Do More: 5 Simple Ways to Improve Productivity

November 22, 2016

Being self-employed, the success of your career depends on the work you produce everyday. Failing to create results for clients will leave them unhappy and looking for a new freelancer or business. Trust me, I know.

I think every entrepreneur has felt exhausted, burnt out or simply lacked motivation at one point or another. Maybe that’s the very thing that made you click to read this article in the first place. It happens to the best of us, regardless of how long we’ve been in the game. And that’s why it’s so important to develop strong productivity habits.

It doesn’t matter how many challenges, distractions or interruptions you face in a day. You’ve got to learn how to manage self-employment, dealing with the temptation of social media at your fingertips and the countless things that may come up throughout your day.

So, let’s learn some simple ways to make your work day super productive despite whatever stands in your way. These almost-effortless tips will help you improve productivity and minimize stress, so your time working is earning and your time off is really time off—both mentally and physically.

1. Use the ABCDE Method for Prioritizing Tasks

Have you ever had so much to do that you didn’t know where to start?

In these cases, the ABCDE method can be used to determine where to begin, what to finish and where to end—taking you from overwhelmed to ready, one step at a time.

To use the ABCDE method, all you need is your work, a pen and a notepad. Begin by creating categories for each letter and sorting your tasks into relevant categories:

  • A: Tasks that must be done to avoid serious consequence (e.g. a project due in 5 hours)
  • B: Tasks that should be done (e.g. finding more work, a gig due by the end of the day)
  • C: Tasks that would be nice to finish, but don’t need to be completed immediately (e.g. updating your website or a night out)
  • D: Tasks you should delegate (e.g. administrative duties or household chores)
  • E: Tasks you need to eliminate (e.g. alphabetizing your to-do list or ironing the curtains)

Once you’ve finished your list, clear the tasks that should be eliminated and start from the top and work your way down. Knowing where to start and how to progress brings empowerment and accomplishment to your day.

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2. Identify the Most Important Tasks Using the 80/20 Rule

While the 80/20 rule can apply to a variety of situations, it’s especially useful for you in your freelancing career. The general principle of the 80/20 rule as it applies your workflow is that 20% of the effort you put into your work yields 80% of the result.

It’s key to identify which clients or projects take the least effort and pay the most. Once you know who these clients are or which projects this describes, you can focus on:

  1. Seeking more work from those or similar clients.
  2. Prioritizing this work above other clients.

If you truly master the art of the 80/20 rule, you’ll decrease your time investment and multiply your payout. And that’s every entrepreneur’s dream.

3. Work on Your Most Difficult Tasks First

There are two primary reasons to tackle your most difficult projects first:

  • According to Dan Ariely, a professor at Duke University, people are most productive during their first two hours of the day. Doing the most difficult projects when you are most productive ensures it gets done in a timely, effective manner.
  • Leaving a difficult project until the end of the day can leave you in a panic and distract you from the tasks you attempt in the meantime. “Eating the frog” first thing in the morning gets the task that weighs down on you most out of the way and enables you to focus entirely on each subsequent task as you tackle it.

I’m not going to lie—it takes an incredible amount of willpower to decide that you’ll do that most difficult task first. But it’s definitely worth it. From my experience, consistently completing your most difficult task first can consistently improve your productivity, mood and results.

4. Set Aside Blackout Times Throughout the Day

Set specified times during the day to flip the off switch on social media, telephone calls and emails. This is a great way to help you eliminate distractions and focus on work.

A few tools to make staying on task a little easier:

  • FocusBooster uses a focus timer—referred to as the pomodoro technique—in 25-minute intervals, followed by an alarm and a five-minute break to maximize focus and productivity. The starter kit is free with limited features and a paid account starts at only $3.
  • TomatoTimer is a free productivity timer that uses the same pomodoro technique.
  • Asana is perfect for team collaboration, enabling you to move work with ease from start to finish. Membership is free for teams of up to 15 people—perfect for small businesses.

Using tools like these are perfect for days when you feel particularly distracted or unmotivated.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”

Every freelancer has a point in their career where they’re constantly straining their limits. The idea of more pay makes more work seem worth it.

But it ultimately can lead to burnout, poor work quality and the loss of clients.

Just saying no is one of the best productivity tips you can learn. It’s all about understanding your priorities, strengths and, most importantly, your limits. Don’t be afraid to turn down work that you don’t have time to do.

Have you learned how to overcome your struggle with productivity? If so, share your best tips in the comments below.

This is an archived post from the FreshBooks Blog and was originally published in November 2015.

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.