The flexibility that freelancing offer is a double-edged sword. Sure you often get to work wherever and whenever you want, but it also means you’re constantly battling yourself to get work done on time.
As a freelancer myself, over the years, I’ve learned some simple but effective hacks that have quadrupled my productivity. I credit them for keeping me focused and growing my income. Take a look at my treasure trove of productivity hacks and see if any can benefit you too, whether you’re a freelancer, entrepreneur, or a 9-5 office worker.
1. Create a schedule and stick to it
Self-discipline is the most important part of working at home. Having a set schedule is one of the best ways to ensure that you’re always on the right track. When creating your schedule, make sure to plan for your hobbies and breaks aside from your work.
Start your day right
Waking up early gives you a better chance of starting your day right since you’re not rushing. It gives you ample time to eat a healthy breakfast, workout, and get yourself in the right mindset.
Stick to the 90-minute rule
Just as our body has a circadian rhythm that tells us when to sleep and wake up, we also have a cycle called the ultradian rhythm. It consists of 90-minute blocks of heightened focus and productivity.
The start of the ultradian rhythm is the best time to do tasks requiring critical-thinking and problem-solving. As it reaches the 90-minute mark, your focus and energy wane. This is the best time to do high level work.
After 90 minutes, it’s best to take a 15 to 20-minute break to give yourself time to recharge. Instead of using this time to check your social media, interact with your family members, take a short walk, stretch, and hydrate yourself to freshen up.
First things first
Researchers say that most productive time of the day is 10:26 am, while 2:55 pm is the least productive because of the post-lunch slump. As such, it’s best to plan your schedule in such a way that you’re tackling your most important tasks first.
Checklists are a great way to establish short and long-term goals. Not only does it keep you on track, it also lets you easily see what needs to be done. To make big projects seem less daunting, break them down into smaller tasks.
Todoist is a crowd favorite when it comes to to-do list apps and task managers. It’s available as a desktop app, mobile app, Chrome extension, and email plugin, so you can easily sync it on all your devices.
Give yourself less time for tasks and projects. The pressure will help you stay focused, making you work harder and faster.
2. Minimize distractions.
One of the many challenges of being a freelancer is keeping your focus. To stay in your work zone, eliminate as many distractions as you can.
Make it hard for you to access your social media accounts
In a traditional workplace, social media websites are banned because they cause employees to lose focus and procrastinate. The same holds true for freelancers. So, turn off social media by doing the following.
- Remove Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and other social media sites you use from your bookmarks bar.
- Log out of every account, so that it’s harder for you to access them.
- Turn off the notifications.
Still finding it hard to stay out of your social media accounts? Install StayFocusd, a Chrome productivity extension that will restrict the amount of time you spend on social media sites and other time-wasting websites. It’s highly configurable, so you can customize it based on your needs.
Put your mobile device on silent mode
It’s easy to get sidetracked if your phone keeps beeping and buzzing. So, close all your chat applications, and put your phone on silent mode whenever you need to completely focus on a certain task.
3. Pay attention to your workspace
Allocate an area in your home where you will only do work-related things. This can be an entire room, a corner, or even just a desk. The important thing is to have a specially-designated area which can help you get in the right state of mind.
Get rid of any items on your desk that you do not need for work. Not only does having a messy work area make it difficult to find documents that you might need for work, it also makes it hard to think clearly.
Having said that, there are some people with cluttered desks who are actually more creative and productive. Albert Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?”
This shows us that, instead of minimalism, it’s actually being organized that’s more important. What looks like a messy desk for us might be some form of organization for another. The key is finding the right balance of minimalism and clutter that works best for you.
Keep your workspace aesthetically pleasing
What you see while you work can affect your productivity. For example, color psychologist Angela Wright said that each basic color has a certain psychological effect. You can also combine these colors to maximize their benefits.
- Blue works great for boosting productivity by helping you focus.
- Orange gets the creative juices going.
- Yellow helps prevent brain fatigue.
- Green is good for people who prefer working in a calm environment.
Get a house plant
Did you know that, according to a study conducted by the Texas A&M University, having indoor plants and flowers can boost productivity, creativity, and problem-solving skills? There are two reasons for this.
First, having plants in your work area can reduce indoor pollution by 60% according to NASA. Because of the improved air quality, you’re able to breathe easier, improving your productivity by up to 15%.
Another reason is that this organic addition can uplift your mood. And, according to one study, happy workers are up to 20% more productive.
4. Pay attention to ergonomics and comfort
It’s hard to stay in your work mode if you are constantly fidgeting and are uncomfortable. To stay on top of your game, here are some things you need to consider.
Do an audit of your workspace ergonomics
Ergonomics is very important when it comes to ensuring comfort and preventing unwanted pain.
