10 Ways to Work More Quickly and Accomplish More

Productivity is a big deal for freelancers. That’s because the amount of work we’re able to accomplish is directly proportional to the income we make.

If we’re able to do more in less time, we can take on more work. We’ll also have more time to spend with our loved ones and to pursue our personal interests.

Being a highly productive freelancer also means you’ll be able to keep marketing your services, even while you’re serving current clients.

It also gives you more time to keep learning, keep sharpening your skills, or develop new ones.

I’ve been a student of productivity even before I began freelancing. I guess it stems from being a Mom of three who has many interests and passions.

In this post, I share my top ten ways to work more quickly and accomplish more.


1. Organize Your Work Space

On a practical level, having an organized physical environment means it’s easier to find things. You don’t waste precious minutes or hours chasing after a document that you desperately need.

On another level, our surroundings affect our thinking. If the work space is chaotic, our thinking will be muddled as well. In contrast, it’s easier to concentrate and stay calm when the environment is uncluttered and organized.

2. Plan Your Day, Week, Month, Year

Diving into your work without a plan is like taking off for a road trip without an itinerary. How do you know when you’ve arrived?

By having clear goals, both for the long term and the short, it’s easier to set clear priorities and decide which activities are the best use of your time and energy right now.

You’ll also be able to identify milestones and celebrate small achievements that lead to your bigger goals. All this is very motivating, which will propel you to accomplish even more.

3. Do Similar Tasks Together

Take advantage of the momentum you gain when you’re working continuously on similar tasks, one after another. For example, set aside one hour to answer emails, instead of flitting in and out of your email software.

Switching from one task to an entirely different one takes time. However, if you do similar tasks together, the work goes more smoothly.

4. Work in Focused Chunks of Time

As we’ve discussed in an earlier post, time chunking enhances productivity. It forces us to focus on the task at hand, take breaks, and minimize distractions.

5. Take Frequent Breaks

When you want to finish tons of tasks, it seems counter-intuitive to take breaks. However, we’re humans, not machines.

Our productivity and effectiveness diminish the longer we work uninterruptedly. We need breaks to keep our energy up and, therefore, to accomplish more. I guess this is why we’re built to go to sleep after 16 hours or so of wakefulness.

Breaks also include vacations. These can recharge our batteries and bring a surge of fresh ideas. You’ll come back from vacation raring to get to work again.

6. Use Tools to Systematize and Automate Common Tasks

Nowadays, freelancers are spoiled for all the high-tech tools we have at our disposal. Use software and apps to simplify or automate tasks like bookkeeping, invoicing, and customer management.

Create templates and patterns for commonly-used documents. For example, I have templates to reply to inquiries, create project proposals, send proposals, send invoices, and other types of communication.

Putting work processes down on paper is also useful. I have a workflow for creating email lists, for example, with all 13 steps I need to do.

7. Learn to Delegate

Control freaks have a big problem with this one. “Nobody else can do it as well as I do; I might as well do it myself,” is a common way of thinking.

I sometimes think this way myself. However, I’ve come to accept that, there are things I don’t do well at all.

So, now I delegate techie stuff to two virtual assistants. They charge me a lot less than I charge my clients, plus they get the stuff done faster than I ever could.

I did make the mistake once of delegating some of my writing work. I ended up practically rewriting everything anyway, because my personal writing style is something I can’t teach.

Don’t forget about delegating other areas of your life. For example, it may be a good idea to pay somebody else to mow your lawn or clean your house, while you go and do client work.

8. Cooperate with Your Personal Style and Body Clock

Self-knowledge is powerful. Know how you work best, under what circumstances, and at what hours of the day–and work around that.

In my case, I absolutely cannot write at night. Therefore, I schedule writing tasks in the morning and other tasks in the afternoon. I leave the nighttime for things that don’t require a lot of thinking.

9. Eliminate Distractions

Distractions are plain awful. They break our concentration, lead us down rabbit holes and before you know it, the day is over and your to-do list is just as long as when you started.

Before starting your work, make sure you’ve minimized all possible distractions. Turn off email and social networking notifications, turn on your answering machine, and get that glass of water. Use tools and apps that reduce distractions.

10. Harness the Power of Music

My daughter swears she can’t do her homework without the iPod plugged into her ear. I tend not to believe it, but her grades say otherwise.

