Elance Blog

6 Painless Ways to Boost Your Productivity as a Freelancer


Ask any freelancer around, and you'll get the same response: Maintaining a strong level of productivity is an absolute must for success. Ed Gandia, co-author of The Wealthy Freelancer and co-founder of International Freelancers Day (Sept. 24-25) brings 6 great ways to make you a more efficient and productive freelancer.

I love working from home. The flexibility to take my lunch break whenever I want, visit the gym when it’s not crowded or walk my dog when I need to clear my mind...

You just can’t put a price on that!

But with that flexibility comes temptation. The temptation to watch a bit of TV (which turns into a two-hour break). Eat a snack and call a friend about last night’s football game. Take a nap. Go shopping. Name your weakness.

That’s not good. Because as a freelancer, your most precious nonrenewable resource (besides your knowledge, talents and experience) is your time. Using it wisely is one of the quickest ways to boost your income and get more free time.

How can you become more productive? Here are six simple and easy-to-implement tips that have helped me boost my productivity by more than 30 percent over the last two years. I guarantee that you’ll get similar (or even better) results if you apply them.

#1: Start by developing a productive attitude. Treat your craft as a business, not a hobby. And treat your time as a business owner would treat her most valuable inventory: with great care. After all, time is part of your own “inventory.”

This doesn’t mean you should work more hours. You could be working full-time, part-time or half-time. It doesn’t matter. But when you’re at work… work! Which leads me to the next point…

#2: Set working hours every day. And stick to them. For instance, I’m at my desk every day by 7:00 a.m. I find that the early morning hours are the most productive for me. My mind is clearer and my creative energies sharper.

End time is 6:00 p.m. That sounds like a long day, but I take an hour to go to the gym every day. I also pick up my son from school four days a week. Some days I take him to school in the mornings. And when we get home, we usually spend an hour doing homework and playing. I also often have meetings, lunches or coffee with friends and personal appointments. So it’s not all work time.

#3: Schedule your day. The night before or first thing in the morning, look at your overall project schedule and determine how you’ll allocate your time that day, hour by hour. Include personal time in that schedule. Above all, stick to it. Be disciplined. This tip alone will boost your productivity by 10 or 20 percent almost immediately.

#4: Always work on the task at hand.
If you’ve allocated 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. to Project XYZ, work on that project for the whole two hours. It’s OK to take a break halfway through (more on that in a minute). But then get back to work on time. Don’t turn on the TV. Don’t check Facebook. You’re at work!

#5: Turn your phone’s ringer off if you’re easily distracted. Let calls go to voice mail and return calls during two or three designated times during the day. Similarly, turn your email program off if you don’t have the discipline to stay away from it. And at a minimum, turn off the chime or indicators your email program uses to notify you of incoming emails. Not only is it distracting, it also keeps you from building momentum on the task at hand.

#6: Use the “50-minute focus” technique.
Developed by marketing whiz Dean Jackson, this technique is like strapping a jet engine to the back of a Ferrari! (OK, maybe not that fast, but still!). It’s amazingly simple and equally as effective. Here's how it works: 

  • Get a timer with an alarm. I use an online egg timer, but you can use a wristwatch or a kitchen timer.
  • Select the project you want to work on, preferably one where you really need to make some serious progress.
  • Set the timer for 50 minutes.
  • During those 50 minutes, be totally focused on that project, just as you would be at an important client meeting. Don't check email. Don't take a break. Don't let your mind wander to the plans you have for the weekend. Be totally immersed.
  • When the timer goes off, stop working. Completely unplug from the project for 20 minutes (yes, 20 full minutes!). During that time, you can take a break or get a few non-project tasks done. (I like to read.)
  • After 20 minutes, assuming you still plan on working, do another 50-minute focus.

Fifty-minute focus sessions are like blocks of super-productive time you can squeeze in anywhere, anytime. I find this technique particularly helpful when I'm tired, under deadline pressure, or just feel unmotivated for some reason. Once I get absorbed in the project, my lack of motivation often disappears. Plus, I love the built-in incentive — that 20-minute break!

What about you? What techniques have helped you stay focused and boosted your productivity? What has NOT worked for you? Share with us in the comments below.

About the Author:
Ed Gandia is co-author of The Wealthy Freelancer: 12 Secrets to a Great Income and an Enviable Lifestyle. He’s also a co-founder of International Freelancers Day — the biggest-ever FREE online conference exclusively for solo professionals, which will be held on Sept. 24 and 25. To learn more, visit www.InternationalFreelancersDay.com.



Pretty Nice.

Is much appreciated the motivation and also I will add something more wich can sound weird but happens, take your style as a real (I meant physical) Job, wich will involves that you will have to bath in the morning, get a normal eat hours, schedule appointments with your clients, and time to respond emails, etc.

All that is taked as a real business not as a newbie who wants to make a few bucks online.

Rafael Benard

these is a great little report!
facebook is my downfall because i'm from america and i live in england and most of my 'friends' and all of my family are on facebook!

I work early hours too for the same reason. I seem to get more done. I think that's because i know everyone is still sleeping!

From now on i will do the 'to do' list. Sometimes i think to myself i'll do this and this today, then a project creeps in and something gets forgotten until i'm laying in bed! I've been telling myself for years to make a to do list everyday but i've yet to stick to it. (shows my will power huh)

Being able to take my son to school and pick him everyday is the BEST reason for me to work from home. I look forward to using these little techniques to help me get further with my WORK.

