Productivity and time efficiency - putting a dashboard on your work day

Whether you are paid per-project or per-hour, being efficient with your time is critical to your success as a freelancer. But time efficiency is not as easy to attain as it sounds. With “time sucks” waiting at every corner, the average freelancer is extremely susceptible to being distracted, slowed down, and ultimately, robbed of income on a daily (and hourly) basis.

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But What Is “Time Efficiency”?

Speed is not the primary goal of time efficiency. Rather, you’ll want to work quickly while delivering high-quality results to your clients. Efficiency produces your very best work at optimal speed, resulting in a better outcome for your client and potentially more income for you (if you are paid per-project).

Think of it this way: When you first started out on your craft (whether that’s writing, graphic design, accounting, media coordination, or anything else), it probably took you much longer than it does now to perform certain tasks. And we’re guessing that your work is higher quality now, too. You’ve increased in speed and skill, becoming more capable and cost-effective.

But if you think you’ve maxed out your current level of efficiency, you’re wrong! You can become ever more efficient at your line of work… even if you’ve been doing the same thing for years or longer.

Treat Your Work Like a 9-to-5 Job

Freedom with your time is a precious gift, as you probably hear again and again from your friends who are beholden to the 9-to-5 grind. Spontaneous road trip? No problem. Brunch on a Thursday? Why the heck not!

But pretending that you work a regular old office job may actually help you boost your personal efficiency, and ultimately, your income.

Although setting your own schedule is likely to be one of the reasons you decided to take the leap and start freelancing in the first place, it could also be one of your greatest downfalls. If you regularly find yourself struggling to finish your work on time, fighting the urge to complete non work related tasks, or feeling overwhelmed, you could try setting a strict work schedule. Using freelance project management software could also help.

Decide on your “sacred work hours,” and don’t budge from that schedule unless vital. If you like to sleep in, start work at noon and finish at eight p.m. If you’re an early bird, start work at five in the morning and finish by the afternoon. Regardless of your hours, setting a start and stop time will help keep you motivated and on-task…preventing you from reaching for your iPhone, checking your inbox (yet again), and mindlessly scrolling through your LinkedIn feed.

In the end, you still have the freedom to take a day off when you need it, or work early (or late) to catch up. But otherwise, be strict about focusing exclusively on income boosting activities during your own appointed “work day.”

Preparation is Everything

Some of us like to jump right in to projects and get going fast! We’ve got tasks to complete, emails to send, and proposals to write. Who has time for prep? We freelancers are a busy lot. Sounds familiar?

That said, diving right into a project without preparation will only result in slower, poorer-quality work that leaves us overwhelmed and our clients underwhelmed. Preparation is a vital extra step that can make all the difference in helping you to produce your best work at a reasonable speed.

Create a Morning Routine

A morning routine that involves several steps may seem like an additional time-sucker – and not even necessarily relevant to your work.

But following a strict morning routine can set you up for success during the remainder of your day. As entrepreneur and productivity influencer Tim Ferriss says,

“in the morning and elsewhere, the more constraints I can create where I fly on autopilot and get a result I need or enjoy, the more horsepower, the more calories I have to allocate to being creative.”

Ferriss’ routine includes meditation, journaling, exercise, a small breakfast, and a hot tea. Regardless of what you choose to schedule into your morning, starting off your day in a disciplined, task-oriented frame of mind will help you remain that way for hours to come.

Prepare Your Workspace and Desktop

Choose a distraction-free zone for setting up your workspace. If you want to remain efficient for several hours at a time, you’ll need to create a space that is conducive to productive, focused work.

Where you work can have an enormous impact on your productivity

Depending on the kind of work you produce, you may need several resources within physical reach of your workspace. Set up your computer (or computers), mobile phone (if used for work–otherwise, put it on airplane mode!), office supplies, notebooks, pens, and additional materials. A cup of coffee, water, and snacks are most likely also in order. 😊

A final, often-overlooked step to preparing your workspace is to clear the desktop on your computer. Address any open windows, clean out your inbox, and close down your browser and extra apps, unless applicable to work. Your most significant sources of distraction may appear on the 18 inches right in front of you.

Prepare for Each Project

Committing time to preparing for each specific project will actually help you to finish your task faster. Plus, you’ll create higher quality, more focused work.

If you’re a writer, take the time to create a detailed outline. When you’re halfway through that 1,500-word blog post, your outline will keep you focused and on-topic, reducing time spent on writing content that’s unhelpful or irrelevant.

If you’re a social media coordinator, spend plenty of time researching a prospective client before you create a pitch. Getting a feel for their mission, reach, and even budget will help you develop a marketing plan that’s on-target.

Track Your Time

Automatic time-tracking is the foundation to time efficiency, especially as a freelancer. It keeps you accountable to not only the time you’ve spent working, but what exactly you’ve accomplished during those hours and minutes.

If you’re a Timing user, then you already know the drill: The second you open your laptop, Timing begins to keep a detailed track record of your activity.

Check Your Balance

One practical way to help you remain efficient and on-track throughout your day is to check your time usage periodically on your “Overview” tab:

Checking your time efficiency with a clear graphic overview

“Overview” gives you a color-coded visual of how much time you’re spending on each project throughout your day and keeps you focused on your goals.

For example, if you planned to spend the majority of your workday on a project for Client B, but by 4 p.m., you see that you’ve spent most of your time working on administrative tasks for Client A, you know that you’ve fallen short of your goal. This sort of “intel” takes the guesswork out of how successfully you are ranking your work…and helps you plan for more efficient prioritization in the future.

Get into the Details

Timing’s “Details” tab allows you to see a detailed breakdown of minutes and hours that you’ve poured into a specific project. By doing so, you’ll be able to hone in on how you might maximize your time usage more efficiently per project – and overall.

Here’s what it looks like:

Digging into details of your time efficiency

For example, you may have visited a particular URL to perform research. But if you note that you spent 45 minutes on that URL and did not ultimately use any of the information you learned, that’s a point to improve.

“Details” will also allow you to see how and where you spend time on subcategories for each project. For example, you may underestimate how much time you spend on administration for a given client. Perhaps you spend two hours a week on sending emails to this client. Could this information be consolidated into one or two emails, or is there a process that could help automate some of this communication? Consider how to streamline your tasks that may be more time-consuming than necessary.

Did you get your “Increase Your Speed” Worksheet yet?

Your Foundation to Time Efficiency: Automatic Time-Tracking

Having accurate insight into how you’ve spent your day is critical to building greater efficiency as a freelancer. Timing automatically tracks the time you spend on your Mac on a daily basis, and allows you to organize your time, manually input tasks, and export time usage for invoicing and reporting purposes.

Want to see how time-efficient you really are? Give Timing a try for free for 30 days here.