British award-winning writer Neil Gaiman once famously commented that, if you’re a freelancer and you’re successful at what you’re doing, the whole universe conspires to stop you from doing that thing, exactly because you’re successful, and that he once realized he had become someone who professionally answered emails and who wrote as a hobby. So the next day he answered fewer emails and wrote more.
This is just one example of a problem freelancers face that nobody discusses. It’s all really lumped together in one large term, called self-motivation. That is to say, you need to motivate yourself to do the things you have to do.
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This is because when you’re a freelancer, you’re working for yourself. There is no boss to tell you to get to work and your workspace is, most frequently, your home. This sounds great and many people dream of this lifestyle.
There is a problem with it, though. The fact that you work from home means that you can easily slip into an “I’m at home right now, so I can relax” mindset and the fact that you’re your own boss means there’s nobody around to tell you to stop slacking and pick up the pace but yourself.
A freelance life is a great thing to have, but it entails even more complicated issues than those we’ve already mentioned. For instance, you may have to keep working and working and putting out content and not receive feedback (financial or otherwise) for most of it. This is especially true when starting out in freelancing.
It’s easy to get discouraged when you put a lot of work into something you really think turned out great and you get no reaction once you send it out into the world. But you shouldn’t. If it’s really good work, and you don’t get paid, then at least you’ll still have gained the experience.
There are quite a few ways to raise your productivity, without overworking or stressing yourself out too much: it’s just a matter of raising your self-motivation. Let’s take a look at some of them now.
1. Take care of your work environment
It may sound redundant or silly, but take a few minutes at the end of each work day to tidy up your workspace. You may think the clutter doesn’t affect you or the way you work, but it serves as a huge distraction when you actually get down to it. You’ll be surprised how much faster and better you get your tasks done when your workspace is neat rather than messy or cluttered.
2. Take breaks and work in smaller intervals
It’s not healthy to stare at a computer screen for 8 hours straight. That is a fact. The human mind loses interest in a topic after about 40 minutes. That’s why it’s good to take a short break now and then. Focusing on another subject will help you come back refreshed to the task at hand and not looking into a screen for five to ten minutes will help your eyes rest and leave you feeling less tired. It’s amazing what short breaks can do for you.
When we say work in short intervals, we mean don’t focus on big objectives that take a whole lot of time to get to. Instead, break each of those tasks down into smaller, bite-sized goals that are manageable and that take less time to achieve. Ideally, you’ll be able to break down your work-day into a number of 40 minute – one hour segments during which you achieve as many of these small goals.
This is a great way to time your breaks and to get yourself motivated. It works in two ways: on the one hand, the fact that each task is small and short-term means that you won’t get discouraged with the sheer amount of work you have to get done, which is always a risk, while, on the other hand, your progress becomes a lot more visible this way, which is always very motivational.
3. Create a routine
Like we already discussed, being your own boss is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, your chances of getting stuck in a bad workplace relationship are very low, seeing as you’re both the boss and the employee. More so, the hours are flexible, and as long as the job gets done, nobody cares how much time you spend in the office. On the other hand, you have nobody to be accountable to but yourself. Procrastination is one of the biggest dangers freelance work presents.
Fortunately, this problem has a simple solution. Create yourself a routine. That way, you know exactly when your work hours are and you won’t risk either under performing due to procrastination nor overworking due to the feeling that you should constantly be working that a lot of freelancers have reported.
Of course, this time-rigid routine is only one possible way to create your routine. You could always opt for the specific tasks to be performed each day without specifying a precise time interval for them to take place. That way, you know the work will get done each day, without losing the flexibility advantage of freelance work.
So, for the sake of clarity, on one hand you have a routine based on getting up the same time each day, starting work at around the same time, working for a set number of hours (that are possibly broken down into intervals in which you read and answer email, do research or scout for various design resources and actually doing the work), and stopping at a certain time in the afternoon. That’s a good, solid routine, but it’s not that different from working a regular nine to five job.
On the other hand, you have a list of tasks you have to perform each day, like looking up design inspiration, working on this project for that client for a set number of hours, marketing yourself online in order to keep the inbound projects flowing and so forth.
4. Stop over-analyzing!
When you try to perfect something, it takes a lot longer to do. That’s OK when you’re working on a project that is particularly important to you, but if you try to perfect each and every single piece of design work you have to do, then you’re going to slow down your output a lot.
Remember, now that you’re working freelance, the amount of work you put out is exactly the amount of cash that’s coming in. This means that you can’t afford the luxury of coddling every piece of work you have to do. You may have to learn to look at some projects as just a source of income.
Try to put aside your ego and just do the work, even if you’re not feeling particularly inspired. You’ll find that you’ll get more inspired if you have something to look at rather than nothing at all in front of you. Plus, it’s easier to fix something that’s not quite right than to build something great from scratch.
5. Switch your tasks
Working on the same project all the time will guarantee you’ll get bored and hit a dead end at one point or another. Your brain needs to switch focus for a while. Boredom isone of the chief enemies of motivation.
Try keeping several smaller side-projects going whenever you have one large, time-consuming project to do. That way, whenever you start to feel fatigued and unmotivated, you can just switch to one of the side-projects and work on that for a while, before returning to the bigger main project.
These are the pieces of advice we have for you if you’re just starting out in the freelance world. If you’re a veteran freelancer or have tried these methods out, we would love to hear how they worked out for you and what other tips you have for new freelancers down in the comments section!