For over four years, I’ve successfully freelanced. What do I mean by successful? I’ve finished college, married, and raised three wonderful pets, all while working for myself.
And I’m not alone. Freelancing is fast becoming a popular way to work. Forty percent of America’s workforce will be freelance by 2020, according to Quartz.
But is working for oneself all that it’s cracked up to be? How do you pay the bills without constantly working overtime? These are the kinds of questions new freelancers or those interested in freelancing tend to ask themselves.
In fact, it is possible to be an efficient freelancer. In this article I’ll tell you how.
Focus on one thing at a time
Multitasking is a myth. The human brain cannot do multiple tasks at a time, no matter how hard we try. For this reason, one of the most important skills to develop in order to become more efficient is to focus on one thing at a time.
Focus can be achieved by setting a timer, writing down your tasks, cutting out distractions. One method of focusing is called the Pomodoro Technique, which involves using a timer to do one task at a time for 25 minutes.
Estimate your time
Most days as a freelancer will probably feel like they’ve disappeared. To get a better handle on your time, start estimating how long each task should take. Take a page from Parkinson’s Law, which states that tasks fill up the amount of time set for them. If you decide it will take 30 minutes to respond to your emails, your energy will fulfill the amount of time you’ve set. While this method does not always work perfectly, it’s a great way to move towards a more efficient day.
Batch your tasks
Grouping similar tasks together can be one of the simplest ways to be more efficient. For example, schedule social media posts ahead of time, set up meetings all on one day, and generate a batch of invoices. Failing to group tasks can mean that you waste your time with dozens of small actions every day.
For instance, if you talk to a customer every week, make a list of everything you need to do or talk about with that person and save it all for when you next talk to them.
Create a schedule
After grouping together all of your small tasks, create a routine for every area of your business—for example, when you look for new opportunities, when you blog or get on social media, and when you respond to emails. As a freelancer you have lots of responsibilities and wear many hats. It can be hard to make sure everything gets done month-by-month.
I would recommend creating a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule for your freelance business. Decide what day of the week is for meetings, what time of the month bills are due, and everything in between. You don’t have to be perfect about your schedule, but it’s important to have an idea of by when certain tasks have to be done, and what responsibilities to track.
Use project management software
Freelancers not only have lots of responsibilities but tend to work on many projects at the same time. Even for those who work alone, project management software is key to keeping track of tasks, deadlines, and resources for each project.
Naturally, Todoist is a great option. Trello, Basecamp, and Asana are other popular choices that also do a good job. However, even a great tool is only as good as its user, so take the proper amount of time and energy learning how your tools work.
Invest in the right tools
Investing in the right tools goes beyond project management software. Think about your computer, smartphone, software, and even physical objects that you need to fulfill your responsibilities. The more you invest, the more you get out of your tools. In some cases, the most affordable solutions might not be the best solutions.
It’s true, money can be tight starting out as a freelancer. There won’t always be a “right” or “wrong,” but be mindful of the quality of the services and products that you use.
Figure out what skills are not worth your time learning, and let someone else help. This doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t have to do it all the time, but consider those tasks that aren’t essential to advancing in your freelance career, and find the right people to do them.
As an example, I hired an accountant years ago to help me pay my taxes. There is no reason for me to learn how to fill out paperwork, but I wanted to do it right and not pay more than I owed.
Automate repetitive tasks
Automating repetitive actions and routines can be a huge factor in saving time and energy. There are many smart systems out there that you can program to do repetitive tasks, such as IFTTT (If This, Then That), and Zapier. For example, when I publish new blog posts, I use IFTTT to send messages to all of my social media accounts without doing a thing.
Separate work from home
Separate your work from home. Consider looking into coworking spaces or go to the local library or coffee shop. If you’re stuck at home, take the time to create a separate work space. Convert a second bedroom into an office, or put your desk in the corner of your house and only sit there when you’re working.
Review your processes regularly
Regularly review your processes, systems, workflows, and tools.
I review my tasks and appointments every week. Ask yourself these questions to evaluate your efficiency: what do you spend the most time doing? what actions pay the bills? what are you constantly doing over and over?
Being a freelancer has a lot of rewards, but it’s also a lot of work. Hopefully these tips will help make you a more efficient freelancer. What efficiency tips do you see missing? Tell us in the comments.