10 Ways to Stay Productive as a Freelancer

I recently made the jump from working in a 9-5 corporate jail to working for myself as a freelance copywriter. Working for myself has been AMAZING. I’ve found some really wonderful clients, can dictate what I work on in a day, and can work from practically anywhere.

The downside to this wonderful new life is that without a boss, I have to rely on internal motivation to stay productive and keep earning that cheddar.

Luckily, through trial and error, I’ve found a few things that work for me. Here’s what I recommend:

1. Lie to yourself 

If you think about all the things you have to do, you’re bound to get overwhelmed. Your inner toddler will be screaming: ‘I don’t want to do it!’ So, lie to that little bastard! Tell yourself you’re just going to work on some notes, an outline, any small part of an upcoming project so it doesn’t seem hard to start.

Once you get working, you’ll be in a better mindset and more motivated to knock a few more things off your to-do list. Because, nothing is really as hard as we make it seem when we don’t want to work.

2. Be Realistic

On the other hand, you might be in a really great mood to work. You might wake up, write yourself a massive to-do list and declare you are going to “DO ALL THE THINGS”. What you’re really doing is setting yourself a trap for inevitable failure.

Instead, acknowledge your limits, how fast you work, and that unforeseen events might throw you off your schedule. Approach your day with the understanding that you aren’t perfect, and hopefully you’ll end it focusing on what you achieved instead of what you failed to achieve.

3. Have a Prioritized To-Do List Ready to Go 

Before you start your workday, make a list of what you want to get done. You could write it at the end of the previous day, or maybe at breakfast. Whatever works. Highlight the most important 4-5 tasks and start working on them first thing.

Getting your most important tasks out of the way when you’re fresh in the morning makes it less detrimental to your productivity if your energy and motivation begin to drag in the afternoon. Avoiding these tasks could mean giving your clients rushed, low-quality work. DON’T DO IT.

4. Find Separation

You need to define the borders of your workday. When does your workday start, when does it end, when are your breaks? When you’re working for yourself, it’s easy for your work to bleed into your life and vice versa. Creating clear borders will keep you from beginning to resent your job, because you can start every day fresh with down time between.

It also helps to find a place that puts you in the mood to work. Even if you don’t work in the same place all day (lord knows I can’t), it can act as an anchor. When you start getting distracted, move back to your designated work spot to tell your brain it’s work time, damn it!

5. Netflix is a No No

Once you’ve figured out the borders of your workday and break times, it can be really tempting to say: ‘I’ve scheduled an hour for lunch, I’ll just watch an episode of _____ while I eat. Your brain is out to get you! Before you know it, you’ve watched an entire season and wasted your entire afternoon.

Instead, read or listen to music while you eat, and spend the rest of your break going for a walk or doing something else physical.

6. Exercise!

This one should really be a no-brainer at this point. What successful entrepreneur hasn’t mentioned fitness as an important part of their day? In case you live under a rock, I’ll say it again; starting your day with exercise will help you focus on your work and give you the energy you need to keep going.

7. Solidify Your Morning Routine

How you spend your morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. When you work for yourself, waking up when you want seems like a seductive perk. Spoiler alert, it’s not. It’s a great way to kill your motivation and give into that inner toddler we talked about earlier.

Give yourself some structure by setting a time to wake up, start work, and everything you want to get done in-between. Personally, I wake up at 7:30, walk my dog, go to the gym, eat breakfast, and get to work by 9:30.

8. Step Away From the Computer 

I think just about everyone knows the importance of taking a break away from your desk to clear your head and replenish your energy. But all you computer-dependent workers may not realize how beneficial it can be to spend some working time away from the computer as well.

Try doing some preliminary work in a notebook. You’ll be amazed how the distraction-free simplicity of pen and paper will help the ideas flow.

9. Don’t Become a Slave to Messages

If you’re new to the freelancing game, your instinct may be to glue yourself to your phone and answer messages as quickly as possible to make sure you get a job or impress your clients.

But, notifications are a concentration killer. Every time the phone pings, you’ll be thinking about what your message might say instead of what you should be working on. Keep your phone on silent and schedule a time to deal with all of your messages at once.

10. Set Alarms for Daily Milestones

It can be easy to get sucked into a task and forget about everything else you need to get done. To keep the flow of your day, set a few alarms to mark the major time points. These could include the beginning and end of your lunch, time to read about your industry, or time to go for a walk.

You may not stick to these exactly every day, but having a reminder about how much time has passed can help you rearrange your priorities, if needed, in the time you have left.

So, these are the tricks I’ve learned so far to keep me on my game. Let me know what you do to stay productive. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancer, I’d love to hear your tips!

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