5 Simple yet epic productivity hacks for creative entrepreneurs

Freelancing is great – you can choose your own hours; pick your own clients; charge an hourly rate that you’re comfortable with; and ultimately, do business on your terms (not the terms of your David Brent-esque boss!).

One of the aspects I’ve regularly struggled with is my productivity (or lack of it), even though I’ve got over five years under my belt. However, over the years, I’ve started to find what works for me, and picked up a few hacks along the way.

So if, like me, you also struggle when it comes to productivity, here are a few of my best “hacks” to help you get more done in record time!

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Gather an arsenal of “cheat sheets”

No matter whether you’re a designer, developer, writer, or consultant, you’ll find that the same arduous tasks tend to crop up time and time again.

  • For writers, it could be the task of structuring a document ready to start the writing process.
  • For developers, it could the task of setting up a file structure.
  • For designers, it could be something as simple as choosing two or more complimentary typefaces for use in a project.

Whatever the task, there’s bound to be a “cheat sheet” or tool out there that will help to simplify the process in the future.

Personally, I do a lot of freelance design work and over the years, I’ve gathered up my own arsenal of tools and “cheat sheets” to help simplify a tonne of tasks.

For example, I use:

  • this tool for deciding upon a colour scheme;
  • this infographic for deciding upon the fonts to use in a project, and
  • I also regularly refer to this post when I’m stumped for ideas regarding what to write about on my blog.

It’s not about copying me though; it’s about building up your own list of tools and “cheat sheets” that help to reduce your workload.

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Sure, it can take a bit of time and effort to find them, but you’ll save countless hours in the long run.

Automate everything you can

Sending estimates, invoicing, checking emails, replying to threads on freelancing websites, chasing payments, organising your clients’ contact details, backing up files/data, planning conference calls, etc.

These are just a handful of the tasks you’ll likely be faced with on a regular basis during your time as a freelancer.

The good news is that with modern-day tools and services, you can automate a lot of this stuff and alleviate a lot of the workload, giving you more time to spend on the stuff that matters: working with clients.

By using services like InvoiceNinja (a free tool for sending invoices and receiving payments), IFTTT (an epic tool for automating just about anything), Dropbox, etc., you can not only free up more time, but also make your life a whole lot easier in the process.

I personally use InvoiceNinja for sending all my invoices (and automating payments), IFTTT to automate file delivery to clients once the invoice has been paid, and a variety of other tools to automate tasks specific to my business needs.

By automating everything you possibly can, you’ll be able to waste less time taking care of your business and more time earning money.

Trick yourself into the “work” mind-set

Working from home can be great:

  • there’s no rush-hour commute;
  • no walking to work in the rain;
  • no uncomfortable suit and tie; and
  • best of all, no annoying work colleagues that you can’t stand.

However, with no overbearing boss breathing down your neck every waking minute of the day, it can be difficult to force yourself into the work mind-set – it’s much easier to sit in your pyjamas and watch TV all day (trust me, I’ve done it!).

The solution is to trick your brain into thinking you’re off to work.

The way I do this is with a simple morning routine: I wake up at around 7am, hop in the shower, get dressed, take a five-minute walk to the shop (to buy a newspaper), walk back home, make a cup of tea, flick through the newspaper, begin work (at around 8:30am).

I do this every weekday morning, but never at the weekends.

This effectively tricks my brain into the work mind-set as every time I go through that routine, I’m telling my brain, “hey, today’s a work day, better get ready for the mammoth workload!”

Your routine doesn’t have to be as elaborate as mine; just make sure you follow the same routine every working day and you’ll be amazed at your increase in productivity.

Prioritise your clients

Your clients are the lifeblood of your freelancing business and therefore, it’s important that you do everything in your power to keep them happy.

But, it’s also important to realise that some clients are more important (and more profitable) than others – this is something that should be reflected in the way you prioritise and handle your workload.

For example, let’s assume that you’re new to this freelancing lark and so far, you’ve managed to bag yourself three clients. On average,

  • one of these clients spends £500/month with you;
  • one spends £200/month; and
  • the final client, well, he just sends work your way now and again when he can’t handle the workload himself – it usually doesn’t amount to more than £50/month.

Obviously, the £500/month client is the most valuable to your business, and the £50/month client is the least valuable.

So what happens if, for instance, both clients send work your way on the same day?

You prioritise.

The £500/month client is ten times more profitable to you when compared to the £50/month client and therefore, he deserves ten times as much of your attention.

Don’t waste valuable time jumping through hoops for clients who are unlikely to ever significantly contribute (in a monetary sense) to your business when you already have other clients that do.

Track every second

While you may have started freelancing to get away from the tight deadlines and strict work schedule, it’s important to realise that as a freelancer, time is money.

Therefore, you need to use every trick in the book to squeeze as much value out of your time as possible.

