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freelancer being productive

Every freelancer has different pricing structures, but more often than not, we charge by the project or output, not by the hour. After all, your client is paying for a finished product, so why would it matter to them how long it takes you?

In that case, “time is money” doesn’t quite fit. It’s more like “productivity is money.” Is there anything more frustrating than those days when your brain just won’t get moving and projects are taking longer than they should?

Don’t feel like those times are inevitable. There are plenty of productivity hacks out there but as an admitted time management nerd, I couldn’t narrow it to a few. Here are all my top faves among the best productivity hacks instead.

Well-Planned Morning Routines

Brains don’t always listen to alarm clocks. Sometimes the day’s first hour is wasted because my brain isn’t in “work mode” yet.

Successful people fix this problem with thorough, strategic morning routines. Have a set time to wake up each workday, then a list of specifically-ordered tasks. It might include exercise, showering and getting ready, eating breakfast, reading the news, or other habits.

Your brain gets used to that sequence of events. Each morning, it recognizes this routine and knows it’s time to start the day. When work time hits, you can hit the ground running.

Pomodoro Technique

I heard about this strategy from another freelancing friend. The name still makes me think of Elvis-style pompadours but the actual technique is far more effective.

This technique involves spending 25 minutes on the task at hand, then taking a 5-minute break. Big projects are far less daunting when you only have to manage 25 minutes at once.

The idea is that you can focus better for short periods of time. These breaks in between help your brain re-energize. With that in mind, you can modify this technique’s timing however you want: 20 minutes of work with 5 minutes of break time, 50 minutes/10 minutes, whatever works for you.

Simple To-Do Lists

Ah, good old task lists. It’s a simple concept that can make or break your productivity.

Create to-do lists to plan your action items each day for short-term and long-term projects. Set deadlines for each task. That way, you can see all the day’s goals at a glance.

The right task tracker can be perfect for project management too. You can easily break up large projects into smaller action items, establish timelines for each so you’re ahead of deadlines, and track each deliverable’s progress with tags.

Recurring Tasks

Speaking of action items, there are certain things you must do at regular intervals. You might review your financials every two weeks, write a blog every week, post on social media once per day, and so on.

With repeated similar tasks like these, set up recurring tasks in your online to-do list. This way, you can keep up with ongoing campaigns or projects without accidentally forgetting them.

Time Blocking 

To keep all my projects organized, I used a task planner to allocate tasks for each day. Before I close out each day, I go through tomorrow’s to-do list. I then plot out my schedule for that day, blocking specific times for specific tasks.

I base that schedule on prioritizing my most important tasks and those with specific deadlines. This way, I know I’ll get it all done on time as long as I follow my plan. Plus, with timed goals for each task, I don’t spend time on distractions as often because that makes it harder to hit my goals.

As an added bonus, I’m an achievement-motivated person. I love feeling accomplished and I get that feeling when I’m being productive and staying ahead of schedule.

Workout Breaks

I stumbled upon this productivity tip in college while pulling all-nighters, reaching that point when coffee stops working. A sure-fire way to re-energize is a short workout.

I use this with the Pomodoro technique. During those five-minute breaks, I do five quick weight training exercises or spend five minutes jogging around the house. It gets the blood flowing and refreshes me for another stint of productive work. It helps to start each day with one of these short workout bursts too.

Phone Jail

My phone is my productivity kryptonite. It’s way too easy to grab it and start flipping through social media feeds, or reading cool product blogs and clicking on all the affiliate links, falling down a shopping hole.

When I’m struggling with that temptation and I need to focus, my phone goes to phone jail (i.e., the next room). The temptation is gone and so is the distraction.

This doesn’t have to be an all-day or long term fix. I use my phone jail tactic when I have a tough project I need to focus on and finish.

Customized Schedules

No one knows who decided on a 9:00 to 5:00 work schedule because no one will admit to it. Sure, that works for some, but not everyone is most productive during the same times.

Many freelancers and entrepreneurs take advantage of their freedom to choose their schedules. So should you. Find out whether you’re more productive early in the morning, during the late afternoon, in the wee hours of the morning, or whatever your golden hour may be. Design each day around your natural rhythm.

How to Find Your Productivity Tricks

With productivity hacks, there’s no magic bullet. Different strategies work for different people so it’s all about finding your rhythm. That’s a learning process for every freelancer, but these tips can help.

Identify Your Time-Wasters

We all have things that seem to make time vanish, so pay attention to what those are. A time tracker helps you see how much time you’re spending on each action item. Just click the timer when you’re starting a task and stop it when you finish or take a break.

From there, evaluate to see what’s worth your time and what isn’t. Finally, come up with strategies to make your time-wasters more efficient or cut them out entirely.

Try, Try Again

The only way to find your favorite productivity hacks is to try them for yourself. Take a trial and error approach and measure your productivity along the way.

Don’t make quick judgments, though. Every strategy has a learning curve. Give each trial at least a week or two, see if you can get into the groove, and determine if it’s making you more productive.

Understand Your Limits

We’re all human. There comes the point when there’s not another drop of mental energy or productivity you can squeeze out of the day.

In those times, the most productive working strategy is to stop working and rest. You need that rest to refresh you so you can hit the ground running the next day rather than dragging and making the whole week less effective. The trick is learning yourself, discovering where those limits are, and knowing enough to step away when you hit them.

Finding Your Most Productive Path

In most jobs, productivity might affect your successes down the line. In freelancing, though, it translates to immediate dollars and cents. Use the tips above to find your own best productivity hacks, build a reliably successful process, and make that money.

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