5 Productivity Tricks to Get More Done

When it comes to productivity, I’ve noticed two things about freelancing. One, there are always, always more tasks for your to-do list. And two, every day is a completely blank slate—there’s no time you have to be at the office in the morning, no meetings, no supervisor to report to.

5 Productivity Tricks to Get Things DoneIt can make it hard to be productive, unless you get your systems down.

The difference between getting lost under a mountain of tasks and crossing them off your list is productivity systems.

Here are the top five I’ve found the most useful:

  1. The 45/15 Rule

The 45/15 rule advocates for 45 minute periods of focus on a single creative task, alternating with shorter 15 minute periods to knock off smaller to-dos like responding to emails. The idea is that it gives you enough deep focus time to move a big project forward, but doesn’t make you drop smaller but also critical tasks.

  1. Task Circuits

If you have a shorter attention span, or a lot of different kinds of tasks you’re trying to address at once, task circuits may be the answer.

Write a list of the actions you want to knock off your list and prioritize them so you don’t have stop your flow deciding what to do for each circuit. Grab a timer (the one you use for cooking is perfect, or on your smartphone) and set it for 15 minutes.

  1. Phasing Down

This is my favorite way to tackle really big projects. In short, phasing down means breaking a large project into smaller tasks that make it easier to manage. I try to make each phase about an hour long.

For example, if your project is to write an ebook, first create an outline, then chapter one, chapter two, etc. Just tackle one task each day until it’s completed.

  1. Eat the Frog

This method, from the book Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, refers to the idea that the task you dread the most on your to-dos (cold calls, anyone?) is the one you should tackle first.

The idea is, once that awful looming task is off your plate, you’ll feel empowered, and those other, not-so-bad things on your list for the day will be a breeze. It’s worked for me every time.

  1. The 1-3-5 List

The 1-3-5 list goes like this: Choose one thing that is the absolute most important thing to accomplish today, three things that are of medium priority, and five things that would be nice “bonus” accomplishments.

I’ve been doing a version of this for years that I call Pick One Thing. Basically, before doing anything else on my list for the day, I do the one thing that is most important. I may give this alternate approach a try.

5 Productivity Tricks for Freelancers to Get More Done

Find What Works

It can take some experimentation to figure out what works for you. Try a variety of approaches to see what works,a nd feel free to mix and match—don’t limit yourself so a designated system, just pick up the parts you like. Over time, you’ll hone your own systems and maximize your efficiency.

What productivity tricks do you have?

Technology in the Shower and the Future of the Aha Moment

future of the aha momentYou can now watch TV while you shower. Surely touchscreen computers are not far behind either, to keep you even more connected.

It’s really pretty cool. Who doesn’t want to kick back with a good movie while relaxing in the tub? How great would it be to be able to catch up on the morning’s news while you’re soaping up before work?

But for ages, the shower has been the place for a pause of seclusion, idle thought, and those infamous aha moments. So what does the smart shower mean for our creativity? A recent 99u feature got me wondering.

The article explores what it means to lose the thing that fosters the most innovative ideas: interruption-free space that lets our minds do the passive thinking that is critical for innovation. As if smartphones and tablets weren’t enough, our cars, TVs, and, yes, our showers are all offering us more access to the white noise stimulation of connected life.

And hey, there’s nothing wrong with connection—it’s a basic need that we all have, a part of being human. But if you want to think creatively and get those flashes of inspiration, you’re going to have to cut loose from it all sometimes.

So what’s that mean for the creatively inclined? It means getting deliberate about creating space for that passive thinking time.

A few ways to do it include:

  • Make one day a week tech-free—consider adopting the Sabbath Manifesto.
  • Integrate unplugged down time into your daily schedule. Just find an activity (eating lunch, taking a walk) that lets you step away from the screens.
  • Withhold decision-making. When faced with a question, it’s a gut reaction to roll with the first solution we come up with—but this is often the easiest, most obvious, or the most familiar solution. Instead of acting on the quick idea, take 10 minutes to reflect, and see what other ideas come to you.

how to make space for aha moments in a connected world

The world is increasingly connected—even the shower isn’t safe for much longer. But if we want those aha moments to find us, we need to deliberately find ways to invite them in by seeking out times for passive thought.

When do you get your best ideas?

P.S.—Really, read this 99u article. And heck, check out the rest of the site while you’re there. 99u is one of my favorite sources for thought-provoking articles about creative process.

How to Set Yourself Apart with a Freelance Writing Niche

There’s tons of writers out there, and as Ben Folds puts it, there’s always someone cooler than you—someone with more experience, or a bigger blog, or better SEO for their website. There just is.

how to set yourself apart with a freelance writing nicheSo how do you set yourself apart? You niche.

Choosing a niche lets you become an expert in a designated area and leads to more (and often, better-paid) opportunities. But how do you find your niche? How do you know if a niche is narrow enough … or too narrow?

Lucky for us, there’s tons of advice available on the topic. Here’s some highlights from my own research, plus my own two cents on how to make niche-ing work for you.

The two big questions

There are two basic questions any starting freelancer should ask themselves that will help you find your niche

 1. What do I have proven experience in?
Look at your work samples. What trends do you see, in topics or types of work?

2. What do I enjoy?
You’re going to spend a lot of time doing the work you choose as your niche, so don’t let experience alone be your guide—make sure you focus on something you enjoy, too.