Tracking your time is one of the simplest and most effective ways to do this and personally, I track every second I work these days using a free time-tracking app.

I do this because:

  • It helps me to bill clients the appropriate amount (i.e. for an hourly rate)
  • It allows me to easily see if I’m spending too much time on a task (and proceed to speed things up)
  • It enables me to see how many hours I’ve worked each day/week/month (meaning that I can force myself to stop working if I’ve been doing far too much)

I’ve found that since tracking my time, I manage to fit more into a day as I’m constantly aware of how long everything I’m doing is taking – and if I get side-tracked on Twitter, I can see just how much time I’ve wasted in the app.

There’s a lot of time-tracking applications out there (some free, some paid). I personally use Toggl which I like for its simplicity. But, there are other great alternatives too, like Time Doctor which gives you a more comprehensive analytics of your workday.

These tools have iPhone apps which are also really helpful when billing for client meeting or other remote work.

You can also download an iPhone app – this is helpful when billing for client meetings or other remote-work.

Got any tips of your own to share?

I’m always eager to hear more unique ways to improve my productivity so if you’ve got a top tip/hack, please share it with me in the comments!

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About Shaun Pagin

Shaun is a passionate graphic designer, blogger and entrepreneur who works for the UK-based print company: FastPrint.co.uk. He also works as a freelance graphic designer and writer for clients around the world.


  1. Great Post and excellent suggestions! Can’t wait to check out all the links you provided! Cheers!

  2. Every post I read on this blog I love and always find something to take away from it. I have been contemplating starting my own blog but I really don’t know if I could create content that is up to this standard.

    Keep up the great work 🙂

  3. Great post, Shaun. I’ve been out on my own for something like 14 years now, but just last week I closed up my storefront studio because I really wanted to get back to working from my home studio. The transition hasn’t been bad at all, but you definitely need to adjust your mindset to stay focused and stay on task. There are some great tips here. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Handy tips in there… especially the point about prioritising clients.

  5. Nicolas Fourie says:

    Hey Everyone, what a great article, especially what was said about tracking time spent on daily tasks (including wasting time on applications – twitter, facebook etc) I am signing up with Toggl today!

    My question is – how can a designer (like myself) trained at university with a 4 year degree in Graphic Design improve productivity. The thing is – at university we were taught (even indirectly) that every design we produce must be mind blowingly original, outside the box and we had the luxury of spending 2 to 3 weeks on a project. Well, the truth is the real world doesnt work like this. In the real work place designs have to be churned out at rocket speed. While still retaining quality.

    At university and even now – 10 years out of university, I am stuck in the rutt of illustrating (vectorising) most images myself – instead of pulling stock images from the net. I am so used to taking the long route of design (loads of time researching & referencing images) and I totally ‘SPACE OUT’. I have been diagnosed with ADD but I also hyperfocus on things (e.g, Music and Art) that I lose sight of the bigger picture.

    So it’s a real struggle to change my design habits. But I’ll start today! To become faster, work more efficiently.

    Here are things I could think of to increase my own personal productivity,
    I’d also appreciate it if others could comment as well and share their ideas,
    so here goes:

    1. Do a typing course and speed up your typing speed
    2. Clean up your computer so it runs faster. Start with 10min a day
    organising your folders in the morning. This will also help in finding that
    thing you are looking for. “which wastes your time the same way searching for clean socks does in the morning :)”
    3. Have a number of documents open at once and work a bit on each one
    so you don’t get stuck on one thing (over working on one project, can cause one to become dull and rotating projects could keep one fresh)
    4. AVOID – Your likes – For me it’s Soundcloud and You Tube. Stay away from Facebook, Pinterest, Deviantart,Twitter, Flitter, Jitter, Dribble, Scribble, My Space, My Place… or whatever your social time waster is!
    5. AVOID – Re inventing the wheel! Re-designing – Re-drawing. Deciding on the ultimate appropriate font.
    6. Show your boss or client your artwork at certain stages of the process so that you can see if you are on the right track! Don’t go all the way on the wrong track and then have to re-design almost all of it when you find out there was a miscommunication between what they wanted and what you thought they wanted. After all, design is about what others want (in the working world) most of the time – and not about what you want. You have to make them happy. If they are happy with Comic Sans and Rainbow coloured unicorns drawn in microsoft paint, scanned in at 72dpi and blown up to 300dpi. Then – make them happy 🙂 Less work for you. At the end it’s about what they want (evne if it looks kind of crappy) I have to let go of the perfectionism mindset that I have developed and harboured in university.) Let go and let live.

    Email me if you can help me further out of my design rut and be more efficient – [email protected]

    • Nicolas Fourie says:

      Toggl Works Great! Thanks! I also agree with having my “own arsenal of tools and “cheat sheets” to help simplify a ton of tasks.” Also – to have a vector library, texture library and stock image library is a big productivity pool!


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