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Useful productivity boosting techniques for solo talents

As someone who has struggled with productivity, this is an issue that I am intimately familiar with. For some people, it’s a matter of simply sitting down and completing the tasks at hand. For others, however, it may not be that easy. Whether it be mental lapses, analysis paralysis, procrastination, or something else, we all struggle with productivity from time to time.

That’s why, thankfully, some clever people in the world have found techniques to help solve this issue. Here we will introduce you to some of the best strategies on how to increase productivity for freelancers. These techniques can also double as great time management tips.

What are productivity techniques and why use them?

We are going to go over 3 rather famous and useful techniques that are widely used in a variety of fields. These techniques are:

  • The Pomodoro Technique
  • The Eisenhower Method
  • GTD (Getting Things Done)

Each of these techniques emphasizes different aspects of being productive, offering different approaches. Therefore, it’s best to find ways that you can use these methods in concert with one another.

Why is efficient time management crucial for freelancers?

With freelance work, you are often the sole person responsible for running your business, handling your finances, and doing the work. In simpler terms, time is often a luxury that you won’t have, so you have to spend it wisely. That’s why managing your time wisely is one of the best remote work tips you can find.

What is time management, then? It’s a set of methods or techniques that you can use to best save time and work more effectively. Rather than seeing it as simply completing tasks, efficient productivity lends itself to making good use of your time. Think of these methods as simple techniques for productivity improvement. But also, see them as a way to help you prioritize your tasks, get things done, and save time.

Why are these productivity techniques effective?

These techniques work because they address different aspects of how to be productive. For example, the Pomodoro technique focuses more on how to best manage one’s actual work time, balancing periods of work and rest. The Eisenhower method addresses one’s decision-making processes. It helps you tackle the goals that are “doable”, rather than floundering about what you should be doing.

Each of these methods takes on different perspectives on productivity. All of them are great individually. But you can also combine them in ways that make sense for you to increase productivity in freelance work.

Best techniques to improve productivity

The Pomodoro Technique

One Francisco Cirillo was struggling with completing his tasks like most of us. In the late 1980s, he developed the Pomodoro technique. Cirillo attempted to coax himself into doing the work by dedicating himself to brief bursts of time where he would concentrate on his work. Five-minute stretches became ten-minute stretches that then turned into twenty minutes. After this period of work, he then would take a quick break before diving back into work.

After years of tweaks and experimentation, he developed the Pomodoro technique. The name comes from the tomato-shaped timer he used to track the time intervals (for those who are curious, Pomodoro is Italian for “tomato”). One of the reasons why the technique is so widely used is because of how easy it is to implement and follow. All you need is something that functions as a timer and something to take notes with.

Here is how to practice the method:

  • Set the timer to 25 minutes and focus exclusively on accomplishing the tasks that you have at hand.
  • Once this interval (or one Pomodoro) is up, set 5 minutes to rest and refresh yourself. Maintain separation from your tasks during this rest period.
  • Return to your tasks again for 25 minutes and continue this cycle until you have completed 4 Pomodoro. Then you can take a larger 15 to 30-minute break.

The system works for many reasons. First of all, it gives you a clear workflow that is easy to follow and that balances productivity and rest. Secondly, it breaks down larger tasks into bite-sized morsels to make the work easier to manage. Finally, it gives you a structured routine to carry out your tasks so that you can plan and organize your workday.

There are other things worth considering when using the technique. Group smaller tasks that won’t take as much time together so that you can knock them out quickly. Larger tasks and projects should be broken down into phases that you can execute over the day. Be sure to take notes on how long it takes to complete tasks. This can help you improve your time management by keeping track of how long it takes to complete your objectives.

The Eisenhower Method

President Eisenhower didn’t invent this next technique. But his regimented system for workflow organization inspired the creation of the method. The Eisenhower method is sometimes called the “Urgent-Important Matrix”. This is because, reportedly, Eisenhower would ensure that only tasks urgent or important would reach his busy desk.

Stephen Covey popularized the method in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” where he modeled the system after the famously industrious president. The philosophy of the method is probably best described by the President himself:

“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important; the important are never urgent,” said Eisenhower.

This may seem like a contradictory statement at face value, but we’ll see the logic behind the statement. Urgent tasks are time-sensitive tasks that demand your attention and yield immediate results. Important tasks are long-term commitments, goals, or projects that take time to bear fruit.

After dividing your tasks into either of these categories, take and place them into four quadrants, or categories:

Urgent

Not Urgent

Important

Actionable items with deadlines, to be done first

Tasks to be scheduled and done later

Not Important

Tasks that do not contribute to long-term goals, to be delegated

Distractions to be eliminated from schedule

As you can see, the technique helps you focus on completing tasks geared towards accomplishing long-term goals. Hence, you can shed deadweight tasks that take up your time. In this method, you should always aim to make progress on the tasks that are most important to you instead of running around aimlessly doing things. Being busy doesn’t mean being productive.

Be sure to define your goals and the tasks that you need to complete to reach them so that you can divide them appropriately. For those tasks that don’t need doing, find ways to delegate them. If you do autonomous work, for example, you don’t have to manually deal with all aspects of your business. You can opt for a finance companion like Ruul which can help you issue invoices to clients and track freelance payments.

GTD (Getting Things Done)

Getting Things Done or GTD is a popular productivity method created by David Allen. The method shares the name of the book he wrote on the topic “Getting Things Done“, which details all the ins and outs of the method. The premise of his idea is that people often allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the number of tasks they have to do. This often leads to people not getting anything of note accomplished.

The key aspect of this method is to take copious notes detailing everything that should be done. Then, using these notes, you decide whether these tasks are something that you can do, save for a later date, or must do now. Following that you make a plan of attack and start tackling the tasks that you can. Here is a rough summary of the process, where we can go into greater detail:

  • The first step is to capture all of your ideas, tasks, or appointments. Use a file or somewhere that you can store and take notes, whether it be pen and paper or note-taking software.
  • Next, go through everything that you have written and sort through it. Here, you will clarify whether these are actionable tasks to be taken care of now, to be broken down into multiple steps, to be delegated, or don’t need to be done at all.
  • After clarifying your tasks and goals, you should organize and plan your tasks. Schedule tasks that can’t be completed immediately for later days, dismiss things that you can’t and don’t need to do, and prioritize those that need to be done quickly.
  • Then, review the lists and check to see if there are any mistakes or tasks that need to be added to your lists.
  • Finally, engage in the tasks that can be done immediately. You can consider the time you have, the energy you have, the context surrounding the tasks/goal, and the priority of the task.

While it may seem complicated, you can rest assured that it works because it gets you to think hard about the work you are doing. You won’t be wasting time on doing empty tasks that won’t make you accomplish anything in the long run.

Time is money

These productivity methods work because they each tackle different aspects of what it means to be productive. The methods train you on how to effectively use your time, prioritize the tasks you choose to do, and focus your energy on results that achieve long-term successes. While you might prefer one of these methods over the other, don’t be afraid to implement aspects that suit your needs.

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Leon Cordier
An American writer curious for work trends and freelancing ecosystem.

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