Productivity can mean all the difference for freelancers. Working more efficiently can mean taking on more projects, making more money—or even working less and making the same money—all while accomplishing what you want.
We’ve been looking at how people work, from process to productivity, exploring what it means to be busy and how freelancers can say yes to opportunity. Most recently we’ve been interviewing WordPress pros about how they stay productive.
Here we’ve collected that shared wisdom into one place.
One of the first steps to being more productive is to get rid of distractions.
“Close Slack. Close email. Close social media. Leave the phone on silent or in another room. Seriously.” –Jennifer Bourn
We don’t always take that advice. Sometimes we think we’re more focused than we are, and we don’t realize how easily we get pulled away. The research is staggering—distractions will kill your productivity.
Once you’re able to get past the distractions, it helps to focus on your work. Not just pay attention, but go deep.
“I work in highly focused, uninterrupted, mini sprints,” says Jennifer Bourn. “I work completely focused on the task at hand with no interruptions.”
You do better work when you can dive deep on a project. Don’t just start and stop your work, stick with one project and see it through.
You also need to recognize when you’ve put in too much work and you need to step back. Sometimes stepping away at the right moment is exactly what you need.
“There comes a point when pushing through something will cause it to take longer than had you stepped away and left it alone for a bit,” says Kim Doyal. “When the inspiration hits, run with it.”
Find Your Rhythm
An important part of productivity is finding the rhythm that works for you. You need to establish your own pattern of productivity.
“There are times throughout the day when I am most effective in meetings and other background processes,” says Emilie Lebrun. “There are other times when I rock at repetitive brainless activities by getting in the zone.”
Some people use a timer and follow the strict Pomodoro technique for focused bursts of activity followed by quick breaks. Others like to structure their day with a specific format.
“I make sure that I don’t overload my day,” says Jason Resnick. “I make sure I have one high energy task, three normal and three low.”
Some people work better with less structure
“I do well with a semi-routine,” says Kim Doyal. “I don’t like having my day completely scheduled, but I allow myself a certain amount of time when I get to my desk in the morning to get acclimated, then I get into my day.”
The point is to find a pattern that works for you.
Track Your To-Do List
There are a lot of methods and apps for keeping track of what you need to do. You can go complicated or keep it simple. Dustin W. Stout relies on Swipes App. Tom McFarlin uses a calendar.
“Rarely will I do anything during the work week that’s not on my calendar,” says Tom McFarlin.
One of the advantages of putting tasks on a calendar is you can see the amount of time each tasks requires and better plan out your work. You’re much more likely to follow through because it lays out when you should do it.
“The simple act of putting to-do list items on my calendar really changed how I approach my day.” –Kevin D. Hendricks
Be More Productive With Email
Everyone struggles with email, so we asked our pros for some email tips. They had more than a few:
- Automatically sort your emails into different folders.
- Use separate email addresses for all subscriptions so you can easily filter out promotions, newsletters and the inevitable spam that comes with them.
- Move conversations out of email. Some suggested project management apps or a chat system such as Slack. Jason Resnick recommends Help Scout for managing client conversations.
- “Responding to email quickly is highly underrated,” says Jennifer Bourn. If you can deal with an email in less than two minutes and be done with it, do it. Don’t bother opening and closing those emails more than once.
- Don’t keep email open all day (remember, avoid distractions). Instead, check your email at specific times.
- And don’t check your email first thing in the morning. It’s tempting to check in on what’s going on, but you’ll be more productive if you start the day with more important tasks. Don’t let your email dictate how you start your day.
- Come up with a system to sort your email. Answer quick items immediately, flag items that need more attention, archive or delete emails you’re done with.
- If you really want more control, look into services such as Inbox by Gmail or Gmail add-ons such as SaneBox or MixMax.
“Overall, I try to stay out of email as much as possible. I hate email.” –Dustin W. Stout
Other Productivity Ideas
- Make sure your work environment is comfortable.
- Your work space should also be flexible so you’re not locked into one way of working. It’s not very efficient to stop and clear off space anytime you want to sketch ideas.
- Regular breaks and vacations: “Take a break: Resting is also vital to maintaining your productivity throughout the year,” says Emilie Lebrun.
- Make sure you’re getting proper exercise. Physical activity gets the blood flowing and helps you be more creative.
- Prune: “If it’s something that does not contribute to your productivity, then find a way to remove it,” says Tom McFarlin.
- Sometimes music or ambient noise can help you block out distractions and get in the groove.
- Simplify: “The fewer apps/tools you use, the better,” says Dustin W. Stout.
- Automate repetitive tasks: “If you find yourself repeating anything, then take a look at ways to optimize them in some way,” says Jason Resnick. “See if Zapier or IFTTT can help to automate some of these things.”
Find What Works for You
The bottom line is that you need to find a path to productivity that works for you.
“Don’t follow exactly what someone else does,” says Jason Resnick. “But learn from it. Make it your own. There are tons of ways to be productive, but you have to do what works best for you.”
You may need to experiment. Try out a few different methods. You may need to stick with them for a week or so to give yourself time to adjust. Track your time and see what’s most effective.
“Learn to trust your own natural rhythm and what works for you.” –Kim Doyal
One thing that doesn’t work for anybody is too much. One of greatest challenges of being productive is we try to do too much.
“Not every job or client is a good fit,” says Kim Doyal. “Every single time I have worked with someone or taken a project that I knew in my gut wasn’t a good fit, I’ve regretted it.”
It’s OK to say no. You can say no to a new project. You can say no to an unreasonable demand. You can say no to a deadline. And if you have a hard time saying no, try offering alternatives: “If you want it by Monday I can deliver, but the price goes up. Or I can get it to you by Wednesday.”
“You can’t do it all. Trying to complete too many tasks too fast is not productive.” –Emilie Lebrun
And remember to be happy. The idea is not simply to be a finely tuned machine, it’s to accomplish your goals.
“Make sure that you do what makes you happy,” says Emilie Lebrun. “Define what success means to you and what are the means to achieve it. Being fulfilled in your job is as important as being productive.”
Remember that more money doesn’t make us more happy. Maybe you want to be a little more relaxed and intentionally be a little inefficient. Sometimes that’s OK. The point is it has to work for your goals.
“Don’t sacrifice the quality of your life today for a bigger business tomorrow.” –Kim Doyal
Be More Productive
Read our full productivity interviews to learn more:
- Jennifer Bourn
- Kim Doyal
- Kevin D. Hendricks
- Emilie Lebrun
- Tom McFarlin
- Jason Resnick
- Dustin W. Stout