It goes without saying that freelancing and self-employment require a whole new level of organization and discipline. If you’re used to answering to others and working on someone else’s schedule, transitioning to an independent career is not as easy or intuitive as it may seem. Suddenly you have the freedom to work whenever you choose, wherever you choose, for however long you choose. And with that freedom comes a host of additional challenges.
When I first started freelancing full-time, I didn’t have a system in place for how I was going to organize my time and hold myself accountable. I was so eager and overjoyed at my newfound freedom that I just went about my days doing whatever I felt that I needed to do in the moment. During those first couple weeks, I became increasingly overwhelmed and a big wave a self-doubt threatened to spoil all my enthusiasm for my new way of life.
I have always been a proponent of organization and goal setting, but for some reason I just wasn’t applying these skills effectively as a freelancer. Eventually, I realized that if I was ever going to have any success in this career, I needed to figure out a way to better manage my time. By now, I have a pretty solid strategy in place for how I schedule my days, organize my tasks, and track my goals. Although not perfect, this strategy has given me greater clarity and peace of mind, which in turn have helped me work more efficiently and productively.
Below I’ll get into some of my top strategies, tools, and systems for improving productivity and organization as a freelancer. Even if you’re not freelancing, you may still find some of these tactics relevant and applicable to your own lifestyle.
Changing your Mindset
Mindset training is powerful and arguably essential for building a successful freelance business. In fact, it’s worthy of its own blog post, or series of blog posts. People have even created entire courses to help you improve your mindset in order to achieve your goals. If you think mindfulness, meditations, and affirmations sound like a bunch of fluff–I get it. I was skeptical at first. But once I began incorporating 10-minute guided meditations into my daily morning routine, I gradually started to feel more grounded and confident. I am also better at facing challenges and dealing with upsets. If fear and self-doubt are preventing you from moving forward in your career (or personal life), I highly encourage you to look into mindset training. If you can afford a coach or course, go for it, otherwise there are plenty of free online resources to get you started.
Back when I was working a 9-5 office job, I didn’t have any clear goals for my future. I had a vague 5-year plan, but essentially, I was just working for the sake of working. Now that I’m freelancing, I set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. This may sound excessive to some of you, but hear me out. At the end of the week, can you easily recount what you accomplished that week? How about at the end of the day? What is the value of those accomplishments? Setting goals, both big and small, gives you something to work towards. They keep you motivated and allow you to focus on the tasks that matter most. These are the tasks that bring you closer to achieving your wildest dreams, whatever they may be. If you don’t know how to start organizing and tracking your goals, download my free weekly goal planner to help guide you along. I like to print and fill it out every Sunday in order to give me focus for the week ahead.
There are many different ways to manage your tasks. You may have to do some experimentation to find the method that works best for you. Right now, I have four different methods that I rely on, some more than others, but that’s totally not necessary. The first method I recommend is using a weekly planner, such as the one I mentioned above. You could use a digital version, or go with old-fashioned pen and paper, as I like to do. Another tool that I recently incorporated into my own routine is a whiteboard. This is especially great for visual people, as it’s highly visible. A third task management system I recommend is a free software called Asana. A lot of bloggers and businesses use this service to delegate work and schedule content. It’s a great tool if you’re working with a team, but as a one-woman-show, I prefer simpler methods. Lastly, I like to organize my time using Google Calendar. Every day I block out chunks of time to allocate to different tasks. For example, every morning I block out two hours for writing because that’s when I produce the best content. Find whatever system works for you, and keep in mind you’ll likely need to tweak it as you go along.
When I commuted to Manhattan for work, my morning routine was practically nonexistent. I just woke up, had some coffee, got dressed, and ran out the door in a frenzy because somehow I was always running late. Sound familiar? Having a rushed and stressful morning is a horrible way to start the day. If this strikes a chord with you, then I probably don’t need to tell you that those feelings carry over into the rest of the day. For this reason, it’s imperative to have a morning routine that leaves you feeling energized and clear headed. I still like to start my days with a cup of coffee. Then, as I mentioned, I take 10 minutes to meditate. If you don’t have 10 minutes, take 1 minute. Clear your mind while you shower, brush your teeth, or drink your tea or coffee. Do whatever it is you have to do to prepare your mind for productive and positive day. If you need some inspiration, just Google “morning routine.” The fact that this query returns 417 million results speaks to how valuable this practice is.
Last but not least, if you want to improve your productivity, you’ll need to get better at eliminating distractions. Whether it’s scrolling Instagram or Facebook, or checking your email every 5 minutes, we all have something that consistently diverts our attention. Figure out what your biggest distraction is, and set boundaries. That may mean only allowing yourself to check your email at two dedicated times per day. Or, you may need to place your phone out of reach for a while so you can really dig into your work. I used to always keep my email open on my Desktop, and I was constantly getting distracted by every notification. Now, I only allow myself to check my email in between larger tasks (such as writing this post). I guarantee that once you start eliminating distractions, your days will begin to feel more organized and productive.
If you found this post helpful, please share! I would also love to hear in the comments what strategies and tools you like to implement for organization and productivity.