Freelancing is an appealing option for people in many modern careers, including accounting, photography, writing, and consulting. You get to run your own business (the way you want), choose your own clients, set your own hours, and work with a practically unlimited income ceiling. But, the sad truth is that most freelancers never achieve their true potential due to efficiency mistakes.
The upsides of not having a boss are self-evident and glorious, but we can’t forget about the downsides; without a supervisor or mentor guiding you, you likely won’t work as efficiently as you could. You’ll also have to learn lessons the hard way thanks to these efficiency mistakes. In the process, you’ll most likely experience failure and embarrassment firsthand.
Fortunately, you can mitigate these efficiency issues by learning from the experience of other freelancers and getting a feel for which problems are most common for freelancers. In this article, we’ll focus on some of the most common efficiency mistakes holding freelancers back.
The Most Common Efficiency Mistakes by Freelancers
Pay close attention to these common efficiency mistakes. Are you already making them? Or, do you have a plan to counter and avoid them?
Not having a dedicated workplace.
It’s common for freelancers today to work remotely, and for the most part, it’s a good arrangement. Working from home or from a local coffee shop means you can skip the agonizing commute, and work in an environment free from the distractions of a typical office. If you end up with a laptop, floating from room to room, you’ll end up unfocused, and distracted by your surroundings.
To avoid these efficiency mistakes, it’s much better to establish a home office, rely on a consistent co-working space, or create some other consistent arrangement.
2. Failing to set a strict schedule.
Similarly, you should set a strict schedule for yourself. You’ll have flexible hours as a freelancer, but that doesn’t mean you should take advantage of them. Plan to start at a specific time every day, and end at a specific time as well. In the meantime, chart out a loose schedule of what you plan to accomplish and when you plan to accomplish it.
This is important because it helps you set priorities and ensures that each hour of your day is spent wisely. It’s also important because it draws a firm line between personal time and work time; this is psychologically beneficial to you, especially over the long term.
That said, it’s also possible to over-plan, which is also one of many efficiency mistakes. No matter how well you know your business or how long you’ve been running it, there will always be extraneous variables interfering with your plans—and you don’t want to neglect them just because they weren’t in your original plans.
Simultaneously, if you’re reliant on a strict schedule, you could easily become frustrated or disrupted when that schedule is broken. Accordingly, the best approach for most freelancers is to create a flexible schedule, with built-in buffers of time in case new things come up. When planning, understand which priorities you’re willing to drop and which are immutable.
4. Compromising sleep.
One of the most important factors to your productivity is one that’s often overlooked: your sleep. Too many freelancers would happily pull an all-nighter to finish an important project or meet a tight deadline, but this is counterproductive. The quality of sleep and the number of hours you get play a crucial role in not only your mental and emotional health, but also your physical health.
If you miss even one night of sleep, you’ll end up exhausted, cranky, impatient, and slow-thinking the next day. If chronic, you can suffer from symptoms like depression, memory impairment, and even increased susceptibility to illnesses. It’s in your best interest to make sleep a priority, scheduling it like you would schedule any important aspect of your business.
5. Not resting or relaxing.
On a similar note, you have to prioritize your own rest and relaxation. While it’s tempting to grow your business as aggressively as possible, spending every hour of every day working hard, this approach will inevitably lead to burnout. Instead, you’ll be more productive (and end up healthier and happier) if you take plenty of time for yourself.
That means scheduling and taking breaks throughout the day, as well as scheduling time for vacations. It also involves spending your nights and weekends (or whatever time you choose) with friends and family members, doing the things you love. It’s going to pull you away from work temporarily, but when you return, you’ll be even more efficient and productive.
6. Charging too little.
Efficiency isn’t just about doing more; it’s also about making sure what you do is adequately valuable. For example, you might be able to complete 100 tasks in a single day, but if you only make $1 for each of those tasks, you’ve only made $100 for the day.
If you double your rates, you’ll make $2 for each of those tasks; from there, you can do 50 tasks in a day comfortably, making the same per-day rate, but having more time to do other valuable things, or you can keep doing 100 tasks and make twice as much. Either way, charging a rate that reflects your worth is important; if you charge too little, you’ll end up wasting time and/or effort.
7. Spending too much effort on difficult clients.
New freelancers are typically eager to accumulate as many clients as possible, and retain those clients no matter what. And to be fair, these are solid principles on which to build your business. However, you’ll inevitably run into some clients that are much more difficult than others. They might nitpick the details of your work, forcing you to redo it multiple times. Or, these difficult clients might be unpleasant in meetings and email conversations. It could even be that they are inconsistent in paying you.
Whatever the case, you can learn to put up with some of these problems, if they’re minor, but they can quickly snowball to become overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to fire a client who wastes your time.
8. Putting too much time into meetings.
Meetings are a bona fide productivity killer. While some meetings are certainly important (and can lead to some major collaborative breakthroughs), the vast majority of time spent in meetings is unnecessary. Meeting for the sake of meeting typically wastes time for everyone involved, so make sure every meeting you schedule has a specific purpose, and a concrete agenda.
It’s also important to consider Parkinson’s law, an informal adage that suggests the time it takes to do something swells to occupy the time allotted for it. In other words, if you schedule a meeting for an hour, it will probably take an hour, even if it doesn’t need to; accordingly, try to schedule your meetings in tight, aggressive time slots.
9. Multitasking (or attempting the feat).
You know that multitasking generally isn’t effective, but you try to do it anyway. Most of us do, from time to time. But if you try to multitask consistently, or if you end up multitasking accidentally often enough, it can seriously compromise your effectiveness.
Whenever you sit down to do a task, focus on that task alone; use only one digital device at a time, and only keep tabs and windows open that are relevant to the task at hand. The fewer temptations you have to multitask, the less you’ll actually attempt it.
10. Having no barrier or limit for distractions.
Distractions are also productivity killers. According to some studies, it takes an average of 23 minutes for your focus to fully return after even a brief distraction; and in today’s world of constant notifications and ongoing communications, distractions are abundant.
You’ll need some kind of filter or limit for these distractions if you want to work efficiently. For some people, that means turning off notifications altogether, and closing the door to your home office. For others, it means establishing a “heads-down” period in your day, where you don’t respond to communications, close your email inbox, and block yourself from accessing certain websites. There’s no single “right” strategy here, so long as you’re in charge of your distractions—not the other way around.
The Importance of Diagnostics
No freelancer is highly productive and efficient right out of the gates. Instead, the most productive solopreneurs and contractors in the world are ones who aggressively worked at becoming better. Accordingly, one of the best things you can do for yourself is establish a system of diagnostics and a system of accountability; essentially, you’ll need some way to measure how you’re spending your time, and a commitment to learn from those measurements.
There are several potential approaches here, but the most straightforward is to use some kind of time tracking or task tracking software. When used consistently, you’ll get a clear picture of how you’re spending the hours of each day. And if you attach those hours to earned value, you can easily see where you’re wasting time and where you’re investing it. From there, it’s a matter of applying simple habit changes to improve your processes.
Anyone can become a productive, efficient freelancer, but it’s not going to come to you without work. To avoid efficiency mistakes, remain flexible and willing to improve, and eventually, you’ll be able to achieve your goals—whether that’s landing bigger clients, or simply getting more done each day.