Studies have shown that college students were better at solving math problems while listening to Mozart’s music.

Other studies have shown that workers had increased productivity while listening to music. Stress hormone levels were also drastically reduced.

You may be pleased to know that rock music has been shown to have beneficial effects as well as classical music.

Experiment and find out what type of music helps you work the best. Maybe you need a different type of music for different types of work.

The Bottom Line

Always strive to increase your productivity. Tons of blogs and books are dedicated to productivity. A personal favorite of mine is “Getting Things Done.”

The point is you need to find what works for you. Productivity advice is abundant, but don’t feel that you should do one thing or another just because a productivity guru tells you so.

Do what works for you. Experiment. Try things out and see for yourself.

What Works for You?

That said, what are YOUR productivity tips? Have you discovered something that wasn’t mentioned in this post? Do share!

Image by Search Engine People Blog

Comments

  1. says

    I have two productivity tips:

    1) Turn your phone to voice mail so you can really focus on the task in hand and not get distracted by interruptions.

    2) Work outside normal office hours, if you can. When I’m snowed under, I work on a Saturday or Sunday morning and can really get loads done. No phone calls, emails, or ‘can you just’ requests from clients.

  2. says

    This is a great post full of helpful and handy tips, just by being clean tidy and well organized you can save so much time. I also found the point about music interesting, as i find ti hard to concentrate without being plugged into my music.

  3. says

    These are all excellent tips (and just in time, too!). There are a few here I haven’t tried/considered before too so I’ll be giving them a try moving forward.

    My tips would be:

    1) Get a change of scenery – Sometimes I find myself in a rut, plugging away for hours, day after day, from the same spot. It starts to get depressing so sometimes I’ll take my work to a different location (cafe, library, and understanding friend’s house) just to keep things fresh.

    2) Go offline – Not all of the work I need to do requires being online at all times. My biggest procrastination tool is the Internet so if I disconnect while I’m, say, writing a communiactions plan, I’m less likely to start surfing mindlessly.

  4. says

    Very nice post i agree with the music section i can not do anything without some type of music or the TV on in the background not to watch just as noise as a quiet silent office makes me get even more distracted.

    I agree with Sarah and Freelance Factfile about changing the normal routine as this motivates me to do a lot more work and i solve issue quicker.

    I find working at night a lot better than in the day less distractions.

  5. says

    First and foremost music!Seriously,I can do almost nothing with out listening to music-especially rock/metal and ethnic.
    Secondly I like to stark working in the early morning hours-something between 5 and 6 am-I feel more productive those times and my mind is clear
    and of course I try to take some breaks.10 to 15 minutes every two and a half-three hours

  6. says

    Hey, thanks everybody for sharing your productivity tips! I’ve got to try getting some writing done at 5 or 6 am. I’m a morning person, so as long as the rest of my family stays asleep until 7 or so, I should be good.

    Amazing what you’ve said about music. I, for one, cannot concentrate when music is playing. Especially if it’s pop or rock music, then I just have to sing along, LOL! However, I will give some of that Mozard music a try. I bought the Mozart Effect CDs for my kiddoes; maybe they’ll work for me too.

  7. says

    Lexi,

    To increase my productivity, I’m creating blog post templates for different styles of post I use on a frequent basis. It helps me not to get stuck with blank page (post) syndrome.

    Plus I’m installing addons to my Firefox browser to automate many of my daily blogging tasks-researching websites, blog comments, etc.

    So as you can see suggestion #6 really hit home for me.

    Thanks!
    Keisha

  8. says

    Wonderful tips in the article and others comments!

    Thanks for the blurb on the Virtual Assistants! Definitely learn to delegate! It will take the stress off when you just don’t have the hours in a day. Yes, we are truly less expensive and do get the work done allot faster and more efficiently.

    I do agree on taking breaks! Stepping away to just refresh is so worth it.

  9. says

    Great article!

    I believe that freelancers who are extroverts need to make sure that they have social outlets in order to concentrate on work. Writing at the cafe or meeting people for lunch can actually motivate me when I need to get work done because I get energy from being around other people.

    I also agree that music is incredibly inspirational and can put you in the mood to do what to need to do.

  10. Tom says

    Hi!

    Nice post. I’ve got one tip, but you are probably using it.

