Increased personal freedom is one of the main motivations for starting your own business or becoming a freelancer.
However, after years of schooling and working in a structured environment, for many this new found freedom can be hard to handle. Whether you bill by the hour or not, when you work for yourself, time is money. Therefore, how efficiently you manage your time can have a massive impact on the amount of money you are able to generate and the work life balance you can achieve.
In this article, I will share with you some of the strategies and tactics I have found effective in the constant battle against procrastination and distractions that all freelancers and entrepreneurs face. Read on to find out how you can work more efficiently and become more productive in your day to day life.
Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan
When I started freelancing full time a few years ago, my work schedule and plan of work was very vague. Typically it would consist of a loose and often unrealistic list of tasks and due dates.
However, in order to become more productive I’ve since learned that a detailed work plan is vital in order to maximise efficiency, avoid going off track, and wasting time in the dark playground of procrastination.
Now I start each month by defining all the days I will be working, after blocking off time for other commitments. Then I draw up a list of tasks that need to be completed that month. This includes client work, prospecting, and invoicing, as well as time for personal projects. I then assign each task to a specific day of the month.
Then I dig deeper and create a timetable for those work days. This involves allocating the tasks to certain periods in the day, such as morning or afternoon, based on my availability and how long each task will take.
This approach means that I know what I am supposed to be doing at any given time, on any given day. This might sound like it takes all the freedom and spontaneity out of working for oneself, and in a way it does. However, by making myself more productive and efficient, I then get more free time to do the things I want to do outside of work, without any of the guilt that comes with slacking off.
If you find yourself wasting time at the start of the day trying to decide what to do, slacking off during the day, or spending too much time on busy work and carrying out those non-vital tasks that don’t generate money, then rigorously scheduling your days is sure to help.
To plan my work, I’ve gone back to using a paper and pen after experimenting with many online apps and services. However, Trello is a great task management tool that many entrepreneurs have used to boost their productivity. If you’re working in a team, or with clients, using an online tool like Trello has its obvious advantages.
Schedule Breaks and Non-Work Activities
We all know how important a healthy work-life balance is. While a traditional 9-5 job might appear to offer less freedom to pursue your own interests, at least your free-time is allocated, each day after you’ve put in your shift.
When working for yourself, it’s always tempting to put in more time, with the goal of increasing your earnings or growing your business. On the other hand, it can be just as tempting to prioritize your leisure time, at the expense of work time.
Therefore, scheduling your non-work commitments, hobbies, and other activities is just as important as scheduling your work. For example, if you want to go to the gym three times a week, schedule it in.
This way you know when you should go, and that you’ve also planned your work around it to ensure it doesn’t disrupt your schedule. This also removes the need to waste time thinking about when you should stop work to partake in your chosen activity. Pack your gym kit in advance at the start of the day. This allows you to just get up and go when the allocated time arises.
Log Your Time and Know Your Hourly Rate
As well as scheduling your workday in advance you should also log what you actually do each day. Again, I’ve learned the hard way that just working on tasks without logging exactly how long they took leads to poor productivity.
Logging how long each tasks takes makes it much easier to accurately schedule your tasks in advance. If you know a certain task, for a specific client, takes three hours, then you can easily see where it can be slotted it into your schedule.
The other big benefit of logging your time, even when you don’t charge your clients by the hour, is that it can help you find your equivalent hourly rate.
If you are a freelancer, this can help you discover your most profitable clients and contracts. One client might pay more than another, but their work might take longer to complete. Logging your time can help determine who you need to negotiate higher rates with or stop working for, in order to make room for higher paying clients.
For business owners, entrepreneurs, and non-freelancers, knowing your equivalent hourly rate for each task can quickly tell your where your time is best spent. This also allows you to see which tasks you should consider outsourcing or hiring a freelancer to work on.
Another psychological benefit of logging your time is that it makes it easy to look back on the day and see exactly what you’ve done and how productive you’ve been. This effect is compounded over the weeks and months, allowing you to see what you’ve accomplished, and how much effort you’ve put into your business.
When it comes to logging your time, whether you bill by the hour or not, the FreshBooks cloud invoicing and accounting service includes a great timer and timesheet feature.
If you want to see where you are leaking time that could otherwise be better spent, then a service like RescueTime can really help. And if you just can’t keep off Facebook, installing an app like Stayfocused can provide a solution.
Quit While You’re Ahead (or not too far behind)
While it can be tempting to work into the night in order to earn more money and get more done, the law of diminishing returns can come into play here.
This can result in your levels of output and productivity dropping as the day goes on. If you’ve cleared your to do list, it can often be more product to stop for the day, rather than try and get more done at a reduced capacity.
Even if you are behind, working beyond your peak hours in order to attempt to catch up can have negative consequences. For one, tasks will take a longer to complete as your mental capacity diminishes. Two, the quality of your work will suffer, and finally, you will probably miss out on the vital sleep needed to tackle the work tomorrow.
Outsource or Pay to Save Time
Sometimes you have to spend money to make money and working for yourself is no exception. While you could create all your client invoices by hand in Word or Excel, paying a few dollars a month for an invoicing service will save you time that you can then use to earn more money.
Hiring a freelancer to complete those tasks that either take up too much of your time, or you’re not so good at, also makes financial sense.
By tracking your equivalent hourly rate, you should be able to focus on what you are good at, or what brings in the most revenue, allowing you to outsource the other tasks to a freelancer or service provider.
Find an Accountability Partner
If you are a freelancer then your clients will provide some level of accountability: if you don’t do the work, you don’t get paid.
However, for everyone else working for themselves, and even some freelancers, there probably won’t be anyone looking over your shoulder to ensure you are doing what you need to do and are hitting your goals.
One effective way to solve this problem is to find an accountability partner. Starting a mastermind group between you and one or more fellow freelancers or entrepreneurs, can not only give you someone to bounce ideas off, but can also keep your on track with your goals and targets.
Even if you don’t find someone else working in a similar way to yourself, simply telling your partner, friend, or family member you plan to work a set amount of hours this week, or earn a certain amount of money, and then reporting back to them at the end of the period, can add some much needed accountability to your work.
Beating procrastination, becoming more productive, and increasing efficiency is vital in order to become a successful freelancer or entrepreneur. Making the most of your time results in greater profits, more free time, and a better quality of life.
By following the above advice, you should be able to start working more efficiently and reap all the rewards associated with doing so.
What stops you from being productive? Which tips will you deploy? How have you managed to increase your efficiency and get more done when working for yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments.