Money at 30: 4 Productivity Tips for Freelancers

A few weeks ago I wrote about ideas for jobs you could do from home. In that column I also talked about how great freelancing can be and how much I’ve enjoyed doing it over the past three years. But there’s one thing I forgot to mention: freelancing isn’t always easy — especially when you’re lazy.

Yes, the downside of working from home for many people is that there’s plenty of opportunity to slack off and have your procrastination go unchecked. This is something I really had to fight when I first started and is still something I struggle with from time to time. That’s why I thought I’d share some of the ways I’ve learned to curb by laziness and stay productive as a freelancer.

Get up early

Waking up early in the morning is never really fun… and that’s exactly why I first started doing it. Initially, when I was running behind on a project that I had procrastinated on,  I would punish myself by waking up extra early the next morning and working until it was done. The logic here was two fold: first, it would allow me all the time I needed to get my work done. Secondly the early morning proved to have fewer distractions to get in the way. In fact, as mad as I would get at myself if I wasted a good part of my day, I would be livid with myself if I woke up early and still screwed around the whole time.

As I mentioned, this was just the start of my flirtation with early rising. Since then my regular wake up time has crept earlier and earlier with great results. Sometimes (mostly when the weather is nice) my wife and I will even get up around 5:30 to go for a jog, grab some coffee, or both. Although it may be difficult dragging myself out of bed at such an hour and I might dread it the night before, I never seem to regret it at the end of the day. So while getting up at before 6 every day is still a no-go for me, I’ve really learned to appreciate the power getting up early can have on your productivity.

Set deadlines and be held accountable

The great Walt Disney once said, “Everyone needs deadlines. Even the beavers. They loaf around all summer, but when they are faced with the winter deadline, they work like fury. If we didn’t have deadlines, we’d stagnate.” This is especially true when it comes to completing jobs whose priority may not be immediately apparent. If you’re like me, these are tasks that I will procrastinate on forever or forget about entirely. That’s why I now set clear deadlines for myself, laying out what I want to accomplish and when.

But there’s still one problem with that plan: who’s going to ensure you stick to that deadline? To paraphrase another genius, Jerry Seinfeld, you know how to set deadlines, but you don’t know how to hold them — anybody can just make them!

That’s why it’s important to have someone keep you accountable and keep you on course. In some instances this will be the client who you can bet is going to ensure you get their work done. As for those projects you’re doing for yourself that can slip through the cracks, ask a friend to keep tabs on you and put a bit of pressure on you to get it done.

In my case, my wife is happy to play this role (going back to my first tip, she’ll also make sure I get up early if I say I’m going to). If you really don’t want to burden a friend or family member with such a task, perhaps a nagging calendar reminder will suffice. Whatever you do, having some sort of accountability is invaluable until you can learn to fight laziness and temptation all on your own.

Reward yourself

Fighting off distraction isn’t easy. That’s why, from time to time, I just give in —but as a reward to myself after I’ve made good progress in my project. This method actually allows me to stay more focused on my work throughout the day and then have a little fun before moving onto the next task.

Of course these rewards need to stay within reason. For example, my completing an article usually entitles me to spend 15 to 20 minutes catching up on my favorite YouTubers. The key is to find something you can easily pull yourself away from when it’s time to get back to work. Additionally you’ll want to be aware of over-rewarding yourself — if you’re taking a break after every little task, you’ll never get anything done! That said taking a few minutes to enjoy a distraction will allow you to move past it and be more productive overall.

Change your scenery

Everyone once in a while there comes a time when my home office just doesn’t cut it. It’s not that I don’t have all the tools I need at home but, for some reason, I just can’t seem to concentrate on what I need to do. In these instances I try to change things up by grabbing my laptop and seeking a change of scenery.

These days such mini-retreats usually just mean a trip to a nearby Starbucks (cliche, I know) where I can bang out an article or other projects that I can’t seem to focus on at home. For others perhaps sitting on your patio on a nice morning is enough to get you going. Whatever works to get you out of your funk and back on track, do it!

Freelancing has many benefits but it also has a few drawbacks. At the top of the list is that it can be easy to let your productivity slip given the comforts of home. However, in my experience, learning to get up early, set deadlines (and have someone ensure you meet them), reward myself when I complete tasks, and change the scenery when necessary, has allowed me to stay productive in my freelancing life and I’m sure these tips can do the same for you.


Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site and has recently starting publsihing his own personal finance blog at

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