How to stay productive when you’re self-employed

Lily Smith
8 August, 2019 · 5 min read

One of the best parts of running your own business is that your time is all your own. Need more flexible working hours? You‘re the boss – you‘ve got them. But when you‘re freelance, it can sometimes be tricky to maintain the same focus that you have when you‘re working a 9 to 5 for a traditional employer.

Nearly 5 million people in the UK are registered as self-employed. Every one of them has their own work habits (and their own working hours). You’ll probably need to experiment with different ways of working before you settle into a routine that works for you and your business. Here’s a few tips to help you make the most of your working day – whatever that looks like.

Get organised

If you’re self-employed, you’ll need to get organised to stay in business. Missing a work deadline, forgetting to invoice a client or falling behind on your tax returns will cost you time and money. Put some systems in place so that you can on top of things, whether business is booming or if you’re on the hunt for your next client. For example, instead of checking your email every time you get a notification, set aside 20 minutes a day to tidy up your email inbox. Chances are you’ll find it easier to focus if you restrict your email admin to regular, allotted times.

One of the simplest but most effective ways of getting organised is maintaining a thorough to-do list. Writing your list of tasks down somewhere safe means you don’t have to keep everything in your head. Even if you’re doing your dream job, there will be tasks you don’t particularly want to do. ANNA’s advice? Do your least favourite task first, then you can focus on the work that you really enjoy. Create a routine for yourself and make sure you set up some sensible boundaries (e.g. no work calls after 8pm). Applying some discipline to your routine will keep your business productive, and help you maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Plan ahead

Being a freelancer is a bit like waiting for a bus. Sometimes there’s no work and then three jobs come along at once. Instead of running yourself into the ground when a last-minute job comes in, make a plan to deal with situations like that when you’ve next got some downtime. If you need an extra pair of hands, make a list of people you can rely on and note their availability. If you need more equipment or resources, research the best prices and vendors when you’re not tight for time. It’ll save you money and hassle in the long run. Got a quiet week? Invest that time wisely: update your website, take a client out for coffee or do some social media engagement. You’ll thank yourself when you get busy again.

Take a break

It’s tempting to work late into the evening or carry on working through the weekend when you’re self-employed. But this approach will affect your productivity for the worse. You need regular breaks to recharge your body and your brain, so make sure you take time to relax each week. When you’re your own boss, you can decide when you step away from a stressful task to grab a cup of coffee or a breath of fresh air. You’ll be much more productive when you get back to business after a proper break. Regular breaks will also prevent you from doing personal tasks during work hours, and muddying up that all-important work/life balance.

Learn to say no

As your own boss, it’s down to you to keep an eye on your incomings and outgoings. You should know the cost of every overhead, and what you need to turn a profit every month. It’s good to remember that some jobs will pay better than others. There might be times when you take on a job for a lower fee in order to secure a new client or just because you’re really passionate about the project. However, it’s crucial to your business that you know your own worth, and when to say no to a job which isn’t worth your time or goodwill.

Be a good boss (to yourself)

When you’re running your business, it’s important to give yourself the support that you’d expect from a good boss. Take time to evaluate your business objectives regularly, and reward your own good performance. Decide what you want your business to achieve this year, set measurable goals, and celebrate when you reach them. If you don’t hit your targets, what needs to change? Think back to when you last had a manager that you worked really well with. How did they keep you motivated? That’s what you need to do for yourself to keep your business ticking over.

Stay healthy

Your health is one of your most important assets when you’re self-employed, so make sure you look after yourself. Stick to healthy breakfasts and lunches, drink plenty of water, get regular sleep, and make sure you’re taking time to do some exercise every day. If you’re working at a computer, it’s worth investing in ergonomic office furniture to protect your posture – no one wants to lose a day’s work to a bad back. And don’t underestimate the importance of a clean and tidy office to your general wellbeing. That wastepaper basket will keep your desk tidy and your mind clutter-free.

And finally, avoid admin faff

As a freelancer, you’re probably well aware of how much time is taken up doing basic admin. It can be difficult to focus on the job in hand when you’re following up on late invoices or organising a messy pile of receipts. ANNA can help out with all your admin, from creating and chasing invoices to categorising your business expenses. When your admin is taken care of, you end up with more time and energy to grow your business.

Got your own tips and tricks for boosting productivity? We’re all ears. Join our Early Birds Facebook group to spill the beans and find out what ANNA is up to next.

About the author

Lily Smith is a National Film and Television School trained writer, currently freelancing at ANNA Money. She’s collaborated with remarkable, inspiring people and together they've won Gold Lions, D&ADs, and secured $9M in Google Ventures funding.

Read more of Lily's writing
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