Millions of “gurus” can give you millions of pieces of advice about the “right” and “wrong” times to wake up, organize your day, and check tasks off your to-do list. But none of that matters unless those pieces of advice are right for you. As it turns out, you already know your best practices for freelance success. You just need to spend a little time thinking about them.
So, set aside a few minutes today to consider these four questions that will help you determine your own natural productivity and best practices for getting work done.
Once you determine how you work best, you can schedule your day and tasks in a way that allows you to get more done (and, more importantly, allows your freelance business success to skyrocket).
Ready? Let’s dig in.
1. What are your most productive chunks of the day?
There’s no shortage of advice on what time to set your alarm in the morning and when to tackle your most important to-do items.
But, a lot of people assume that we’ve got fuel in our tanks for eight hours of work and that we can work straight through until we hit empty. For many—if not most—people, this is definitely not the reality.
Instead, we can thank our circadian rhythm for how we truly operate. Usually, there are about four a five hours in the morning (shortly after you wake up) during which you’re the most productive and focused. The bad news: that dips for about four or five hours before your focus increases once more for the four or fives hours before bed.
So, the work-eight-hours-straight mentality is not the smartest way to operate.
Of course, when you work a full-time job, you don’t have a lot of options. You can try to organize tasks so you can do the less mentally-taxing ones in the evening.
But as a freelancer, it’s possible to create your day in complete accordance with your natural rhythms.
I spent years trying to fight my natural rhythms and become more productive in the afternoon. Now, I work for four or five hours right after I get up. I save low-focus tasks for the afternoon or completely take it off. Between 4:30 and 5pm I’m back to work as needed.
I realize I have a bit more flexibility since I don’t have kids. However, you can still schedule your day so your tasks that require the most focus fall in your high-productivity time and your more automated, administrative tasks are in the lower-focus times.
If you’re unsure when you’re most productive, monitor yourself each day for a week or so. Knowing your high- and low-focus times of day will help you stop fighting your circadian rhythms and make them work for you.
Read More: 6 Traits of Successful Freelancers »
2. Which works better for you: bouncing between projects or finishing one at a time?
Up until I examined my most productive periods, I thought I worked best bouncing between projects. Wrong.
Examining my productivity and focus levels, I realized spending a half-hour on one and then a half-hour on another just made me split my focus. I was moving on to a second project, but the first project was still in my head.
It turns out I am so much more productive if I finish one project before I move on to the next one. It’s too mentally taxing for me to have a lot of open projects that all need my attention and are in different stages of completion.
Can some people work really well bouncing from project to project? Absolutely.
And, sometimes I can’t avoid bouncing from project to project since I’m working with multiple clieinnts. But when I can, I allow myself the time to work on one project at a time.
So, which is truly more productive for you? You might like one way over the other, but is it the most efficient?
3. Which tasks drain you?
When most of us write a to-do list, we give everything equal weight, as if each tasks require roughly the same brain power and all we have to do is move down the list and check items off.
Of course, that’s not how it works.
Some tasks are draining. Some tasks are invigorating. And the tasks that fall into each bucket may not be what you expect.
For example, you might think designing a sales page is draining since it takes so much creativity and strategy. But, really evaluate it. Creativity and strategy may invigorate you and get you fired up to finish it.
The most mentally draining tasks for me are menial tasks like responding to emails and creating invoices. These are the tasks require a LOT of willpower to get done.
A clue as to which tasks are most draining for you? They’re the ones you’re likely to put off as long as you can.
Knowing which projects drain you allows you to plan when to do them. I complete my draining tasks in my low-focus time (the afternoon for me) at a very leisurely pace. Or, I mix them in with other tasks to minimize the willpower required to complete them.
Occasionally, I save all my draining tasks for one single morning (the time I’m most productive and have the most willpower). On these days, I’ll likely take the afternoon off to mentally recharge. It may sound silly that menial tasks require recharging, but I bet you have at least a handful of tasks that make you feel just as drained.
Tasks that are “easy” aren’t necessarily easy to get yourself to do them. So, if they have to get done, get them done strategically.
4. What tasks can someone else do?
This is a bit more of an advanced tactic, but it’s worth discussing. My challenge to you is to determine what it is you do that you don’t need to be doing.
Not tasks that don’t need to be done (though you should definitely start by eliminating those), but tasks that don’t need to be done by you.
For example, if cleaning your home takes up an hour or two each day, is that something that you could outsource? If you make $50 or $60 and hour, and could hire a housecleaner at $25 to $30 an hour, it may make financial sense to outsource that work.
After all, you need time and mental space to think about the big picture of your business; not just the day-to-day tasks. If you’re taking hours to create invoices (hint: it shouldn’t), pack lunches, and fold laundry, chances are, a super inspired marketing idea for your business isn’t going to drop from thin air.
When our calendars and brains are packed, it’s hard to think about building your business.
There’s also a focus-and-willpower cost, too. Every now and then, I like to cook, but hate preparing healthy meals during lunch. It’s the middle of the day, right at the point when I begin to feel tasks become more daunting. So, I found a prepared meal service that lets me microwave a healthy lunch.
I know not all of these solutions are going to work for everyone. But what I want you to understand is that it’s OK, and often a good idea, to hire help.
Think about it: does the CEO of a company meet with potential clients and clean the bathrooms? Nope.
You are the CEO of your own company. Your time is best used on the most high-impact, money-generating tasks.
There will come a time when it makes sense to outsource some of your daily tasks, whether that’s personal tasks like laundry and grocery shopping or business tasks like social media posting and bookkeeping. Even if you’re not ready yet, keep this in the back of your mind for when you are.
It may take more than a few minutes to give this self-inventory the real attention it deserves, but I really encourage you to do it. It could absolutely revolutionize your business.
Your turn! What are your best practices for freelance success? Let us know in the comments below!