Everyone is hungry for productivity tips — especially freelancers whose livelihoods depend on squeezing more and more work into a short amount of time. Believe me, I’ve been there. Usually I’m fighting to fit in short-term work that pays quickly with the daylight hours I spend working with clients who pay a premium, knowing their checks will take at least 30 days to arrive (and sometimes much longer).
Can you relate? If so, these four productivity tips — all of which I’ve tested out myself — may be just what you need to get work done and put more in the bank.
Hack Your Calendar
As indys, we all rely on our calendars to keep us on schedule. Here’s how to set up your calendar for maximum benefit:
First, skip the unnecessary add-ons. Your calendar doesn’t need to also be a calculator and a currency converter.
Next, give yourself an extra 24 hours on each project deadline. Whether you think the project will take you four hours or 40, set the deadline a day early in your calendar. That way, you’ll either finish early (and impress your clients as a result) or you’ll have an extra day to work with if and when the unexpected happens and you fall behind. (And you will fall behind from time to time.)
Finally, set your notifications to go out at the most optimal times for your schedule. For example, if you’re a morning person, schedule your deadline alerts to come through right when you start your workday — when you’re most likely to be able to focus on the assignment at hand.
Use One Platform to Rule Them All
From Evernote to Basecamp, Slack and Office365, there’s no shortage of all-inclusive platforms for producing, storing and tracking work. Notion is a particularly interesting new one I use for its extreme flexibility: In one client folder I have a to-do list, a live link to an existing Basecamp folder and a task board for a sub-project I’ve been working on. I also add links on the board to separate online, shareable pages I’ve created that house all of the research I’ve done.
For freelancers with multiple clients and a super long to-do list, these platforms can feel like a godsend. Just remember: All-inclusive platforms can take time to manage. Let’s say you use Evernote, a platform capable of storing almost anything. What will you keep track of there? Why? Have answers to these questions before you dive in. Doing so allows you to prevent yourself from falling into a pattern where you store everything, only to later lose precious hours cleaning digital clutter. Keep your setup as simple as you can, and only change it when necessary.
Race Yourself (or, Pace Yourself)
Freelancer Liz Alton uses the Pomodoro technique to break major projects down into 25-minute bursts of activity. There’s power in operating this way: Consistent deadline pressure can have you racing to beat the clock, so you finish more work. But what if you’re working on a project that needs long stretches of quiet research and contemplation? Racing the timer might do more harm than good in that case. Instead, use the Pomodoro technique as a reminder to take a breath, stretch and get some water to refuel for the push to the finish line.
Make Your Computer Work Like a Real Desk
We often forget that the computer desktop is supposed to model a real, live desktop. Extracting the folders you’re working on at the moment and making them easily accessible — right on the desktop — and then clearing the digital clutter can make it easier to get to work. It may also prompt you to tackle a nagging project. Pro tip: Color code your desktop folders so the ones you need to access first stand out naturally.
Whether you’re already an expert or you’re just experimenting, the truth of freelancing is that we all need as many productivity tips as we can get. Try the four I listed above, but don’t stop there. Keep experimenting and watch how you manage your time using different tools. Then, as soon as you begin to see patterns you can exploit, cut everything you don’t need. After all, the key to productivity is to produce.