Sometimes being a freelancer can feel like a curse.
I’ve had more days than I care to remember where I just couldn’t get into a routine and my productivity suffered as a result.
Luckily, and with much trial and error, I have learned what works for me in terms of helping me be as productive as I can be without risking burn out, even as I become more location independent.
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I have 5 tips I use to maximize my productivity without risking burnout.
1. Find a Productivity Anchor
Think of a productivity anchor as a switch that as soon as it’s flipped, it turns your mind into work mode.
It can be anything from a cup of coffee to reading your RSS feed, but as soon as you do it your body should realize it’s time to work.
For me, I’m most productive in the morning so my productivity anchor is a cup of coffee.
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This is the first step in my work routine.
As soon as that delicious nectar hits my mouth, I know it’s time to work and I buckle down for a few of my most productive hours.
Even if you don’t like coffee, using something versatile like reading the news makes it possible to utilize your anchor wherever you are.
2. Stick to a Flexible Routine
Yes, I know flexible routine is a bit of an oxymoron, but hear me out.
Routines are great, but having one that is too rigid is almost guaranteed to backfire on you.
One of the great things about being a freelancer is that you get to make your own schedule, so why would you want to rely on an inflexible routine?
My routine is more about doing things in a certain order vs. doing them at a certain time.
For example, I write often and I know my writing is better (and more enjoyable) when it’s tackled as soon as I start working.
This means that even if I don’t engage my productivity anchor until noon, writing will still be first on my list.
Similarly, try and identify things that are easy for you to do without much effort and use these as breaks when you get stuck on a bigger task.
For me, this is often updating or planning social media. I’ve found it to be much less stressful than some of my other responsibilities and use it as my go-to when I need a quick break.
Remember when I mentioned preventing burnout?
Having some quick and easy tasks like this make it easy to switch gears for a bit, accomplish something, and then come back to your primary task with fresh eyes.
3. Plan Ahead and Focus on Small Wins
There is no shortage of information out there on developing your ideal schedule, but what each of them shares is the importance of planning ahead.
However, as a freelancer, this can be hard to do as my tasks vary by the day and week.
So, instead of trying to plan out my month ahead of time and inevitably have to change things down the line, I like to focus on specific things I can accomplish every day that tie into some larger projects I want to work on that week.
How I do that is by sitting down every Sunday and jotting down some of the big items I want to focus on that week.
An example could be evaluating and optimizing an Adwords campaign or writing and publishing a new opt-in piece for a blog.
Then, at the end of each work day, I’ll look at this list and write out 3-5 items that I want to accomplish the next day to work towards those bigger projects I listed on Sunday.
For me, making these lists helps me in two major ways – it helps me stay organized and let’s me cross things off as ‘done’ every day.
I’m all about the small wins.
It makes me feel good knowing that I’m getting things done and I love to see my lists get smaller and smaller.
I highly recommend trying it.
4. Don’t Be Afraid of Distractions
Everyone is different, but I’ve found the easiest way for me to get burned out is to force myself to work when I don’t want to.
It makes me anxious and the quality of my work suffers.
Because of this, I’ve started to embrace distractions when needed. Meaning I don’t fight it when I feel my focus moving away from my work.
I love the Pomodoro Technique, a productivity method where you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break.
25 minutes goes by fast when you’re honed in on a task and the 5 minute break is perfect for browsing Reddit, checking your email, and generally resetting your focus.
I use a varied version of this technique and don’t force myself to take a break every 25 minutes if I don’t feel that I need one.
Conversely, if I want to take a break after 10 minutes, I let myself without feeling bad about it.
I’ve found doing this goes a long way towards promoting a flexible routine while protecting my sanity.
It’s easy to find ways to be distracted for 5 minutes on your computer, but here are a few things I do when I’m trying to get away from my desk:
- Walk around the house or block
- Get some water or coffee
- Vacuum, clean up, or straighten something
- Stretch, meditate, or do a breathing exercise
5. Don’t Forget to Stop
It’s so easy to “just” check your email or edit something quickly when you’re a freelancer or working from home that I’ve often found myself working 7 days a week.
While I still do this from time to time (what’s a half day before everyone gets up on Sunday, right?), I can say with 100% confidence that I don’t recommend it.
Just because you can work doesn’t mean you should and maintaining a healthy work-life balance should be a priority for every employee, regardless of job or location.
Just as 5 minute breaks are great at resetting my focus, having at least 1 full day off and away from work does wonders for resetting my entire body.
Use this day however you want, but do your best not to do any work (my one exception is my Sunday planning session).
I try to work a semi-normal schedule and consider Monday the beginning of my week, so when I am able to take Sunday off it helps me not only feel refreshed with work, but also focus on other things I might have neglected.
To reiterate, this post is about how I structure my time without getting burned out.
The examples I used were all mine and it’s important to remember that what works for me might not work for you.
However, while I wish I could say I came up with all of these on my own, the truth is that they were all adapted from other people whose work I have read or follow.
This means that even if you don’t feel that any of these ideas meshes your work schedule or goals, by all means, change it to meet your needs.
As I mentioned earlier, I have wasted a lot of time by being unproductive and am glad to be able to use these tips to keep me on task and motivated.
What tips do you have to stay productive and avoid burnout? Share your ideas in the comments.
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