How to Work Smarter Not Harder in Freelancing

As a freelancer, improving your work efficiency means you're able to generate the most output from the least possible input. This allows you to maximize the amount of work you generate, allowing you to work on additional projects for more clients.

But when it comes to being productive, working smarter, not harder, is equally as crucial as making professional-looking invoices or finding the right logo generator to establish your brand. But how do you go about improving your work efficiency? 

From finding your productivity style to enlisting the help of virtual receptionist services, here's our guide to improving your work efficiency as a freelancer.

Work Efficiency Myths

First, it's worth debunking some of the myths around work efficiency. There are two key misconceptions about productivity that could be holding you back.

‘Being busy means being productive’

Many people believe that constantly working on something means being productive. This, of course, is not the case. 

In fact, in many instances, creating busy work for yourself limits your productivity by taking away valuable time that you could be spending on essential tasks.

The most efficient way to work is to prioritize important tasks and accomplish your goals without expending unnecessary time or effort.

‘It’s less efficient to work from home’

The last decade has seen a sharp increase in employees working from home. It's estimated that around a quarter of all US workers work remotely.

A quarter of US workers work entirely from home
A quarter of US workers work entirely from home. (Source: Everhour)

This trend has also given rise to a common misconception that those working from home are less productive. Many assume that the increased distractions and the absence of direct supervision mean that employees are less likely to be effective.

Working from home can increase employees' productivity
Working from home can increase employees' productivity. (Source: ThriveMyWay)

But the reverse is often true. In fact, 52% of companies report increased productivity as one of the key benefits of having employees work from home, according to Thrive My Way.

This increase in productivity also translates across to freelancers. Not having to spend time commuting and being able to work more flexible hours can lead to a more efficient way of working for many people. 

11 Ways to Improve Work Efficiency

As a freelancer, setting up a dedicated workspace and eliminating distractions are important ways to stay focused. Here are 11 further tips to increase productivity when working as a freelancer.

1. Set Realistic Targets

Setting goals and targets for yourself is a great way to keep focused, helping you forge a path toward success. However, it's essential to ensure these goals and the resources you allocate to accomplish them are realistic.

The targets you set should encourage you to stretch yourself, increasing your work efficiency and productivity to meet them. Setting unattainable goals, however, is less likely to enable you to work hard, as you're unlikely to achieve them no matter how much effort you put in.

Goals and targets give you something to work towards, and project management tools or simple to-do lists and checklists can help you stay on track.

2. Don’t Multitask

It's a common misconception that multitasking will enable you to complete more tasks in the same amount of time. In actual fact, multitasking often makes us less productive.

This is because switching between several different tasks actually takes up time in itself. This is known as context switching, and the more tasks you have to switch between, the more time is lost having to refocus on each new task.

The best way to tackle tasks is one at a time. That way, you can give each job your full attention, helping you to finish it in less time so you can move on to the next one.

3. Group Tasks Together

Although multitasking can be counterproductive, grouping similar tasks together so you can complete them in quick succession can help improve your work efficiency.

This way, you can spend less time context-switching between successive tasks. For example, if you're editing an article or blog post that you've written, follow it up with any other edits that you need to make on different pieces of work while you're still ‘in editing' mode.

Completing a series of smaller tasks quickly can help reduce your to-do list, giving you a boost of confidence and productivity. This can then carry over into any larger tasks you have to work on, helping you work through those more efficiently.

4. Utilize Tools and Software

A wide variety of software applications can help you increase your process efficiency by streamlining workflows and improving communication.

Project management platforms like Asana and Trello can make tracking tasks that need to be completed easier. They also help to facilitate easier collaboration between teams or freelancers and their clients.

Document collaboration tools can also make it easier for freelancers to get client feedback and increase the speed at which editing and issues can be resolved.

Meanwhile, cloud calendar software can make it easy for freelancers to schedule their projects and keep track of deadlines. This means that urgent tasks can be prioritized while less critical projects can be saved for later.