    PLAN YOUR WORK – get a pencil and paper, and drow (or/and write) your ideas, connections between them, and get from abstract to specific tasks. If you are programmer, write your models, controllers, libraries and so on with their functions (or methods), and write, what should they do. Then you get organized your work, and you exactly know what to do. Write your database too. I am using big A1 tables, so I just take a look on them and I know, where am I – what I’ve done, and what i have to do.

    Tom.

  11. says

    Great tips, Lexi. I can’t listen to music either without singing along or taking apart the stanzas in my head.

    Another tip that I have is to call a fellow freelancer each week, and report to her my goals and concerns. We each hold one another accountable for our weekly goals. This has been very helpful and encouraging as well. Sometimes if one of us feels stuck, we can offer advice. If you have to report it — you will get it done!

    Also, thanks for the great endorsement of virtual assistants. ;)

  12. says

    Great tips, I’m always working on 4. Focusing on one thing is hard, but once you get in the zone your turn into a machine. The biggest thoughts I have here are…evaluate to see if you can outsource, and turn off your connection to the internet.

    If you’re working on a project, and not “networking” or “e-mail” … it doesn’t need to be on!

  13. says

    I really couldn’t imagine that listening to music would be a productivity advantage!
    I used yo do my homework listening to music but now I think it does the opposite. I mean that listening to music makes my he work more happy but I can’t focus on the project so I need more time.
    Next time I ‘ll have to search also for the music of the project!

  14. says

    Excellent post!

    I do reckon I will need some practice in order to improve and get more done =D

    I find I get a lot of my work done late at night. Anyone else the same?

  15. says

    Of all the productivity tips, the best one is to eliminate distractions. Once the distraction is put aside my work runs smoothly till I am able to finish all of the tasks for the day.

  16. Niubi says

    You neglect to mention networking! If you’re a good marketer, it’s an awesome way to get money. I personally prefer DubLi Network, but there’s a whole host of ways out there. After all, that’s what it is about – working smart, not hard!

  17. says

    Hi Lexi!

    Fancy seeing you here! :D These are great tips and I’d like to add a couple, if I may.

    As far as harnessing the power of music, I’ve been digging BloggerBeats.com – really upbeat, groovy music that lights a productive fire under me.

    Then, here’s a post I wrote called 6 Steps To A Better Balancing Act – #1 has been KEY for me. I hope it helps!

    http://www.themogulmom.com/2010/05/balancing-act/

    Best,
    Heather

  18. says

    Great tips! My contribution would be: Have a great office that inspires you. We just gave my office/basement play area a makeover. The wall opposite my desk has a photo mural of the ocean which I shot in the Bahamas earlier this year. I just love my new office! The colors and photos inspire me and keep me motivated.

    Also, use all the tools you’ve got. When we got our flat screen TV, I bought a 25-foot HDMI cable and adapter. I can hook up my iMac or laptop to this giant screen, and it’s great for sorting and editing photos. If they don’t look sharp on THIS screen, they’re gone!

  19. says

    As an executive résumé writer, I have for many years shunned music while working. Can’t do it.

    That is until last month when I discovered the “New Age Ambient” station on Pandora.

    I really can’t believe it. (And what a name.) But with *that* station playing quietly somehow my clarity and productivity have more staying power.

    BTW, I’m also a huge fan of virtual assistants. To those who responded earlier, you make everyone’s world a lovelier place.

  20. says

    Thanks, Jared! I’ll have to check out that “New Age Ambient” to see if I can listen to it and still concentrate.

    Also, thanks for being a huge fan of virtual assistants. That made my day for obvious reasons. ;)

    Also, sometimes if I’m feeling stressed and on a tight deadline, I have tried working by candlelight. I find that even the scented candles work. It’s something spiritual and calming about that.

  21. says

    Hi Lexi, great post.

    It is kind of funny…in my earlier days at school everything had to be dead quiet so I could focus but know it helps me focus on certain things when I am listening to music, especially “Simply Piano Moods” by Chris Ingham. It’s a nice background stimulation without being invasive.

    My tip for productivity is to prioritise: In the morning I write the three most important things in my notebook, prioritise them and then work them off. Just recently started setting milestones, let’s see whether this works for me. :)

  22. Mary says

    #3 is a good tip, but I would suggest having 3 lots of 20 mins (9, 12 and 4.30) means you’ll still have a structured day, but won’t miss out on potential work because you didn’t answer an email.

