You sit down in the comfort of your home office.
Cup of freshly brewed coffee in hand, excited for the day ahead.
You have your list of tasks.
You’re ready to knock them out and push your business to the next level.
But at the end of the day:
Very little was accomplished.
You’re not alone.
Everyone wishes they could get more done.
Whether you need to do more in the same amount of time, reduce the amount of wasted time in a day, or you need more motivation for getting stuff done, there are simple habits to make this happen.
Building good work habits and taking control of your productivity can make or break the success of your freelance career.
And getting started isn’t as hard as it seems.
So with that in mind …
I’d like to share some of my productivity tips for 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 worklife balance.
So it’s important you take control of your day to gain more hours each week, build a happy, healthy life and ultimately increase your productivity.
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 would ruin all motivation and productivity.
Waking up early
Would you like to gain additional hours in your day?
Hours where you can work distraction-free?
To do this, you simply have to wake up earlier.
If you struggle to find the time to practice your craft or write that blog post, then wake up an hour or two earlier to start your day.
Make this extra time your competitive edge.
I wake up at 6:00 am every morning.
This helps me get a workout, shower, breakfast, and early morning writing in before 8 am.
By the time most people are even pouring their first cup of coffee, my blood is flowing, and I’m already halfway through my most important task at hand.
I know I won’t have my phone called by a client or my Slack pinged by my team.
Waking up early might be hard for you, but it’s one of those things you have to make into a habit, and one of the best start your day.
Here some advice to start doing it yourself:
Don’t pick up your phone in the morning.
Don’t waste time on social media.
Don’t scroll through your emails.
Don’t respond to that text message.
Don’t browse your favorite sites.
Instead, do this:
Walk to the bathroom, drink a cup of water and wash your face.
Seems almost silly, right?
But this is by far the most effective way to wake up.
Personally, I love the feeling of grinding out work when everyone else is asleep.
This uninterrupted time means fewer distractions for me and more work done for my business.
If I haven’t convinced you of the power of waking up early, at the very least, give it a try yourself.
You won’t regret it:
When you start your day productively, the rest of the day will follow.
I sit at my desk all day, every day.
But 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 around the city with my dog, Ollie.
Other days when I have more time, I do simple strength training at my gym.
When you work out, you get the 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 exercise in the morning before I begin to work.
And not only that:
Working out first thing in the morning starts the day off feeling productive.
I have a higher energy level and I’m mentally prepared to knock out quality work.
Now it’s time to actually get work done.
Productivity is key to running a successful business, especially when it’s run by one person — you.
You want to work smarter, not harder.
Throughout my whole career, I’ve struggled with productivity.
It’s so easy to feel unmotivated to do certain tasks.
Excuses are the ultimate productivity killer.
And it’s so easy to make an excuse to not do something.
“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 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 (before you go to sleep)
My daily routine starts the night before by planning my day.
Before I fall asleep, I make sure to lay out my most important task for the day along with all of my priorities and todos.
When I wake up I’m focused and don’t have to think about what to do:
I just do.
An understanding of exactly what I’m going to do the next day also does wonders to actually help me fall asleep too.
For extensive to-do’s that need a bit more planning and notes, I either use an app called Asana or make use of my journal.
I could write a whole post about my journaling habits, but for now, check out SELF Journal.
It’s hands-down one of the best weapons in my productivity arsenal.
My brain can’t store all of my concepts, ideas, and topics, so I have a designated spot for these tasks that can be referenced and organized, and I find pen and paper to be one of the best methods.
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 and achieve more the following days.
Most importantly, break your goals up into actionable tasks.
If you’re developing a product, don’t just write, “Develop product”.
Do you need to outline the details? Research? Plan out a roadmap?
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 get done.
It could take you 2 hours to finish a website.
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.
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 last year I’ve started 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 on the couch instead of writing at my desk 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 workday.
My business wouldn’t survive without Spotify.
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.
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 every time 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 my personal favorite app, Be Focused.
To learn more about Pomodoro, read this article.
Another technique that’s helped me out is the Pareto’s Principle, aka the 80/20 rule.
This principle deserves an entire blog post, but essentially it means 20 percent of the inputs or activities are responsible for 80 percent of the outcomes or results.
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 planning out some tasks for my team, and so on.
It refreshes my mind and goes back to my tip above on taking productive breaks.
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, increase your productivity, improve your energy level, and unearth hours each week you didn’t know you had.
Tweak them to what works best for you, and then stick to what works.