Self Improvement

8 Timeless Tips for Freelancers Struggling with Productivity

Trevor Dobrygoski 30-01-2015

Freelancing is a constant battle between your inner self and the fight to stick to your resolutions How To Make Your Resolutions Stick & Prevent A Relapse The new year is time for change. You break away from your bad habits and start new good ones. Then, without warning, you fall back into old ways. Breathe. You can recover from a relapse. Read More . No matter what you are doing — programming, writing, or anything else — you encounter resistance. Internally you might be tempted to watch TV, text a message, take a nap or any other thing besides what you should be doing.


Friends, family, and clients won’t help either. Friends and family never really grasp the concept that you are working at home on our computer. When they punch out for the day and leave the building, they are done until they punch in for the next day. They feel like you should be done too. The freelance life is working when your body wants to work, not 7:30AM-4:00PM with a 30-minute break for lunch.

Because everything is out to distract you, being productive is paramount. Coming up with a system that works for you, enabling you get the majority of the tasks done.

Saikat had some productivity tips for those working from home How To Be More Productive When Working From Home Is working from home (or to use the term – telecommuting) more productive than working from an office? The debate was re-ignited after Marissa Mayer's clarion call to all Yahoo employees. Just like all blah-blahs,... Read More . Here are eight more.

Set a Schedule

Any freelancer can tell you that you can’t just work when you feel like it. Here is a quote supporting this by William Faulkner.

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at nine every morning.”

Your schedule doesn’t need to start every day at 8AM, but actually having a schedule will help you start. As lame as this sounds, use your calendar to smartly schedule your work, not use it as a blind to-do list. If you are not on the same device all the time, use and sync Google Calendar How to Sync Google Calendar with Every Other Platform Google Calendar is arguably the easiest, most intuitive and most versatile way to organize your day. The only problem users commonly encounter is syncing it with their devices. Read More , it’s everywhere. Otherwise, use the calendar in Outlook or Thunderbird. The key is to have reminders set so you can feel a little bit of pressure to get the task done.


Sample Schedule

When you schedule time to work and stick to it, you’ll find that you’ll actually get things done. The thing is, you’ll need to start work at the time you’ve set. No exceptions. Once you start blowing off the deadlines you’ve created for yourself, you’ll start to slide downhill, backlogs begin to mount 10 Ways To Dig Yourself Out Of Task Backlogs The feeling of drowning in a list of never ending tasks is a fear common to all of us. The cure is available. Here are ten ways to claw your way back. Read More , and you lose all motivation… And clients.

Your routine can start at 3PM on Tuesday, but when it’s time to work, you need to do it. Another scheduling trick is to give yourself less time than it should take. Maybe you’ve heard this saying before, maybe not. Parkinson’s Law states:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

What this means as a freelancer is, if you allow yourself all day to write a 500-word blog post, it will take you all day. If you give yourself 2 hours, then it will happen in 2 hours. Curious, huh?


Find a Happy Medium Between Work and Play

This item goes along with scheduling your time. If you aren’t going to set specific times to work How to Work The Willpower Muscle Some people don't have the willpower problem. What makes those productive people different? As it turns out, there's plenty of research on the subject, and the answer turns out to be pretty simple Read More and set deadlines for yourself to finish the task, odds are you’ll always be working. Not only will this make you a “dull boy”, but constantly working will stress you out.

Take it as a sign of  fatigue when you need to force yourself to do even the most menial task. Think writer’s block Facing Writer's Block? Get The Ideas Flowing With These 3 Daily Rituals With just a few regular activities, writers can reduce their constant struggle for ideas. Here are three of those rituals that can give you a steady stream of ideas for your next creative piece. Read More or something similar if you aren’t a writer.

Work & Stress

Single Tasking Works

Unless you have a really good looking clone of yourself, you can’t do two things at the same time. Using simple math and logic, I’ll show you how this is true.


Each person has one attention span and if you have 2 tasks to complete, here is the math. When 1 (attention span) is divided by 2 (tasks), it equals 1/2 (your attention on each task). If you have to multitask

Single tasking doesn’t take magic Reclaim Your Focus: 5 Ideas To Deal With Short Attention Spans We have more information available than every before, but this ironically has damaged our ability to absorb any of it. However, you can take action to improve your attention with a few simple steps. Read More or any bit of technology to do. In fact, stripping away your tech can help. That leads me to the next tip.

Eliminate Everything not Helping Your Task

Closing down email programs, shutting off your phone, closing all unnecessary windows and tabs are a good start. These will help to avoid any immediate distractions. If you’re new to single tasking, you might find yourself looking at your phone or waiting for an incoming email notification.

Weapons of Mass Distraction


Sometimes it’s hard to break the habit and everyone needs a little bit of help. Inbox Pause is an oldie but a goodie free Chrome extension. Inbox Pause puts your new messages into a folder until you unpause your inbox. No new messages arrive so there is nothing to check. Having your emails delivered at preset times during the day is ideal for the people who only check their email at specific times every day.

RescueTime is a time tracking app Accurately Keep Track of What You Do on the Computer and for How Long With RescueTime If you spend a considerable amount of time working at your computer with no Corporate Big Brother to monitor what you're doing, you may find yourself spending a bit more time than you should be... Read More available on just about every device and OS you can do your work on. While it’s great to know where you are spending your time, RescueTime also has a Focus Mode. This mode will block everything but what you’re working on. Aside from resetting your computer, you’re forced to comply.