    My tips are related to #6 and #9

    If you do a lot of repetitive work, macros i(.e. automating ‘find & replace’ functions) can save hours. Learning how to write them can seem daunting at first, but there are loads of macros on the internet that can just be copied & pasted.

    Simiarly, it’s quite easy to write a simple macro that will insert a piece of text if you press a button – far more convenient than autotext.

    Templates are great in Word, but they can be problematic in emails, especially if recipients don’t have HTML enabled. However, email programs usually allow ‘signatures’ , which can actually be very long – it’s possible in Outlook to save an entire standard letter (I don’t know what the limit actually is, but I’ve got one that’s 30 lines long), and then just use ‘Insert Signature’ to put it all in the email.

    I find the internet the worst distractions. If you need to use it for work, try to separate ‘work’ and ‘home’ surfing. Most of us own an desktop and a laptop – remove all the social networking and other time-wasters from the ‘work’ computer and only access them on the ‘home’ computer out of hours.

  23. Cristina says

    Excellent post Lexi. I totally agree with all the steps you have written, especially with step 2, 4, and 6. I am a freelancer myself so I know how easily one can get distracted and break the concentration by emails, friends that use to call me exactly when I must solve a very urgent task. Step 10 : definetely true for me, music is a therapy that helps me focus better and finish my work actually faster than when I am not listening to it. I still remember the many exams I had during university and that silence that was so still and tense that you felt like your thoughts could easily be watched by the entire class.
    I enjoy working as a freelancer and from the moment I decided to use a tool called WorkMeter i can easily get things done at the end of the day, continuously improving my time management and maintaining a balanced level between work and my private life : now I have enough time for my job and for my friends also, just because WorkMeter helped me to get better organized and taking objective decisions based on real metrics.
    Now I can easily follow the way my projects are developing, knowing where I should pay more attention and when it;s the right time to work more quickly, accomplish more and have enough time to spend with my family and friends.

  24. says

    Super sweet tips Lexi,

    Chunking – love it with a capital ‘L’ – over the last year I did this with email (unless a call from a client came in about an urgent issue) – morning & afternoon. That’s it. Don’t look at the Inbox unless it’s at that time.

    And this can be applied to every other area of your work also.

    Workspace – well, this is unfortunately where my lovely Windows 7 falls down compared to Ubuntu. Workspaces on Windows don’t really seem to exist unless you throw in a 3rd party thang. Compare that to my 2 Ubuntu machines and I’ve got 6 workspaces on one of them – perfect for grouping tasks / programs related to each other on the same page.

    Regarding 7 – Learn to Delegate – I’d say that everyone is wrong on this. You are right – we all think we’re the best at what we do. But we’re not. Simple. There is always someone who is better at what you do than you are. Find them. Pay them. Build the relationship.

    Social Networking. Don’t do it. Hate Facebook. Twitter is a bunch of Sh***. I like faces.

    Music – now this is an interesting one for me. It may be my Male-focussed-I-can-only-see-the-deer-when-its-running-and-nothing-else-because-of-evolution-brain, but when I’m learning something new, or trying to concentrate, there’s no way I can listent to chunes. However, once I feel I ‘know the ropes’ – totally different. Music then helps a lot for some reason. I’ve had a great time recently doing stuff that used to be brain-ache-central, but is now easy, and listening to stuff like Bloc Party at the same time. Felt really good.

    Many Thanks,
    Darren.

  25. says

    Hey there! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to take a look. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Exceptional blog and supe?rb design.

  26. says

    Completely agree with taking frequent breaks, we can be far more progressive after leaving the computer for 10-15min and then coming back – staying in front of the computer for too long will only slow you down!

  27. says

    really you are amazing and really you did great job and we can say show great inspirational and this place is not a easy to gen, it is make out by really great and hard work and really you give somthing is full of awesomeness i must say she is suburb i love u :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Last week I offered a few pointers about how to better manage your time. It’s entirely likely that some artists out there will completely ignore my advice and continue to push things to the last minute. So, for all of you slackers out there, I decided to right a Plan B post: How to create an impressive piece of art as fast as humanly possible. [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>