of social media, and put your phone away. If you really struggle to let go then try using an app that limits your access to distractions

With a bit of organisation and by following these simple tips you can set yourself up to maintain high levels of productivity throughout your day.