Freelancers–Work Smarter, Not Harder

By Erin Dalpini

Okay, quick poll: how long did it take you to finish your last freelance assignment?

How about we take that time and slice that in half?

“What?” you say. “I’m already working my fastest.”

Ah, my friend, maybe you are. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a way for you to work more efficiently: smarter, not harder.

If you’re more efficient at work, you get to spend more time doing those other things you like to do: surfing the net, riding your bike, walking the dog, watching a movie, making some Jell-O puddin’ (don’t judge), relaxing with loved ones.

Here are a few tips and techniques to help you work smarter . . .

1. Time Blocking – Learned this one from my boss, and it still helps me on especially busy days. Create an outline for your day based on time increments and do your very best not to stray from those increments.


8:00-9:00 a.m.  ~ Research for your next “Wicked-Awesome Feature”

9:00-10:00 a.m. ~ Marketing strategy conference call for website copywriting project

10:30 a.m. -11:00 a.m. ~ Review and outline conference call notes

11:00-11:30 a.m. ~ Email checking

11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. ~ Writing block

Then, in real time, track how well you stick to your schedule. There’s no saying that your day will always go as planned, but that’s okay. Part of this exercise is being more aware of how you utilize your time; the more mindful you become of your work-pace, the easier it is to schedule and complete projects. Along the way, don’t get discouraged. It’s highly likely you’ll have some days that won’t even resemble your original plan, especially if you’re trying to cram an interview in—people are hard to track down, meetings go long, you get distracted and check Facebook while you’re supposed to be . . .

2. Resist the Lure of Social Media – Whether you’re working for an hourly rate or a set figure, you’ll get the job done faster if you’re sure to remember you’re not getting paid for tweeting. Yeah, I said it. Social media is fun, but it’s probably not going to help you finish your project (though as I type this, I can think of ways it could be utilized). Unless you have a specific goal in mind and you need to use social media to achieve it, try and stay focused on whatever task you have ahead of yourself and cut out all needless distractions. I hate to say it, but sometimes you have to disconnect. Especially when you’re writing. And you do like to write, yes? Turn off your phone, close out of that browser, and go for it. It’s okay to allow yourself designated mini-breaks to check email, Twitter, etc. just don’t multitask when it’s “get down to business time” (no, not that business time).

3. Identify the Problem; Take Steps to Correct it – I discovered this next tip from one of the most efficient writers I know of–Gretchen Rubin. Author, supermom, happiness expert, problogger, Rubin created a set of ten personal commandments, one of which  is “Identify the Problem.” While Rubin shares a straightforward, simple example in this post, you can use this life rule to identify ways in which your work may be dragging or getting snagged. Are you not getting any hits back from your query letters? Are you finding it hard to get your next potential client to commit? Think for a moment. Now try and answer why? (Still having trouble IDing your problem? Ask us! )

Identifying the problem isn’t always easy, but once you do, you can then take steps to correct it, rather than continue to let the problem brew. Is there a nagging problem you’ve been letting slide by because there’s too much to worry about? Make an action plan to remedy the problem, then follow through. Indentifying the problem and taking steps to correct it will change the way you work for the better.

4. Track Your Progress – Let’s see how efficient you are. For a week, write down each day all the freelance work you accomplish. Be comprehensive, and give yourself credit for what you’ve done—networking events, phone calls, etc. count towards the big picture. At the workweek’s end, review your list and see if you can beat it the following week. Are there places where you could streamline your processes? Don’t forget to leave room for creative breaks!

Now it’s your turn, Buster. If you’re already working pretty fast, tell us: How do you work smarter?

2 thoughts on “Freelancers–Work Smarter, Not Harder”

  1. I never edit anything when I am tired or sick. It’s useless and I make too many mistakes…it’s not a good use of my time.

    Great piece Erin!

  2. Some good thoughts here, Erin. I had an old boss who used to say that “You’ll extend the work to fill the time,” and I often think back on that when I have an undefined deadline. I’m way more efficient when I know I have very little time to get something done — funny how that works!

    At the same time, it’s important to recognize what type of style you are. I know that I’m a sprinter who hammers out his best copy in short, intense bursts of no more than an hour or so. The hardest thing for me to manage is a long project with too much lead time; so, when I have that type of assignment, I know I have to break it down into a pile of mini-deadlines.

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