By Georgina Laidlaw

Freelance Productivity: What’s Your Secret?

By Georgina Laidlaw

Have you been productive today? What’s your secret?

A recent spike in my workload has required me to be more conscious of my productivity than I usually am, and it’s reminded me of the one factor on which I feel my productivity hinges: rhythm.

While I hate schedules and structures, and love change, to be effective I need the work I do to fit into my rhythm.

The rhythm

Do you have a working rhythm? Mine looks something like this:

Monday, Wednesday: I schedule meetings on these days, so they’re not great for doing focused work. Small tasks that can be easily chunked (like writing this blog post) are most easily knocked over on these days.

Monday morning is pretty appalling for me. Working for myself from home hasn’t made the week’s beginning any easier to manage.

Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: days for serious focus. Whether I’m at home, or I head out to a cafe or library for a change of scenery, these are the days I’m most likely to let the calls go to voicemail and focus on getting big-ticket items off the To-Do list.

Within that framework, I find it takes me about half an hour or more to get my head into the right frame of mind for work each morning. Rather than squander that time on social media or emailing friends, I try to use it as productively as possible, adding tasks to my To-Do list, sending invoices, clearing my inbox and responding to the less-taxing of my emails.

I also find that the evening hours, between, say, 4 and 7, are a kind of “quiet time” when I can think really clearly and get a lot done, but to make the most of that energy, I need to be doing something I like. I can be super-productive then, but not if I’m not having fun. I can’t force myself at a task that late in the day.

Breaking the rhythm

Knowing my work rhythm is extremely helpful in terms of making the most of each day, and each week. It also gives me the freedom to take time out when I need to, knowing that I’ve scheduled my remaining tasks for times when I’ll be operating at full throttle.

But of course there are always unexpected tasks that crop up—clients want a job done really quickly, for example, or I need to do a task at an odd time to fit in with the schedule of someone who’s located on the other side of the globe.

These are the challenges. While freelancing largely allows you to set your own pace and schedule, having to fit in with others can provide the chance to return to the “real world” for a moment, and force yourself at something against your body’s and mind’s natural preference.

For me, these are opportunities to remind myself of what I’m capable of when push comes to shove, so I try to rise to the challenge, rather than complain about it (too much!).

What’s your secret?

Do you have a similar perspective on your daily productivity rhythms? As I’ve shown here, knowing how and when you work best can help you structure your time and tasks so that each item’s done efficiently and as well as possible. What’s your productivity secret? Share it with us in the comments.

Image by stock.xchng user cobrasoft.

  • Pretty much exactly what you said, schedule certain things for certain times of day. Also when I get stuck into something, “on a roll” so to speak, I don’t stop just because it’s a certain time of day or something. Late lunches, late finishes abound as a result but it also makes the rest of the day / next day less stressful because I got so much done!

  • Jimmy

    how many hours you work per day?

  • Georgina Laidlaw

    Great point Leesa — the flexibility lets freelancers make the most of the “zone” too :) Excellent tip!

  • I have a full time day job, so my ideal rhythm basically means setting aside a chunk of time on saturday & sunday. I find that when I’m doing the full time grind, it’s hard to leave work, then get home an refocus on freelance. So I try to keep the two as separate as possible.

  • Hi Georgina,

    Good aritcle and yes, I do similar things as you.

    1 – chunk stuff together – that’s a good move

    2 – know you’re own rhythyms – another good move

    One thing I like to do is schedule ALL my calls on Thursday, leaving
    the early part of the week for top priority stuff.

    Kenn Schroder

    Web Designers: 8 Mistakes that Stop You from Getting Clients

  • jur

    -better planning, I use a project management system with a casetracker and I (self-built) roadmap plugin to manage technical requirements. I use it even if I work alone on a project. (see http://openatrium.com/).

    -Recently I’ve also been stopwatching all my work on a per-task basis using aforementioned project management system. Gives you the benefit of seeing where you’re spending more time then planned and where you’re making headway. Also improves your planning skills for future projects. (I use http://drupal.org/project/time_tracker plugin for this)

    -increase accountability: tell people what you’re doing and what your goals are. Feel the peer pressure.

    -writing down what I want out of a project or business decision.

    -Set my tools (webshop, reporting software) up to give me quick feedback to work I put in my business

    -Take regular breaks so that I don’t exhaust myself before the day is over.

    -last but not least: music. for inspiration, rythm or getting started. or winding down.

    -Invest in my productivity

    -Regularly think about long-term plans and get creative with the planning on my whiteboard

  • Tim

    I’ve been self-employed for eleven years and I’m still as lazy as ever. The one thing I always try to do to have a productive day is get off to a really good start.

    You mentioned things like social media and emails in the morning and these can really make your time drift away. As soon as I get into the office I like to get on with a real money earning project. A couple of hours in and I’ll do the less productive stuff, but by then the ball’s already rolling. Makes a huge difference to me.

    And on that note, I really shouldn’t be spending my mornings replying to blog posts…..

  • By no means am I at the optimal level of productivity, the following have helped me:

    – plan my day the night before and be disciplined to it the next day
    – set time blocks to check email and return calls
    – Tiesto Pandora station for getting into the zone when coding
    – get some billable work done before 11am each day
    – take a break before I get too tired and a little exercise really helps

  • Georgina

    Excellent tips guys! I think the idea of getting straight into billable work each morning is essential — I have a limit on how much time I spend on “catching up” each morning while my brain warms up, for exactly this reason.

    Also, breaks and exercise, which a few of you mentioned, are key for me too, especially in terms of maintaining focus and energy levels.

  • My productivity is tied quite honestly to my diabetes management. Certain times of day I have little energy and others I have alot. Here are some things that worked for me.
    – I have 3 computers running and assign specific tasks to each one (development, file uploading, emails + filtering.
    – I use Evernote (HIGHLY recommended) on my smartphone / laptop/desktop. It works wonders and saves me time.
    – I sync everything on my phone to my computers (calendar, email, contacts).
    – I use Basecamp online project management from 37 signals and also use Trello for organization
    – All my favorite blogs are setup in google.com/ig and that helps me review material much quicker.
    – I carry a small notbook and digital recorder with me whereever I go. All files are recorded as MP3’s. For my notebooks, I sketch alot of ideas for clients and then photograph and tag in Evernote.
    – I do listen to music (trance at 120-150 bpm) when I code…helps me increase my speed and accuracy for some reason by about 15%
    – I schedule Skype calls and book meetings with set times to end.
    – I use Google Alerts and then run custom scripts for processing the information and tagging.
    – All photography work using Photoshop includes Actions and automation for image meta tags, copyright and different sizes.
    – If I travel on the plane I listen to Audible.com books and also read kindle books on my smartphone.
    – I also dictate ideas and brainstorm when I travel or are sitting in an airport

    Thats part of what I do…. :+)


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