8 Tips for Being a Productive and Efficient Freelancer

With improved technology and easy access to internet services today, freelancing has become the next frontier for many workers.

With an enviable freedom, it’s the better option for many workers who may desire some leeway to work at their own pace without being pushed around by a boss (as has always been the case in typical employment).

It’s indeed an exciting venture. But what does it really take to thrive in this new field? 

The difference between being a highly successful freelancer and “just getting by” lies in your productivity. 

In turn, your productivity will rely on how efficiently you use your time and how effectively you make use of outsourcing and resources.

This article analyzes 8 tips that will help you be your own boss while at the same time being as productive and efficient as possible.  Let’s get to it!

1. Avoid postponing Tasks

You’re now your own supervisor, and enjoying your freedom more than ever before. This is okay, but with it comes the temptation to pile up work for a later time. This is risky for you because you will often end up with too much to do within a short span of time.

Just like Sunday night before school, you don’t want the stress of deadlines, which often lead to rushed tasks and poor work.

The rule to follow here is simple: Don’t put off till tomorrow what can be done today.

2. Be realistic with your capabilities

Avoid picking up tasks that you know you won’t be able to do due to your incapability or constraints of time. Remember it’s always better to fail to book a task than take it up and fail to deliver to the expectations of your clients (i.e. under-promise, over-deliver).

After beginning to book work as a freelancer, you will relatively quickly get an idea of how much work you can take on.  Don’t go over this limit until you’ve confirmed the ability to fit it in your schedule (such as by improving efficiency, outsourcing other tasks, etc.)

3. Get a proper work space

This is probably the #1 way to get not only a more productive workday but also a more enjoyable one.  A proper and ergonomic workstation might be the difference between a highly efficient and comfortable workday, and a frustrating, slow, even painful one.

Many freelancers work on computers for long hours of the day.  This is especially true in my case running an Internet marketing company, I might spend 80 hours a week sitting at a desk.  This has led to big problems with carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, and other repetitive stress disorders (I can feel it in my wrist right now, to be honest). 

Make sure to research and purchase some of the following equipment for a computer workstation:

  • Ergonomic Chair
  • Vertical Mouse and Keyboard
  • Standing Desk
  • Footrest
  • Wrist Rest (for Keyboard and Mouse)

Take your time when you are figuring out what is best for you.  You will be spending more time on this equipment than any other (except maybe your mattress), so don’t rush to judgement.  Not to mention ergonomic chairs can cost upwards of $1200 for higher end models, so do your research.

4. Stay focused

There could be whole books written on this particular subject, nonetheless here are a few tips to help you stay focused during your workday:

  • Turn off or store smartphone away from your work area.
  • If working offline (such as writing), considering turning off the Wifi during your work hours.
  • When in your workspace, only perform work, and not leisure. This helps make the positive association in your brain between that space and productive work.  Conversely, don’t do work in your relaxation areas (you don’t want to stress yourself out!)
  • Remove distractions, such as open browser tabs, or books or pads lying around. This will help you “get in the zone”.
  • Play music conducive to studying or working, the “Music for Studying” station on Pandora or Youtube is great for this. Make sure the music doesn’t have lyrics, which are very distracting.

For a fuller breakdown of this you can see Jim Kwik’s page on staying focused and fixing a wandering mind.

5. Avoid crazy clients

Anyone who has been in the service business knows that some clients are better than others.  Some clients are just plain nuts, and only experience can tell you how to detect these types of clients beforehand. 

Nonetheless, once you find good clients, be sure to treat them correctly.  You’ll want to hold on to these clients as if they are gold, as they will lead to recurring income, referrals, and an overall positive experience.

For the crazy clients, make sure to cut ties with them quickly, but in an amicable manner.  You don’t want to burn bridges, which will lead to negative reviews and all types of headaches, but you want them gone, as they are a drain on your resources.

The 80/20 rule dictates you will likely spend 80% of your efforts on 20% of your clients.  Identify those clients and seek to mitigate them.

6. Niche down

One of the best ways to make efficient use of your time is to have previously established SOPs (standard operating procedures) for your work.  If you are always taking on clients in different niches or with different needs, you will need to do research to figure the best way to serve them.

On the other hand, if you pick a smaller niche and stick to specialized services, you will have most of the work done beforehand.  A lot of you work will be able to outsourced easily, since you’ve establish your SOPs beforehand and have already vetted and trained potential workers to assist.

So, consider picking a particular area in which you have experience, and where the revenue potential is high, and start to specialize in that.  This will not only make your fulfillment process quicker and easier, but will make landing new clients a breeze (since you have a baked in advantage over more general competition).

7. Outsource when necessary

The only way to increase your productivity past a certain point is to outsource some tasks.  Outsourcing comes in a few different flavors.  First are the business support tasks, such as accounting and bookkeeping. 

These tasks are good to get outsourced early on in your career, such that you can free up more time for actually fulfilling on your clients’ orders.  Luckily there are lots of easy options for this, including cloud bookkeeping, virtual assistants, and automated solutions like Mint.com.

The second type of outsourcing can come into play when you have grown your clientele base to the point where you may experience too many orders that you can perform alone.

At such times, instead of turning away your customers, it would be better for you to aim to hire more people to help you out. Just ensure that they possess the desired skills and abilities. 

8. Set long term and short-term goals

Goals are crucial for staying productive and efficient.  Without them, chances are you will not fulfill on your client work as much as you need to maximize income.  Short term goals include daily and weekly workloads, while long term goals include yearly income, revenue growth, client retention, etc.

Don’t just set goals and accomplish them, but regularly circle back to your goals and see how you should adjust them.  Don’t get stubborn, learn from your experience and feed that knowledge back into your decision-making process.

CONCLUSION

Being a freelancer is a career unlike any other.  With both heavy responsibility but also increase freedom, it can be a double-edged sword.  Working to get a solid and efficient process in your work day can decrease stress while also increasing your earning potential.

Following these 8 tips should help you along the way to a productive and lucrative career as a skilled freelancer, but don’t just read about it, BE about it.  Now go crush it!

Written By
Michael Hayes is founder of Darby Hayes Consulting, a NYC-based SEO agency. He has been a freelance consultant since 2008, working with some of the largest websites in the world. He can also be reached by Email

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