Some of the basics include:
- Make sure your chair meets the guidelines for ergonomics. Among other things, it should have decent lumbar support, backrest tilting to relieve spinal pressure, easy height adjustment, and comfortable armrests.
- Place your monitor in such a way that the upper third is at eye level.
- Tweak your armrests to keep your elbows at the same level as your desk.
- Check if your wrist is at a neutral position while you mouse or type. If not, adjust your armrests or purchase a wrist rest.
- Adjust the backrest so it’s at a slightly reclined angle, instead of 90 degrees.
- Stick to the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, turn away from the monitor and look at a distance of 20 meters for 20 seconds.
No matter how much you adjust your sitting posture, the bottom line is, sitting still for too long is detrimental to your health. At least once an hour, get up and move!
Make sure the temperature is right
A 2004 study by Cornell University found that the optimum working temperature is between 73 to 77°F. At this range, the workers they observed were able to work faster with fewer mistakes.
Try to keep your home temperature within this range.
5. Have a healthy diet and stay hydrated
If you’re sick, you can’t work. It’s as simple as that. This is why you need to maintain a healthy diet. Instead of having restaurant food delivered to your doorstep, why not prepare healthy but simple lunchboxes?
Stock your fridge with healthy options that will give you that needed energy boost. Some examples are yogurt, fresh fruits and their dried counterparts, oatmeal, and high-fiber sandwiches.
It’s not just about what you eat, but what you drink too. Instead of fake fruit juices or soda, drink enough water. Since 60% of the human body is made of water, staying hydrated helps you stay healthy, improves your cognitive performance, and keeps you refreshed.
In fact, as little as a 1% drop in hydration can lead to a 12% productivity loss. It might not seem much, but, if you do the math, that’s a 60% productivity loss for a 5% hydration drop.
The minimum you need to drink per day is 6 to 8 glasses. Of course, if the weather is hot and you perspire a lot, you need to drink more.
6. Say no to multitasking
Unlike what a lot of people believe, multitasking hampers, not boost, productivity. This is because you lose focus, and make more mistakes.
It even does worse than just that. According to a Stanford University study, multitasking impairs your cognitive control, while a University of London research said that it can actually lower your IQ.
The bottom line is you’ll get better and faster results if you focus on just one task at a time.
7. Listen to music
Another factor that can affect your productivity is music. In fact, people who only have silence while working are less efficient than music-listening workers. Of course, too much of anything can be disruptive, and this goes for music too.
So, what should freelancers listen to while working at home?
- No lyrics – According to this study, music without lyrics is your best option when you’re doing immersive tasks.
- Familiar songs – Stick to music that you already know so that your attention is focused on your task, not the music.
- Ambient music – You want to find music that is gentle and not obtrusive.
- Low pitch white noise – If there are some noise in your home that is making it hard for you to concentrate, listening to music might make it even harder for you to focus. This is where low pitch white noise can help you tune out intrusive noise. The app SimplyNoise works great for this purpose.
- Rain – For some people, the sound of the rain can be comforting. This can be helpful if you’re stressed out. If this is your preference, the app Rainy Mood can help you.
8. Motivate yourself
Maintaining a positive attitude plays a significant role in staying productive. Here are some tips that you can follow to motivate yourself.
Take time to read
When planning your schedule, allocate a few minutes of your day to read something that will get your creative and productive juices going. This can be a book about personal development, behavioral economics, or a collection of inspiring stories.
Keep track of the tasks you’ve completed
One of the best things about making checklists is the ability to keep track of the tasks that you’ve successfully finished. Every now and then, look back at what you’ve accomplished so far, and give yourself a mental pat on the back. After all, according to Harvard’s Teresa Amabile, nothing is more motivating than progress.
Reward yourself for your achievements
No matter if it’s a small but complicated task or a large completed project, reward yourself with things that make you happy. The reward doesn’t have to be material things. It can be something like having 15 more minutes to spend on your hobby or a quick visit to the library.
The important thing is to tap into your emotions, so that you feel good for a job well done.
9. Beat procrastination
Time spent procrastinating is time better spent working. Here are two things you can do to get back on the right track.
Try the 2-minute rule
Whenever you’re feeling a little lazy, the 2-minute rule can help you return to your work mode. What you do is tackle a small task in your to-do list which can be done in less than 2 minutes. Chances are, by the time you finish this small task, you’re back to your work mode again.
Do the 5-second rule
If you’re dreading doing a hard task, the 5-second rule might just be what you need. It’s very easy. Just countdown from 5, and launch yourself into action.
Much like how scientists countdown to blast off spaceships, you’re taking deliberate action to take control of your prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in decision-making and working.
At the end of the day, self-discipline is the core of working at home. Work on eliminating your bad habits and developing good ones that can boost your career. It doesn’t have to be a big change. You can make it easier by making small steps until you reach your ideal level of productivity.