One way to improve your efficiency is to use a CRM to automate processes. For example, Email marketing CRM usage can speed up the process considerably.

5. Turn Off Notifications

These days, we're never far from our mobile devices. That means that we're never far from an unnecessary distraction. Concentrating when receiving hundreds of notifications throughout the day can be challenging. 

Distractions while you're working on completing a work task
Distractions while you're working on completing a work task. (Source: Superhuman)

Email notifications, messages from clients, and general push notifications all create a distraction and reduce work efficiency. In one study by email provider Superhuman, 30% of people stated that work communications via email or communication tools posed a distraction during the workday, with 12% saying the same notifications from friends or family on chat apps were distracting.

If you need to focus on work for a prolonged time, try turning off notifications on your mobile device and your computer. This will allow you to give your full attention to the task at hand. 

Don't worry. You can turn them back on when it's time for a break! So you'll never be in danger of missing an important message as long as you're taking regular breaks, as discussed already. Better yet, as a small business owner, automated phone features can help you direct incoming calls and take voicemail messages when you're unavailable. 

6. Take Breaks

It's important to remember to take time to recharge your batteries. Working constantly for prolonged periods is a great way to burn yourself out and reduce productivity.

As we mentioned when discussing the Pomodoro Technique, you should schedule breaks when they work best for you and your personal work style. How you choose to spend it is up to you.

7. Identify Your Peak Working Hours

Are you a morning lark or a night owl? If mornings are a struggle, it won't help your productivity to force yourself in front of the computer at 9 am every day. Just as if you get more distracted in the evenings, then it doesn't make sense to try and focus then. 

Instead, identify when in the day you have the most energy. Structuring your day around this will help you get through your tasks faster and more efficiently.

8. Block Out Time for Checking Emails and Messages

Checking messages and emails takes a lot of time and can be distracting when you're in the middle of a project. Instead of checking each message as soon as the notification pops up, set aside time to review the day's messages all at once.

This will stop you from getting drawn into a long email and message conversations, allowing you to focus 100% on your work. It is also a good idea to turn off notifications, so you don't easily get distracted.  

9. Manage Your Time

Benefits of better time management
Benefits of better time management. (Source: Timewatch)

Grouping similar tasks together are one form of time management, but there are other things you can do to manage your time more effectively. Effective time management can help boost productivity, reduce stress, and enable you to reach your goals faster.

You could use several different techniques, such as the Pomodoro Technique or the ‘Eat That Frog' method. Try experimenting with other time management techniques. You can find your unique productivity style by noticing what is most beneficial.

10. Outsource Some of Your Tasks

It may be an option for some freelancers, but outsourcing tasks to a virtual assistant can quickly improve your work efficiency. 

Virtual assistants can be found on many online job listing platforms. Some may even be agency workers with an agent contract. A virtual assistant can be a worthwhile investment, especially for busy freelancers with numerous clients.

Tasks such as replying to emails, scheduling calls, or chasing leads can all be outsourced, giving you more time to focus on doing the hard work and building your business. 

Similarly, a communications solution that features virtual receptionist services can help you manage incoming calls, saving you additional time.

11. Reward Yourself

One way to help you work efficiently is to reward yourself when you've completed a project within a set time limit or ahead of your deadline. It could be anything from an extra long lunch break to treating yourself to something new. 

This method will take some self-discipline as you'll need to be honest about whether you've met the criteria you set. You could ask someone to hold you accountable if you struggle with this.

Wrapping Up

Improving your productivity as a freelancer is a key to completing projects sooner, enabling you to take on more work and ultimately earn more money. 

By focusing on one task at a time, eliminating the most urgent tasks first, and taking regular breaks, you'll be able to successfully and efficiently achieve tasks and reach your goals. 

To increase your work efficiency, make the most of software and tools, from document collaboration platforms to alternative communication tools such as magicJack similar products.

Try these tips out, and see which ones work best for you and your freelancing business.

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Article by Grace Lau