Thanks for the insight!

I like that 50 minute focus technique Ed. Will give it a go. Thanks declan

As someone new to the world of freelancing my greatest challenge is focus. Since I am not a full time freelancer I do not treat my business like a business. I treat it like a hobby. And like most hobbies when the mind starts wandering your attention is totally migrated to some new venture that has absolutely nothing to do with the project you should be working on. I would very much like to change that.

I really do believe that it's because this is not my full time job - though I would love it to be - sadly it isn't. I know that when I am able to build enough clientele to the point where I can go out on my own, my focus will definitely improve.

Thanks for this post I will practice all of these and let you know how it works out.


I found this really useful. I had nor heard of the 50 minute focus before but will give it a try when I'm next writing reports that seem to go on forever.

What I take out of this is that we all need some sort of stick or carrot to get us moving. The 50 minute technique is biological, so applicable to most who have a lack of motivation. The rest is to figure out on our own.

I know I need a push, so working alone I need to push myself, and that's not an easy feat. Instating a certain structure in the day helps to make things more seemingly doable. For instance knowing that you're going to work for the next 50 minute, knowing and seeing there's an end, a goal, a finish line, makes the challenge of success seem much less... challenging.

Another issue, also kind of biological, is simply health just because body and mind are much more linked than we care to believe. I go running every morning as soon as I wake up, get my heart pumping, get rid of overnight toxins, build endorphins, breathe some fresh air (even though rare in NYC), and escape the world of pressure and suspense, all for an hour. It can't be easy to wake up in the morning and just get right down to work right out of bed. I believe the run makes the day more efficient.

In the end we're all so use to having a pre-existing structure in our lives we just don't realize how much we need it until we lose it. So if we want to live on the desert island of work then we have to run the island as a world of its own.

Great work Ed, thanks for the tips.

Thanks for the tips!!! Reading points like the ones above, always remind me of the things I already know, and will advise someone else about, but seemingly enough, won't listen to myself. I'm definitely a work in progress. Facebook is turning out to be my nemesis!

At any rate, I do find that the early morning hours are best for productivity. Also, having soft, instrumental music playing while working, seems to help me focus more. Like soft jazz, as long as there are no lyrics because I find myself getting caught up in a song and feeling it too much and singing along while I should be working...

Thanks Ed, these are great tips which really do work.

I find I like to start a little later in the morning (9am) because I really find taking stock of my mental/emotional head space in the morning clears my mind for the day's work. During this time I like to:

- Make a stiff cuppa Joe
- Journal about the things that come to mind first
- Have a look at the previous day's entry to note what (if anything) has happened in the past 24 hrs
- Pray

Before I start work I like to make a list of all the things that need to get done during the day, no matter how mundane, and tick off the tasks one at a time as I complete them. I find that I have a much greater sense of purpose when I do this and when I look back at the end of the day I can see how much I've accomplished.

Great post, thanks alot
Sean Laughton
South Africa

What about the key creative motivators at agencies? i.e. alcohol, drugs, sex and camaraderie? Just wondrin..

Thank you for so many great tips! I’m looking forward to start using your 50 min technique my next working day.

As for other ideas I would mention an organizer. By the way there are many great desk top tools that can help you to handle efficiently all you need to be done.

Start with creating a list of all the tasks you need to be completed by the end of the day including both your work hours and you private life.
Set the time for completion if there are any deadlines and mark the priorities. This way you will never miss a thing!
Cross out each task only when it is fully complete.

You’ll be surprised what's a pleasure when you look at your To-Do list and see that everything is done at the end of the day!

Hi, great article, I will definately give the 50 minute rule a go.

I find that it can be a hindrance sometimes, thinking of the all day's tasks to be done, it can be really daunting, you end up feeling heavy and burdened and end up finding yourself distracted and being extremely unproductive. Subconsciously (and consciously) being easliy led astray, and always putting it in the to hard basket. (I really need to get rid of the to hard basket its a killer!)

I like to make lists and check them off, yet I have found breaking things up into componants, groups and small portions is alot easier to digest. And actually suprising yourself when it takes less time than estimated. And not feeling full to the brim and then realising you still have another 1/2 a cow to eat.

One of my problems is trying to find easier or faster ways of doing tasks. Making an action or trying to be clever and figure the most efficient way of doing the task, for me this ends up taking twice as long as it would, if i had just hardened up and did the task that I asumed was going to take forever. Sure if you have to repeat the process, finding a quicker way can count in the end, but realistically its just another form of procrastination in disguise.

Thanks for the tips

Thanks Ed! These are great tips...like everyone else, I find sometimes find it difficult to motivate myself. Ok, sometimes = a lot of the time, but who's counting? :-)

I also plan to use some of your recommendations, but wanted to add that not everyone functions well in the morning. It takes me several hours to achieve anything resembling coherency, and my most productive time of day is actually at night. I've always been a night person, and find that my best work seems to happen between 10 PM - 2 AM.

This unfortunately makes it difficult to be in contact with my North American clients, but I find I do better work. I try to handle anything needing client contact during normal business hours, and don't focus on getting projects finished until nighttime. I find that late night offers me fewer distractions, as fewer people are awake and there's no street noise.

I'm not sure if anyone else suffers from the same limitation, but I'm trying to make it work for me.