“Know thyself” isn’t just good advice from a self-help perspective; it’s also crucially important when it comes to building a successful freelance business.
And a million different “gurus” can give you a million different pieces of advice about the “right” time to get up, the “right” way to organize your day, the “right” order to accomplish your tasks and all of that—but none of it will matter unless it’s your right way of doing things.
So, with that in mind, today I’m going to lead you through four questions that will help you get in touch with your own natural productivity and best practices for getting work done.
When you really get in touch with your own productivity proclivities, you can schedule your day and your tasks in accordance—and, most importantly, watch your daily accomplishments and your overall freelance business success skyrocket.
Ready? Let’s dig in.
1. When are you most productive? Specifically, which chunks of the day?
There is a lot of advice out there about what time to get up and when to do your most important tasks but, generally, once you’re working, people assume that we’ve got about eight hours of work in us and that we can work straight through.
For many—if not most—people, this is definitely not the case. Depending on your circadian rhythm, there are usually about four or five hours in the morning right after you wake up in which you’re most productive and focused, then it dips for about four or five hours, and then your focus increases enough for the four or five hours before bed.
Here’s why this is important: That “get down to work and work straight through for eight hours” just is not the best way to operate. Now, for those of us working a full-time job, you don’t have a lot of options other than trying to organize tasks so that the less mentally-taxing ones can be done in the evening.
But as a freelancer, it’s possible to create your day in complete accordance with your natural rhythms. For example, I spent a lot of years trying to figure out how to be more productive or more focused in the afternoon before I found a graph that actually showed how much productivity dips. So, I just go with it: I work for four or five hours right after I get up, either take do low-focus tasks in the afternoon or take it off entirely and then start up again after 4:30pm or 5pm for a few more hours if I need to.
Now, I realize that I’m a bit more flexible than many since I don’t have kids, but you can still try to put your most focus-requiring activities (like writing, for example) in your high-productivity time and your more automated, administrative tasks (like sending out invoices, sending pitch emails, recording pitching activities, etc.) in the lower-focus times.
The key is to really monitor yourself as you go through the day to figure out when are the high-focus and low-focus times of the day for you. Don’t fight your circadian rhythms, make them work for you!
2. Do you do better bouncing between projects or finishing them one by one?
Before I really examined my truly most productive periods, I’d assumed that I operated best bouncing between projects. A half-hour on one, a half-hour on another, etc. And there are many people that operate well like that.
But when I started really noticing my productivity and focus levels, I realized that when I moved on to the second project, the first project was still in my head—it was weighing on me, knowing that the first project wasn’t finished and I’d moved on to a second.
The truth is that I am so much more productive if I do one project at a time and work on it until it’s done. I find it very mentally taxing to have a lot of open projects that all need my attention and that are all in different states of completion.
Sometimes I can’t avoid that since I’m working with multiple clients, of course, but when I can allow myself the time to work on one project at a time, you’d better believe I take it.
So, do you operate better bouncing between projects or getting one done before moving on to the next? (And which is truly more productive for you, versus which you’d prefer?)
3. What administrative tasks drain you?
The way most of us write our To Do lists (“this, then this, then this, then this”) makes it seem as if they all take roughly the same brain power and all we have to do is just move down the list and tick items off.
But the problem with that is that, of course, that’s not true at all. Some tasks are much more draining and some tasks are invigorating—and they might not be what you expect.
For example, you might guess that writing a sales page would be draining since it takes so much creativity and strategy. But, if you really evaluate yourself, you might fight that it actually invigorates you to do that work (and finish it!).
For me, the most mentally draining tasks—the ones I’m most likely to put off as long as I can which is a great clue—are the menial tasks. Things like responding to emails, creating and recording invoices, uploading and writing descriptions of samples require a TON of will-power to get done.
You need to first understand exactly which kinds of projects drain you like this so you can plan when to do them. Generally, I either do them in the afternoon (my low-focus time) at a very leisurely pace or mixing in other tasks to minimize the willpower required. OR, I save them all up for one morning (the time that I’m most productive and have the most willpower), and bang through them all at once and then take the afternoon off to mentally recuperate.
It might sound silly that such menial tasks would require “rest,” but I bet you have at least a handful of them that make you feel the same way. Just because it’s an “easy” task doesn’t mean it’s easy to get yourself to do it. And if it’s got to be done, you’ve got to do it strategically.
4. What tasks do you, personally, not need to do?
This is a bit more of an advanced tactic, but I’m going to include it nonetheless. When our calendars and brains are packed, it’s hard to think in terms of the big picture when it comes to building your business. If your time is packed with slogging through invoices, making lunches, and doing laundry, it’s going to be really hard to be inspired with a breakthrough marketing idea for yourself.
So, my challenge to you is to evaluate what it is you do that you don’t need to be doing. Not tasks that don’t need to be done, 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 pay a housecleaner $25 or $30 an hour, it makes a lot of financial sense to outsource.
And don’t forget the “focus and willpower cost” too. I like to cook every once in a while, but I hate having to come up with and prepare healthy meals for myself every day. It’s right in the middle of the day when I’m just trying to get through some work and I find it so daunting to take on. My solution? I found a delicious pre-prepared meal service that lets me just microwave a healthy lunch instead of having to make one.
Again, yes, not all of these solutions are going to work for everyone. But what I want you to start to understand is that it’s often a good idea to hire help. In fact, it can be the most financially responsible thing to do! Think about it: does the CEO of a company meet with potential clients and clean the bathrooms? Of course not! Their time is best used on the most high-impact, money-generating tasks.
You are the CEO of your own company. You may not be ready yet, but there will come a time when it makes sense to outsource some of your daily tasks: things like laundry, house cleaning, meal preparation, grocery shopping, or even eventually business tasks like social media posting, client follow up, and so on. Even if you’re not ready yet, keep this in the back of your mind for when you are.
And that’s it! It will likely take more than just 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! Have you gone through any of the inventory points yet? What did you learn about yourself? Let me know in the comments below!