Analyze and Automate Your Common Tasks

Automating your digital life The Ultimate IFTTT Guide: Use the Web's Most Powerful Tool Like a Pro If This Then That, also known as IFTTT is a free web-based service to get your apps and devices working together. Not sure how to build your applet? Follow along with this guide. Read More sounds complicated. Most people can handle automating an “away from the office message” to their email. But analyzing your day can be automated effortlessly.

The aforementioned RescueTime will track all your activities on all your devices and tell you how productive you are. Once you see some patterns forming, you can see what’s sucking up your time and see if you can create a system to automate those activities.


A simple time saver is to take common documents and save them as a template. Do you have an amazing cold email you send out to prospective clients? Save it in Google Drive or Evernote making it quick to copy and paste into an email so you can personalize it for the potential lead.

Email Template Pro [No longer available] ($2.55) is an Android app that works well for me. The paid app (free version available) allows you to create emails to have them ready to send in any email app on your Android device.

Equate Your Task With an Expense

For me, this helped to put things into perspective. When looking at the tasks I have to complete for the week, I look at the 2 articles I need to write for a certain site as the money that will pay for my groceries. I equate my car payment with the billable hours spent managing the website for a local client.

I track my current bills in the paid Android app Bills Reminder 2.0 ($3.99). I chose this app because it’s easy to see what payments I have on the horizon, as well as what my total payout is for the month.


When I want to try out a new service, I look for a new income source to pay for it. This helps me stay on track with the work I need to complete because I know if it isn’t completed, I can’t pay for that item or service. This also means I would need to dig into my savings.

A similar method is to figure out the dollar amount you’d like to earn in a year and divide this up into a daily chunk.

An example could be that you’d like to earn $75,000 a year freelancing. Divide that by 52 weeks to get $1442.31 per week. Then divide $1445.31 into 5 days (or however many days a week you want to work) to end up with $288.46 per day. When you break it down, is it more difficult to imagine making $75,000 or $288?

Clean Your Work Area

We all should have a little bit of OCD when it comes to our work area. Keeping it neat and organized will help you find things you need more easily, that’s a given. Having a clean area will also be less distraction. Having stuff piled on your desk will give you an excuse to avoid work to sort through it and clean it up. The big stain on the carpet, yeah, get rid of that too. Ignore anything drawing your attention away from your work.

Don’t Forget to Market Yourself

I know this isn’t a productivity tip per-se. However, it’s why many freelancers fail. We get so caught up in the project at hand, we forget to look for the next project. Having a little more work than you can handle will keep you motivated to get your current projects completed in a timely fashion. Add some time to market yourself to the calendar.

The time could be spent on social networks. Again, setting a time limit is necessary to make sure the time is well-spent.

Use simple habits to complete your obligations. With that achieved, you will have the freedom live well. Willpower alone will not always be enough to hold it all together. Using systems with a little bit of tech sprinkled in can be the crutch you need to hold yourself up when your willpower is weaker than normal.

What tips do you have for those of us struggling with productivity?

Image Credit: Girl Working on her MacBook in Caffe via PicJumbo; birgerking via Flickr, Zoli Erdos via Flikr; Women sleeping on a notebook (Shutterstock); Gear Shifter (Shutterstock)

Related topics: Freelance, Time Management.

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  1. Alger Beck
    April 1, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Awesome tips.. I am a freelance developer and I prepare my to-do list daily with the help of proofhub to increase my productivity. I'd recommend you to try it as well.

  2. Jan
    February 25, 2015 at 4:34 am

    Awesome tips! Yeah, you’re right. Multi-tasking is just a waste of time and you will likely procrastinate if you can’t get things done in time. I’ve been there and I could prove it, that’s why our boss provided us a time tracking software to monitor our work - he lets us used Time Doctor for time management.

  3. Kseniya
    February 13, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    I adore Parkinson's Law! Seems, it was discovered exactly for me)) All I can add about productivity - find your best project management tool, which would help you to reach your goals and use it regularly! My favourite is (helps to plan tasks like visual maps or workflows and to track dependencies between them). Who knows, maybe it could be useful for everyone else.

  4. Kevin M
    January 31, 2015 at 12:52 am

    Excellent article, I can relate to everything said.

    • Trevor Dobrygoski
      January 31, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      Are there any tips you can add to the list Kevin?

  5. Anne-Marie Regish
    January 30, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    Excellent tips here - and ones I admittedly need to (and will!) employ... thanks for such a timely article - especially with those pesky New Year's resolutions still begging to be kept!

    • Trevor Dobrygoski
      January 31, 2015 at 6:50 pm

      It's easy to stray from resolutions after the first week, I'm guilty of that every year. Hope you stick with it.

  6. Philip Bates
    January 30, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    Great tips - although the first one in particular can prove difficult; inspiration seems to strike when I'm either in bed or in the shower.

    One of my peers hires a private little office space so he can easily separate his home life with work time. Seems a bit expensive, but it works for him, and means he can at least get in enough extra cash to afford a change of scenery!

    • Saikat
      January 31, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      Read a recent article on 99U about a [Broken URL Removed]

      "...sometimes what you need in order to tackle something huge and long-term (like writing a book, launching a website, or shipping a product) is to give yourself a time out from the world."

      Perhaps that's his :)

    • Trevor Dobrygoski
      January 31, 2015 at 6:49 pm

      Part of having a separate space makes it seem like you are "going to work". The 10 second commute from your bedroom to home office can make it too easy to blend work and home life together.

      Having a workspace away from home gives you the ability to interact with other humans on your way to and from work and in the building too. You'll find it easier to separate your workday and personal time if you have an off-site place to work. Otherwise it's all up to schedules and willpower.