Almost every freelancer struggles with productivity, time management and process. We’re all asking how we can get more done without going more crazy. So let’s share. What works for you?
“If it’s something that does not contribute to your productivity, then find a way to remove it.” -Tom McFarlin
The conversation covers techniques, tools and tips—and gives a few nods to surprisingly mundane topics such as standing and natural light.
What’s the most effective thing freelancers can do to be more productive?
Freelancers spend each minute of their day doing something. And, during the working hours, freelancers are likely working on something for their business. So one of the things—if not the most effective thing—freelancers can do is have an adequate system of time management set up.
There are a wide variety of techniques that are out there, from Getting Things Done to Pomodoro to simply keeping a notebook or using some type of software. Making sure you have your time allocated properly for the various tasks that come with freelancing is key to making sure you’re staying on top of all of the email, work and overhead that comes with running a business.
How do you stay focused and productive throughout the day?
I stay focused through the following:
- I have my office set up exactly as I like to be the most productive. If I want to work with natural light, I have windows set up to let the light in. If I’d rather work in a darker environment, I can close the curtains. I’ve got my coffee maker in the office, as well as a mini fridge that’s full of water to drink.
- I primarily listen to ambient music when I work. I find that it helps me focus more than any other type of music.
- I try to work out for at least one hour every day of the week and usually mid-to-late morning just before lunch. I find that breaking up the day gives me a good mental break.
- I use a standing desk for certain tasks like responding to emails, writing longer documents and so on. When I need to actually focus on programming, I usually get a good playlist going, dim the light, grab coffee and sit down to work.
Email is often mentioned as a productivity killer. How do you efficiently manage your email?
I check and respond to emails twice a day: Once in the morning, once in the evening. I usually try to maintain inbox zero, but I’m not afraid to snooze an email if I know it’s going to require significantly more time than I have during the given day (especially since I calendar everything I have to do).
What does it mean to “calendar” something, and can you tell us more about this approach?
When I say that I “calendar” everything, I mean that I either break something down as an event, which is usually something that’s going to a take a definitive unit of time—like a phone call, a doctor’s appointment, how long I’m going to schedule a workout or even how long I might take answering emails in the morning.
Other things get treated as tasks. These are things that I’m going to do during the day—they aren’t necessarily given a specific time, but they are things that are going to get done.
Rarely will I do anything during the work week that’s not on my calendar. This doesn’t mean I’m not flexible. After all, things do come up that aren’t planned, so I try to build flex time in between events, but I try hard to adhere to the calendar I plan out at the beginning of each week.
In fact, I’m doing an entire series on time management on a recent blog I’ve started (that’s aiming from anything regarding to running a small business to things I’ve found effective in general life as a remote worker, etc).
What other productivity tips do you have for busy freelancers?
Minimize distractions as much as possible. If you’re someone who can’t focus on work while also watching Netflix, get the iPad, picture-in-picture or TV out of the office. If you find your phone being a distraction, check out an app like Forest to help you gain some focus on your computer (and don’t be afraid to turn on do not disturb on your computer). This way you only need your phone for phone calls.
If you’re someone who focuses better with a bit of sunlight, make sure you’ve got your desk positioned in such a place that you’re getting plenty of natural light. Don’t forget to stand up and take breaks throughout the day (once an hour, even). Take a few minutes each day to go outside (unless it’s raining, of course). There’s something great about getting outside, away from technology, and just taking a few minutes to yourself.
If you work better in the morning, then structure your time so that your workday starts in the morning and ends in the early evenings. If you focus better late at night, structure your workday that way.
Finally, don’t be afraid to use additional tools to help you stay off of Twitter, Facebook or other social networks during the day. Ultimately, if it’s something that does not contribute to your productivity, then find a way to remove it from your desk or your area of focus until you’re taking a break or until you’re off work.
For more from Tom McFarlin, check out our earlier interview on freelancing, overcoming obstacles and boosting profitability.