Working as a freelancer has many benefits, you work your own hours, you don’t have to worry about a nagging boss, you can work in your underwear.. the list goes on. One area of freelancing that’s tough though is maintaining efficiency.
As a freelancer, you become your own task master. This means you’re not only responsible for making sure you complete tasks, but just as importantly you need to determine which tasks are to be performed in the first place. For people who lack motivation and/or self-discipline, this can present a big problem. Combined with the numerous distractions a freelancer faces e.g. family/friends, favorite TV shows, temptation to sleep til lunch; you have a formula for incredible inefficiency. In this article we’ll look at the benefits of being more efficient and then some road tested ways of dramatically improving your efficiency.
Good reasons for being more efficient
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Establishing motivation is an important first step for any process. So before we delve into ‘how’ to become more efficient as a freelancer, lets look at ‘why’ you should become more efficient.
Take the fear out of deadlines: No doubt you’ve gained a few gray hairs and pulled numerous all-nighter’s in the process of meeting deadlines. Building efficiency will help better utilize time, meaning you can maintain your healthy head of hair and significantly reduce your red bull/coffee intake.
More profitable client base: Improving your efficiency will help make your client base more profitable in two ways. Firstly, you’ll learn to focus more time and energy into the clients that provide most value to you. Secondly, by shifting your attention to higher value clients you’ll create more time to take on more of the work that delivers higher value, and stop wasting it on clients who demand a lot and return little.
Stress reduction: As you become more efficient at what you do, you’ll feel more empowered with what you’re doing, and consequently your stress levels will drop considerably.
More time for the good stuff: You started out freelancing with dreams of being able to spend more time with your family/friends and enjoying your favourite activities right? Then your days got crammed with a million and one tasks and you don’t even know what you’re doing. Building efficiency will help get you back on track to finding your original dream.
Happier you, happier clients: As you take control of your days and start feeling a genuine sense of progress your overall happiness and satisfaction will lift immeasurably. A spin-off effect of this is that your creativity and work quality will also improve, which will lead to much happier clients.
Sound good? Of course it does. So the big question, how to do it?
1. Have goals
Goals are essential for staying motivated. They’ll give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning (and not the afternoon), and they’ll help guide you in setting tasks for yourself. So what goals should you set? There are two main kinds, financial and lifestyle. A lot of people put financial first, however if happiness and satisfaction are important to you, I’d recommend starting with lifestyle. Think about what you want your lifestyle to include: how much free time you’ll have, the material items you’ll have, when you want to retire etc. Once you’ve got that figured out, figure out what you’ll need to achieve on the financial side to meet your lifestyle goals.
Effective scheduling is critical for freelancers to maintain efficiency. Even if you entered the freelancing field to getaway from the day-to-day grind and routine of employed work, don’t feel like scheduling is the enemy. By allotting specific amounts of time to certain tasks each day, you’ll find that you complete them much more efficiently than if you were to cruise through the day completing tasks ad hoc.
3. To-do list
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A technique which I find works particularly well and know has worked well for many others is creating a list of to-do list the night before. Before you go to bed, list down the six most important things you need to do the next day and order them by importance. This will get your mind working sub-consciously the night before and you’ll be focused as soon as you wake up. Get to work on the first item on your list and stick with it until it’s completed or until you can’t work on it anymore, only then move on to the next item. Don’t stress if you don’t get all six done, because if you can’t complete them following this method you wouldn’t have been able to in any other way. Completing tasks this way will allow you to focus on one thing at a time which is much more powerful than trying to multi-task.
4. Take yourself seriously
Just because you have the opportunity to work in your pj’s with a bowl of fruit loops in front of you doesn’t mean your job is any less important than one which requires you to suit up and eat sushi at lunch. By taking the mindset that your role is somehow less important than others you’ll only sabotage your own productivity and be more inclined to procrastinate, hence reducing efficiency.
Take some timeout, both long and short:
- Short breaks – Utilizing short breaks hourly will not only help you stay fresh and motivated, it can have considerable health benefits.
- Long breaks – While you might feel like you need to be on the ball every day of the week, most people find they get more out of a 5 or 6 day working week with a rest day to help rejuvenate in between.
- Vacations – Organizing a getaway for a week or so every few months is not only a great way to recharge your batteries, it will help inspire new ideas.
6. How have other people done it?
There’s a strong chance that someone has already blazed the trail you’re following. Look at how people in a similar role to yours have done things and learn from them. It’s not copying and it’s not being unoriginal – it’s being smart. If you can learn from the mistakes that other people have made then it saves you the time and cost of making them yourself.
7. Pareto’s law – 80% of success from 20% of effort
A trap many freelancers fall into is spending a bunch of time on tasks that deliver no value to them. These time drainers can come in many forms: marketing efforts, crappy clients who pay little and demand too much, doing things yourself that would be better outsourced. The key is identifying the tasks that deliver most value to you and focusing on these. The time wasters can be hard to let go of (it’s a bit like throwing away junk from the cupboard) but you’ll be much happier once you do, and have more time to focus on the things that deliver value, monetarily and in satisfaction.
8. Analyze how you spend a day
Dedicate a day where every 15 minutes you write down what you’re doing. It might sound like a real pain in the butt, but it can be quite amazing (and disturbing) to see how much time you waste on trivial tasks and procrastination. Performing an honest evaluation of how you spend your time will allow you to cut out a lot of the things that are wasting your time.
9. Consider power naps
Many people associate napping during the day with laziness – however a short power nap during the day can have amazing positive effects on your productivity. By using the correctyou’ll gain a lot more than you would from pounding coffees and red bulls all day.
10. Quit WOW
If World of Warcraft or some other time killer like Farmville is taking precedence over servicing your valuable clients, then maybe it’s time to make a clean-cut. Put it in perspective and make the decision.
These tips aren’t hard and fast. Everyone is different and will require a different system to achieve maximum efficiency. The best thing you can do is to commit to testing out these techniques consistently over the next few weeks and seeing how they work for you. The key is to take note of results and be honest with yourself about what is and isn’t working. If you can do this you’ll be able to come up with a customized system that will have you delivering maniac levels of productivity in no time.
How have you increased your efficiency as a freelancer?
Dan is an online marketing nomad. Specializing in social media and content creation. He consults remotely while travelling the world and living out of a backpack.