With tons of things to do and seemingly less and less time in the day, being productive is a core requirement to the lives of most freelancing creative professionals.
Put simply, being more productive means we get more done, and it shouldn’t require twenty cups of coffee daily to do so, even if you’re feeling low in energy. In fact there are numerous no-nonsense methods you can use right now to feel and act more productively, and have time left over to chill out. Here they are:
1. Exercise Daily
I’m no advocate of this, but in order for it to work effectively, you need to treat your body correctly. You might think that since you spend a lot of the day sitting in front of your computer, your physical health is not all that important, but that’s just not the case. In fact, because your job is often so sedentary, you need to exercise more than people with active jobs.
As a bare minimum, you need 30 minutes of exercise a day, but you will feel most productive and energized by exercising several times a day, preferably before each meal, even for 10 minutes at a time.
2. Get the Right Amount of Sleep
One of the greatest challenges of being self-employed is maintaining a healthy work and sleep schedule. Experts say we should get between 7 and 9 hours sleep a day, but if you’re working until the last minute of the day, it’s hard to switch off and fall asleep. The best thing you can do here is not work from your bed.
Turn the computer off at least 1 hour before bedtime and let yourself decompress fully. Avoid the television, but instead try reading a book, taking a walk, or chatting with family or friends to help you relax.
3. Eat Well
Your diet is of utmost importance and especially if you work from home, it can mean finding yourself grazing throughout the day. Structure your diet just like you structure your day, fitting in 3 meals and 2 snacks. Be sure to buy lots of healthy food, and remove the temptation of junk food in the house.
4. Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
The age-old stereotype of writers and other freelance professionals living off coffee may be true, but it’s not a great habit to get into. Caffeine results in us having less energy and feeling more tired. Not to mention all the other bad side effects of caffeine. If you can’t give it up altogether, limit yourself to one cup of coffee each morning and then switch to water or green tea.
5. Make and Maintain a Simple To-Do List
One of the most important tools for increasing productivity is your to-do list. Make your list the night before, so you’re ready to go and have your daily goals clear in your mind the next morning, but keep it short and simple and be realistic about what you can achieve.
Be sure to refer back to the list throughout the day and at the end of the day. Anything that’s not completed should move on to the following day’s list. Write the list by hand, ideally, and if you have a whiteboard, write your list there.
6. Prioritize Your Tasks
When making your to-do list, place the tasks in order of importance. This will ensure that if you don’t have time for any of the tasks, it will be the less important tasks that get passed on to the next day.
7. Time Each Task
Procrastination is your worst enemy. Picture this: You make a list of 10 tasks that you think you can complete in one day. At the end of the day, you’ve only completed 5 of them. What happened? You were distracted, most likely without even realizing it.
Try setting a time objective for each task on the list. Then, as you begin each task, start a stopwatch and be sure to complete it within the allotted time. You will find this added “pressure” helps increase your productivity dramatically.
8. Set Long-Term Goals
Your goals should be set for a variety of timelines (weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually) and they should all be linked together. Everything that you do should be leading up to, and contributing towards the annual goal. When you make your action plan, step away from the computer and other distractions.
Perhaps go down to the beach or wherever helps you think clearly. Once you have made your action plan, refer back to it regularly. Stick it on the wall. Update it as you achieve things and as you think of more goals.
9. “Am I Being Productive?”
Return regularly to the questions “Am I being productive?” and “How is this task going to make me develop as a professional?” These two questions will help you to be productive and stay on track with your goals and not get carried away with useless tasks that contribute little to your long-term plans.
10. Remove Distractions
People’s homes have always been filled with distractions and it takes a certain type of person to be able to work from home productively. With the advent of the internet, these distractions have multiplied. Phones, instant messenger, email, web surfing and Facebook, can all be distracting if misused and can crush your productivity levels.
Where possible, turn these distractions off or work in an environment where these machines are absent.
