Freelancing can be one of the most rewarding professions — you’re your own boss and have the freedom to schedule your own day.

But freedom does have its pitfalls, which is why many freelancers struggle to maintain the productivity they need to excel at the job.

Here are 5 insanely effective productivity hacks you can start using today.

1. Develop a routine

 As a freelancer, your daily or weekly workload is bound to fluctuate. Some look at this as an opportunity to work 3 hours on Monday and 10 hours on Friday, but that’s definitely not how the most productive freelancers do it.

First of all, any work time when you’re not busy should be used to seek out new clients. Freelancers not using this tactic will find themselves perpetually underemployed.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to develop a routine. Figure out specific hours when you’re supposed to be “in the office” (even if you work at home), and make sure you’re on time and doing something productive for clients or to further your career.

Having a strict routine like a regular job also makes it easier for you to shelf projects when your day is over. Fielding inquiries and halfheartedly researching a project when you’re supposed to be relaxing in the evening time will only lead to quicker burnout when you are busy.

2. Write daily to-do lists

Some freelancers like to plan their schedules weekly or monthly, which are valuable strategies, though nowhere near as important as creating a daily to-do list.

Check your emails and calendar every morning and put together a list of tasks that must be done today. Then draw a line and tack on a few other activities that you would like to work on today if you have time. This is a great way to incorporate long-term projects and goals into a daily task list.

You can manage your tasks using a piece of paper or a list on your computer, but there are a lot of great task management applications out there that can help you get organized as well (like Producteev or Asana), especially if you work as part of a team.

And to-do lists can be a serious motivator. There’s nothing like realizing at 9 AM that you have 11 things that have to be done today to get you charged for productivity.

3. Do the hard stuff first

It’s hard for just about anyone to really dig into a task first thing in the morning. It’s so much easier to start off working on simple projects and pushing the complicated, taxing jobs off till the afternoon.

But putting off the hard stuff only means you’ll be thinking about (and possibly dreading it) most of the day. Tackling the big challenges first is a much better way to encourage productivity later in the day — your smaller tasks will feel like a downhill slide.

4. Monitor your use of time

Most people don’t have a very good idea of how much time they really spend doing any one thing, but it’s essential for freelancers to be excellent at it, especially if you work for clients at a fixed price.

For example, say you have a writing project that you expect to take 5 hours to complete. You quote your client a price of $150 (so $30/hour), only to later spend 8 hours completing the job. Suddenly you’re earning $18.75 an hour.

Using a time tracker tool, such as TimeDoctor, is a great way to keep track on where exactly you’re spending your time. TimeDoctor keeps track of what websites you visit while working, so you may find out that checking your Instagram or Twitter every 30 minutes actually amounted to 2 hours of lost time.

5. Schedule rewards

Being a freelancer shouldn’t be an endless race to be as productive as possible. When you do a good job, you should reward yourself for it, even though a payoff comes later with financial gains.

Maybe if you get everything on your to-do list done and start on another job before the end of the day, you get to watch an extra episode of your favorite Netflix show, or order pizza for dinner.

Having a “reward” to look forward to at the end of the day is a great way to stay positive and productive, even if it’s just a small one.

These 5 productivity hacks for freelancers are simple, but insanely effective, especially if you use them every day.

This post is first published on my column on Business2Community.com.

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