The other day I came across this quote from Lao Tzu:
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
Now even though LT didn’t have to deal with client demands, deadlines, and a digital stack of emails before breakfast every morning, he understood one important aspect of life: efficiency.
If you feel like you’d still be strapped for time even if the universe gave you an extra hour every day, you’re not alone. Most of us consider having a daily packed schedule as the litmus test of a productive business.
But if you’re working like this, you’re setting yourself up for dragging fatigue, complete burnout, and mountains of stress.
So what’s the secret to getting everything done in time (without the stress)? Focusing your energy on a few key tasks and eliminating those that drag your business down. Today I’ll be sharing my favorite tips to improve the efficiency of your work time so you can have more fun time.
1. Create Reminders to Keep You On Point
A calendar will make sure you focus on the most important task at hand instead of looking at the bigger picture of your piled high plate of duties. Sure, you probably have deadlines, calls, and meetings marked on your Far Side calendar (do they still make those?), but that’s not going to give you the tunnel vision I’m talking about.
When I’m working on a project for a client, I outline the duties I need to get done to meet project milestones right from the beginning. I’ll make a note estimating how long I think that aspect will take me. I then open a cloud-based calendar like Google calendar and plot dates for each task. I can set reminders for these dates and access them from anywhere for a quick overview of the project.
You’ll be surprised by how quickly you get tasks done when you’re laser-focused on doing only one at a time. Plus, you’ll get a real sense of accomplishment by crossing off tasks during your project instead of feeling the frenzy that comes from meeting one due date.
If you really need a push, you can share your project calendars with your clients so you’ll be held accountable.
2. Schedule Your Social Media
While we’re on the topic of scheduling, get into the habit of automating your social media posts and you’ll free up huge chunks of time in your day.
Think about this: You need to cross promote your content on all of your social media channels… and keep posting that content around the clock for your subscribers in different time zones. You need to connect and be witty while still handling your business.
Get help from apps like Buffer that let you program content to automatically post on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Plus, tools like these use algorithms to help find the best times to reach your audience and even tracks engagement numbers so you’re not spinning your wheels.
3. Take Care of the Accounting Automatically
You’re not going to be successful in any business if you don’t have rock-solid accounting skills… or at least programs that fake them for you.
Since clients all have different invoicing preferences and schedules, you don’t want to go through the whole process every single time you want to get paid, which I’m guessing is often.
Instead, check out online bookkeeping software to automate your timekeeping and invoicing. Some of them will calculate the hours you worked, send payment requests to clients, and even estimate your taxes (this is a lifesaver!). You can link your bank accounts and credit cards to track all of your business transactions automatically.
If you have cold feet about spending money on a whole suite of accounting tools, you can find many cloud-based services online for low monthly subscriptions, which you can cancel at any time. I use QuickBooks Online.
4. Hack Your Email
It’s been said that “30% of the average worker’s time is spent on email alone,” but that percentage is definitely higher for freelancers who don’t have face-to-face contact with their clients or teammates.
So you can imagine why autoresponder features are included in email services like Constant Contact or MailChimp. These take all the heavy lifting out of managing your email list so you can focus on more important tasks.
Remember that Gmail has a nifty little tool called “Canned Responses” that may really save you time during email correspondence (I’ve written before on using canned responses). Basically, you can create email templates for common replies such as project updates, follow-ups, and pricing information in your Gmail box. Emails are sent with the click of a mouse, not a 10-minute ordeal and a Grammarly check.
Don’t forget to include your preferred contact method/hours in your email signature. If a client replies to an email outside of these hours and expects a task to be completed before you even check your email, your whole schedule will be thrown off to accommodate for the discrepancy.
5. Get Familiar with App-Automation
Continuing with our trend of robot takeover, let’s talk about why you need web app-automation in your life.
These apps take your workflow to a very simplified (i.e. cost/time effective) level by syncing automated actions with your other apps. For example, if I wanted to save every new email subscriber from MailChimp to a Google spreadsheet, or keep Trello cards updated with my Google tasks as I complete them, I would program workflows that would do this for me.
Think about repetitive tasks you do on a daily basis and download an app that supports integration with those other apps to outsource your work. Zapier is a fun place to start.
6. Outsourcing Isn’t the End of the World
This freelance business is your baby — I totally understand your pride and joy, believe me. But ever hear the saying, It takes a village to raise a child?
Sure, you probably don’t trust anyone with your work, or you may feel guilty about not being able to get all your work done yourself, but letting go of some of your work duties will free you up to take your business to the next level.
According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, people spend “an average of 41% of their time” on activities that don’t make them happy and can easily be handled by others.
So think about the ugly parts of your business you’re not so fond of and find out how you can outsource them. Need someone to sift through stock photos for your clients’ websites? Sounds like a Fiverr project to me. Hate coming up with witty social media posts? Outsource a Social Media Manager for a few hours a week to queue up posts for you in Hootsuite or Buffer.
If you really can’t let go of control, don’t forget that you can keep track of your outsourced tasks with project management tools such as Asana, Trello, and Slack so you’ll never feel out of the loop.
7. Make the End of Your Day Productive
If you remember just one tip, make it this one: Set yourself up right today and you’ll have everything you need to make tomorrow successful.
Decide a time to call it quits and stop working at exactly that time. Take a few minutes to stretch and shift your focus to the following day. Add unfinished tasks to your To-Do list and get them off your mind. Clean up the area around your desk so you’re ready to go in the morning. Stop checking your work emails — take off your work hat and get plenty of rest to make sure you’re productive tomorrow.
What would you do with an extra hour in your day? Add more to your portfolio? Develop new plugins or themes? Take the afternoon off?
Many beginning freelancers debate about their rates before they understand the true value of their time. They struggle to run their business as a viable source of income because they’re not experienced in the art of time management. But with the right tools and the best plan of attack, you’ll be able to do all of your tasks the way nature intended: efficiently.