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4 Practices to Stay Productive as a Freelancer

In the past twenty-four hours, three different people asked if they could “pick my brain” on freelancing.

Which, of course, I’m more than happy to do. If someone wants to grab a coffee and talk about the life they’ve always dreamed of living, honey I’m with you. But you probably won’t like what I have to say.

Freelancing is—easily—the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. When the bank account gets low, you don’t have the assurance of a guaranteed direct deposit in two weeks’ time. Making that balance as padded as possible is 100 percent on you.

And when you stress over funds, rent, getting enough clients, or wondering if your future is going up in flames, it’s really hard to focus on other things. In fact, my first year in business, I could barely work on anything other than a client deliverable. I had a million and one ideas, and saw (perhaps) one to execution.

As a freelancer, your first lesson is knowing how hard it is to do all the things that we want to do.

Unless you MAKE TIME to do something, it will not get done. Know that.

Your website will not launch, your online program will not sell (or get written in the first place), your email campaign won’t automate itself. You need to set aside time each day to scale your business, just as you would set aside time for a client.

I know this is exactly what you don’t want to hear, but when you are a freelancer it’s all on you.

You are not an agency. You are a one-woman show, and that means you do EVERYTHING.

You are your own business development officer, secretary, client account manager, and brand manager.

You have to do it all, and it doesn’t get easier. However, there are certain tools you can use to prevent your brain from interfering with what you can potentially do. The list is endless, but here are a few practices that make things easier on me.

1. I track my time with Toggl.

Just as I did working for an agency, I track my time. Not only does this help me give accurate time estimates to clients, but knowing that I’m “on the clock” makes me push harder throughout the day. If I look back on my time entries and realize it took me seven hours to write a single blog post (which has TOTALLY happened) I know there’s something wrong.

2. I set a different focus each day.

I carry a planner—The Nourished Planner, in case you’re wondering—and at the top of each day I write my “theme” for the day. This can be my website, outreach, a particular client, or developing content. That way, I know I have set aside an entire day per week on my most important tasks.

3. I do my most creative work in the morning.

I never schedule a meeting before 11AM, no matter how important the client. From the time I wake up to (at least) 10:30, I’m writing. I’m writing in my personal blog, For all the F Words, writing for an online program or blog post on KaraMcCartney.com, writing a long-form deliverable for a client. I know that I’m most creative in the morning and choose a different area to develop each day. In the afternoons, when I’m in a slump, I work on tasks I can do on autopilot: Invoicing, CRM (database) work, and blog edits.

4. I never write more than 5 to-dos per day.

My average to-do list used to surpass thirty items, easily. Now, I keep two to-do lists. I have one “master” list, where I brain-vomit all the things nagging at me, and then a “daily” list. My daily list gets FIVE ITEMS, and that’s it. I carry tasks from my master list to my daily list, and when I hit my five limit, I move on to the next day. This also helps me develop my “focus” for the day, which you see in #2.

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