How to Stay Focused & Productive as a Freelancer
Most new freelancers struggle with staying motivated and focused on their business tasks.
It’s totally normal - you’ve gone from being told what to do, being given tasks and deadlines, and knowing there are serious consequences if you’re seen not to always be working, to having no one above you to tell you off, and all the time in the world to manage your own workload. You now have to hold yourself accountable for absolutely everything.
Even for the most motivated and focused among us, this can be a massive culture shock, and believe me, temptation will be lurking around every corner to lure you away from your work and knock your focus off path. Procrastination will be your worst enemy, and it’s extremely common for people to get way less work done than they expected during those first few weeks.
So how can we fight against this and try to make ourselves as focused and productive as possible? Below are tips I’ve found useful for myself over the past 3 years of being freelance, but I’d love to hear your own tips in the comments too!
1. Always keep your goals in the forefront of your mind
What are your goals? Not just your goal for the day or your goal for the week (although those are important too!), but your real ambitions and desires for the next year, 5 years, or even your life? Hopefully, you may have done a few goal-setting exercises or read a book or two on setting yourself goals effectively in your life and business (if you haven’t, check out the recommended books below!).
But it’s all very well keeping them inside your head or writing them down in a journal somewhere and forgetting about it for months. To stay truly focused and make sure all your daily activities are helping you get closer to your goals, you need to always have them present in your mind! The best way to do that? Write them down, every day. Yes, every day! Have them visible in front of you throughout your day, and it will remind you to align your activities to those goals.
I use my daily desk planner to do this, by writing my top 3 goals into the ‘Goals’ area each day to remind myself of my true ‘purpose’. However, another thing you can do is create yourself a vision board! I am yet to do this (I have just moved house and don’t currently have an official desk space yet), but it’s definitely something I would love to create.
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy*
A fantastic book for helping you to get clear on your goals, and how to create small steps that you can do every day in order to achieve them.
2. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
Not gonna lie, I’ve always been pretty bad at this! However over the last few months, I have been going to sleep much earlier and have been enjoying getting up earlier too. Being up at a decent time and keeping a routine is super important for productivity, but it doesn’t make a difference if you’re still going to bed late and getting only a few hours sleep.
There is a reason why the classic ‘8 hours’ is a thing. Your brain NEEDS this time so it can recharge and process the activities of the previous day. Not getting enough sleep means your brain physically cannot function at its fullest, best capacity, and it causes all kinds of other health issues too (sleep depravation has even been linked to obesity and cancer!).
My Morning Routine by Benjamin Spall & Michael Xander*
A super interesting look into the morning routines of 100s of successful people, with details about their sleep schedule, their breakfasts, their workouts, and all the activities in between that help to start their days out productively.
3. Have a dedicated, clear workspace
As I said, I have just moved out of my old house (pictured) and into a new space where I don’t have everything quite set up yet. Working from the sofa or a kitchen table isn’t great for my posture, but it’s also pretty bad for my productivity too. My brain associates the sofa with relaxing and watching TV with my partner, so naturally it’s not great for making me feel motivated!
Having a dedicated workspace makes you really feel like you’ve ‘come to work’. However, if it’s a total mess then it’s probably going to make you feel more stressed than motivated. A tidy workspace = a tidy mind! I physically can’t concentrate when I’m surrounded by chaos, and I know many people feel the same.
4. Take breaks & set boundaries
If you’re working non-stop and feeling super stressed, your productivity is going to take a hit. Everyone needs to take time to relax and decompress, so that they can come back to their work feeling refreshed afterwards.
Remember to take breaks throughout the day, and also to set yourself a dedicated ‘off’ time too. I used to really struggle with this, and would always end up working into the evenings and weekends, but nowadays I’m pretty strict on not doing any work after 6pm, so that I can make sure I’m spending enough time with my partner and making time to do things that relax me.
If you let your work creep in all over the place, even if it’s just a one off here, or a one off there, eventually you’ll have no boundaries, and you’ll end up burning out! Working more does not equal working better; it’s a false economy because when you burn out or get too stressed or tired, your work will inevitably suffer.
5. Get a to-do list you can physically tick off
I’ll be the first person to admit I used to be pretty obsessed with being paperless and using apps for everything, and to be fair, I still use my Reminders app for my to-do lists and Trello for in-depth tasks and projects, BUT I also now have a physical daily to-do list too. And I love it!
I don’t need to open my phone to see my tasks; they’re there in front of me all day, which keeps me on track and helps me plan the day better as I can constantly see how many things I still have left to do. It also feels so much nicer to physically tick off each task with a pen once they’re done - it gives me a little boost and makes me want to be more productive and get stuff done, just so I can tick it off!
6. A healthy body = a healthy, focused mind
Garbage in really does equal garbage out! If you are filling your body with junk and sitting around all day, how can you expect to get anything but junk out in return? Your brain, just like every other organ in your body, functions best when it is fuelled with healthy, nutrient-dense foods. If you want to get optimum performance from your mind, you need to feed it with the right fuel!
It’s not just about eating healthy though; exercise has a huge impact on our mentality. When you exercise, the hormone serotonin is released which regulates moods and emotion, and is hugely important for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Improving our overall mental wellbeing means our brains are free to concentrate better.
7. Improve your prioritising skills
It’s all very well having a big long to-do list with a load of tasks on it, but how do you know what to do first? It can be overwhelming, and this is where prioritising is important. It’s easy to busy yourself with small, quick tasks because they are easy to do, but before you know it a whole day will be gone and none of your bigger, more important tasks will have been started on! Being able to analyse which tasks to do when comes down to three things:
Your time estimation for the task
This comes from Eisenhower’s matrix, which says that you should first prioritise Important & Urgent tasks, then Important but NOT Urgent tasks, then Not Important but Urgent task, then Not Important and Not Urgent tasks, instead of just doing all the urgent ones first.
It also relies on you being able to estimate time values for each task as accurately as possible. This is something I’ve always struggled with, but it’s definitely a skill that you learn! Once you have a good idea of how much time something will take, it’s much easier to schedule in all your tasks to fit.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown*
All about working smarter, not harder, making ‘the highest contribution possible towards our goals’.
8. Use an online cloud-based calendar
It’s a huge pain to have to lug around a big physical diary all day, and there’s nothing more annoying than having to say ‘oh I’ll need to go home and check my calendar’ when you’re out and about and trying to organise things. I can’t recommend using an online calendar enough (I use Google Calendar)! It’s accessible from your phone, from your laptop, and you can even share it with family members to make sure everyone’s on the same page with your schedule.
9. Limit social media
This definitely isn’t something I’ve nailed down yet, but I’m making a conscious effort to try and reduce my ‘scrolling' time’ when I’m aware of it. I’ve now stopped scrolling through my Facebook and Instagram feeds last thing at night (I read a book instead!) and first thing in the morning (I don’t open my social apps until after I’ve had breakfast), but I’m still working on limiting my social screen time throughout the day.
It’s a tough one, but it’s actually shocking how much time we waste when we get sucked into a scrolling session; 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there, all throughout the day, you don’t notice but it builds up. You could be spending that time doing client work or something useful on your business!
It doesn’t have to be as extreme as deleted the Facebook app, but maybe try turning off notifications and those red notification icons for your social media apps, so you will be less tempted to check them. There are also apps you can install that actually track and limit the time spent on social apps too!
Get your hands on my daily planner desk pad!
Stay focused & productive in style
I would love to hear your own productivity tips in the comments below! We can never have too many ways to stay focused on our businesses.
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