11. Certain Times for Certain Tasks
As a way of reducing distractions, establish certain times each day for certain tasks. Email, for example, is one of the most time-consuming and distracting tasks of all. Try checking and dealing with mail 3 times a day for a maximum of 1 hour each time. This will stop you from checking email constantly and will allow you to be more productive with your other tasks.
12. Step Away for Breaks
Many of us think that 15 minutes surfing our favorite social networking site or playing backgammon online with our friend in China is a break from work. It’s not. To revive yourself after a stint working on the computer, you need to step away, get some fresh air, exercise or otherwise clear your mind. It’s the change of scenery that will help you come back feeling refreshed and more productive.
13. Define a Schedule
For most of us, this means getting started early. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, be sure to set a schedule. If you want to work for 8 hours a day, split those hours in to 2 or 3 blocks of time. Work solidly during those times and stick to your schedule.
14. Get Clear
At the end of each day, tidy your desk. Deal with all paperwork as soon as you receive it. Once a week, include “Clean Inbox” on your to-do list and remove all unwanted emails and update/remove all completed tasks.
Don’t underestimate the power of meditating to quiet the mind, deepening relaxation and boosting productivity in the process. Just spending 6 minutes a few times a day to relax, focus on your breath and your surroundings will have a powerful effect on your energy levels and focus, making you more productive.
16. Do Things You Love
Everyone knows that the tasks you hate are the ones that get done last. As a freelance professional, try not to accept jobs you don’t like, you’ll find it helps you be more productive. If you’re not passionate about them, you’ll be less inclined to get them done quickly.
17. Be Positive
So you have a lot of work on your plate at the moment, but don’t let that get you down. There are many struggling freelancers out there desperate for work. Perhaps something else is getting you down and affecting your productivity, so you have to be positive. Focusing on positive things, including things to be grateful about will help greatly with your productivity.
18. Reduce Information Intake
If you work online, no doubt you subscribe to many RSS feeds and newsletters from websites relevant to your field. While this is great, stop to think about how much time you spend reading every day. Add on the time spent reading email and news and you’ll realize how much information you’re trying to digest.
Limit yourself to an hour of reading a day and you’ll find there’s more brainpower left for actual work.
19. Focus on less
Stop trying to work on everything at once. Quite often we find ourselves trying to multi-task in order to deal with heavy workloads. This will make you less effective because you are making things complicated. Just focus on one task at a time, and your productivity for each task will increase.
20. Save the Best for Last
We tend to procrastinate most with the jobs we hate, so each day, put the least enjoyable tasks at the top of your to-do list and be sure to actually do them. Not only does this get the jobs you hate out of the way, but having jobs you enjoy left at the end of the day will help you to stay motivated and work for longer.
21. Keep a Notepad With You
Some of the best ideas come to us late at night, about to fall asleep, or while sitting in traffic and when you’re back at your computer, you just can’t think of the idea. Keep a notepad or voice recorder with you all the time, so you never forget an idea again.
22. Get Dressed
This may sound stupid, but there are plenty of people working from home who don’t feel the need to shower and get dressed every morning. Indeed, “working in your pajamas” might be one of the biggest attractions of working from home. It can also be one of the biggest pitfalls. Shower and get dressed every morning and you will feel a difference in your motivation, energy and productivity levels.
23. Throw Yourself Into Your Work
‘Writer’s Block’ is something we all complain about from time to time, and it’s the biggest myth of all. Just get started on a project, no matter how little preparation you feel you’ve had.
24. Plan Your Finances
If you’re self-employed, it’s important to know how much money you have coming in and going out, especially when your income will change each month.
Establish how much you need to bring in, and focus on making at least that amount. There will be months when you don’t hit your goals, so set aside money on the good months so you have an emergency fund. This will help reduce stress on the lower-income months. Consider getting an accountant so you can really focus on being productive on actual work assignments.
25. Reward Yourself
Whenever you complete one of your larger tasks, or reach one of the goals in your action plan, reward yourself by doing something fun – it will help renew your motivation for your other projects.
Comments and further ideas are welcome!