After all, what’s the point of being a freelancer if you can’t enjoy your work?

And ta-da! It’s that simple. The intersection of these questions, where your experience and interests overlap—this is your niche.

Carol Tice, the master freelancing mind behind Make a Living Writing, advises considering the market when choosing your niche, too.

As an example she cites that she enjoyed writing Arts & Entertainment articles for a local newspaper, but opted to niche in other beats because the A&E writer pool is already so overcrowded.

These considerations have led me to focus on offering blogging and other content marketing services geared toward small to mid-size businesses, as well as public relations and marketing trade publications.

how to set yourself apart with a freelance writing niche

My Extra Question

As I plan my own strategy, I’m asking myself a third question: What do I want to write about, but can’t claim as a niche right now?

For me that’s an easy question to answer—I adore geek and pop culture writing and would just love to build a portfolio in that niche. I’d also love to write about health, fitness and well-being topics.

I’m not there right now, but if I could get paid for posts in these niches, it would be a dream. So while I’m putting my biggest focus on where I can niche myself right now, I’m saving some time and energy to build out some credibility in these topics, too.

After all, I’m in this for the long haul, not just the next few months. I want a career arc that is balanced, dynamic, and diversified. (And, duh, fun.)

What About You?

So what’s your niche? Take some time to explore these key questions and find those sweet spots where interests and experience overlap for profitability. When it comes to standing out among the hordes of freelance writers out there these days, specialization is the key.

And don’t forget to leave some room to reach for the stars and plan future niches, too!

Advice is Only Worth What You Do With It

advice is only worth what you do with itWhen you’re just beginning as a freelancer, there’s a shit ton of advice out there. Go ahead, Google, “beginning freelancer,” or “start a freelance business,” or “get your first client.”

At first, this all seems like a huge relief, and you just envelop yourself in the pages and pages of advice out there.

And then …

Well. Then you realize that no matter how much advice you read, you’ve still got to just find your own way to be your own version of success.

You realize that no matter how much advice you read, you still have to figure out how to do it for yourself–All that advice is only as good as what you do with it.

I’m super lucky to be able to do this at a time in my life where, somehow, miraculously, things have worked out in such a way that I’m not under any real pressure to make money for us to survive. Anything I earn is icing on the cake. It’s a simply matter of personal pride to stand up this freelancing thing into something real.

But something in me wants this so badly it almost hurts. And it’s got me pretty wound up.

Including time spent on fiction writing, I’m putting in about 10 hours day, if not more, working on my platform, bidding for gigs, experimenting with different kinds of opportunities, and coming up with ideas for more I can do in the coming weeks.advice is only worth what you do with it

Like most good things, finding success in freelancing seems to be a combination of persistence and a willingness to learn as you go. These are things I’ve excelled at in the past.

But the other element is patience. And this part, the waiting, boy does that make me squirm.

Are you a freelancer? How did you get your start?

4 (Free) Basics to Launch Your Freelance Business

Thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier to launch your own freelance business. But there are certain things you must do to set yourself up as a credible professional. Take the time to make these materials stellar, and you’ll maximize their benefit for you.

4 free basics to launch your freelance businessI’ve already gotten started on these for my own freelance business, and I intend to continue working on them as a continuous effort to always be honing my business skills (which are simply not as sharp as my writing skills).

Here are the four necessary basics you need to launch your freelance business (and good news, they’re all free):

1. Clearly defined niche

It’s not enough to be a “writer.” By selecting a more specific niche, you actually increase your opportunities by making yourself more competitive within certain specialties. To find your niche, find the cross-section between what you enjoy and what you have experience in. My niche is content marketing, with an emphasis in blogs, newsletters, and web articles.

2. Website

Your website is your online “open for business” sign—without it, no one will know to walk in your “shop.” It should include a description of your niche and services, an “about” page, a professional looking headshot, and easy-to-find contact information.

You can create yours for free using wordpress and other similar services (that’s what I did). But let’s be honest—nothing says “serious professional” like your own URL, sans the “.wordpress.com” tag.

It’s a small cost to purchase a URL, too, so it’s worth the investment—it’s the number one item on my list for upgrades to make as my client pay comes in.

3. Portfolio

Your clips are one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. They prove you’ve got the chops to back up your pitches, and give potential clients a sense of your abilities and style.

There are lots of ways to share your portfolio—I’ve been showcasing some work on Updesk and Contently so far, and always include a relevant work sample when I pitch for a gig. Some freelancers put their portfolio on their websites and some don’t. It’s something I plan to experiment with in the near future.

If you don’t have work samples for your portfolio, there’s plenty of ways to get them, including volunteering your services, asking friends and family, and more.

4. LOI

That stands for letter of introduction. It’s your first contact when approaching a new potential client that has not solicited applications for a gig.

It’s never a good idea to push out the same form letter to all your prospects, but a basic template can help save you some time and make customizing each pitch much easier. And because a lot of the content in an LOI is similar to a pitch email, you can use it as a base to build from for other business outreach, too.

Tweet this (4)

Now let’s get to it

And that’s it. With these four items in your toolbox, you’re ready to get down to business.

Of course, bear in mind that these are truly the basics to get up and running. My business plan includes a list of things to invest in as the budget is available, such as business cards and a subscription to Writer’s Market. But you can start earning without spending a penny. So no more excuses—let’s get started.