Some simple productivity tips for busy freelancers
I wrote this post a while back. The content can still be relevant but the information I've linked to may not be available.
I went through a period last year when I was snowed under with work. That should be a good thing but if you are running your own web business, working from home, or freelancing from an office, getting everything done when you are in this situation can be quite stressful. I was the only person doing the work, answering telephone calls and emails, chasing up clients for payment, trying to keep in touch with the latest CSS methods, and an assortment of other daily administration tasks that I needed to do. Sometimes it felt like I was on a merry-go-round and could not get off.
Since then, I have tried to improve the way I do things so here are a few tips that I have found useful. They have helped me and I hope you find them useful as well.
1. Turn down new work
This may seem odd advice but if you are working long days and some weekends and your schedule is booked up for weeks ahead, there is no point taking on new work. Far better to tackle the work you already have and clear some of the backlog first. Along the same lines, if you have been accepting work that is perhaps not the best match with your skills, stop taking on this type of work. Concentrate on the best work for you!
How much work is enough? Set yourself a ‘booked ahead’ time in your schedule that you feel happy with, perhaps a couple of weeks ahead, and stick with it. Don’t take on work that goes beyond this. The time you set here is up to you. It might be several months if you are happy with this. For me, if I have several projects lined up for a few weeks ahead, that puts me in a good state of mind. More than enough to be getting on with but not so much that there is ‘too much to do’.
2. Divert your diversions
You may have many things to do during the day but reading and replying to emails and keeping up with Twitter are regular items in my daily routine. How best to manage these so that main priority work is not compromised? With email, I no longer have my email client open all the time. Instead, I check emails every couple of hours. It’s very rare that an email needs to be answered immediately and most clients realise that you need time to reply with a considered response, rather than the first thing that comes to mind.
Twitter can be another addictive diversion from your main work
Twitter can be another addictive diversion from your main work. Many web designers and developers keep in touch with what’s happening and make useful web contacts using Twitter. Me too! So it’s not something that I want to stop doing. On the other hand, having TweetDeck in front of me when I’m trying to solve a tricky CSS problem or come up with a web design that meets the client’s objectives is not always optimum. That tweet notification window just keeps popping up! For me, I find that I am more productive if I relegate my Twitter client to my laptop which sits to one side of my main desktop screen. This way, I know that top priority work is straight ahead but I can still keep a watchful eye on the Twittersphere to one side.
3. Organise your daily schedule differently
Over recent months, I have tried to I work on each task for longer, partly so that I can get some of these finished in one hit, rather than flit about between them. I try to work on each task for a minimum of 30 minutes. This helps me focus and concentrate. Spending an entire 30 minutes is not possible if the job is a small one but I try and tackle these smaller tasks at the start of the day so that I can get a few quick ‘wins’ out of the way. It might be purely psychological but it helps me if I have already finished several items by mid-morning.
4. Do your own thing!
I was so busy on one particular client job once that I forgot to maintain one of my personal website as much as I could have. However, when I went back to the personal website I found that it was quite a ‘release’ from the all-encompassing client job. As a result, I felt much better when the client job came to the fore again.
It’s important that you keep up with the latest methods
Above all else, improving your own productivity will be about achieving the right balance of activities for you. The tips that I found useful will not suit everybody to the same degree but I encourage you to think about how you might improve your own productivity. I know that when I did this, I was able to improve mine.