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Less is More: 10 Methods to Be More Productive, More Profitable, and Happier
By Samuel Ryan     Freelance Lessons     Comments

"Staying busy" is not the same as "staying efficient." You can stay busy for eight hours and get very little work done (we all have known people like this) while others can stay efficient and get 2-3 times as much done in half the time. So what makes an efficient person? Here are 10 ways that I've found to be helpful in trimming excess waste in my typical freelancing work week.


Being More Productive

Cut Out Multitasking. "Multitasking" has become a sacred word in today's workplace. And although it can be a great quality for certain roles (like when you're taking care of clerical or administrative tasks), you should really focus on one task at a time. You will usually get more done by finishing tasks one by one than by switching between them.

Kill the Surfing . This is really a no-brainer but should be mentioned nonetheless. Even people who consider themselves "light surfers" would be surprised if shown the actual number of hours they loiter on the web. Treat surfing as a break from work and then realize you really don't need a break twice an hour.

Ignore Email and RSS. As mentioned in a previous post, emails rolling in every few minutes can often interrupt an otherwise productive time slot. RSS can also be a timesink, especially since most of us really don't need to know the latest news on various subjects. It's hard to miss actually important news, so unless your line of work requires you to stay constantly "in the know," try checking the news less often.

Try Shorter Bursts of Hours. Immediacy breeds productivity. If you give yourself twelve hours of allowable work time and you only have eight hours of work, you'll stretch it out. But if you only give yourself six hours, chances are you might still get those eight hours of work done. Try setting a shorter schedule and you'll often be surprised how much you get done when you need to.

Being More Profitable

Eliminate Prospects Earlier. Time is money and finding new clients can be an expensive task. Unless you have a good reason not to, let prospects know your rates and expectations as soon as you can. You may also want to set minimum project amounts for new projects. Winning a project isn't always the most important thing -- if you can't stay profitable, your business won't last long.

Remember That Not All Clients Are Created Equal. It's true that you should always give your best to all your clients. But as your business grows, you will have to make decisions that give some clients priority over others. You may even have to drop a client or two who are slow on payments or lackluster on new projects. Realize early on that most of your profit probably comes from a small subset of your client base, and don't feel badly for catering to them. Sacrificing your own business and family so you can be charitable to clients is not worth it.

Cut Unprofitable Projects. You should always know where your time goes each week and what "return" on that time you are getting. If a project isn't helping the business and has little future potential, drop it. Furthermore, if a certain type of work is constanly unprofitable, then stop offering it.

Be Happier

Letting Clients Go. If a client constantly makes you miserable and it affects your family and sleep, then just cut them. Rarely will cutting a client leave you destitute. Although it means you will have to find work to fill the gap, being miserable is no way to go through life, especially if you began freelancing to get out of an unhappy environment.

Manage Stressful Work. Sometimes it's not the client that's making you unhappy, but just certain types of work. Maybe it's website maintenance or maybe it's print work. Oftentimes, when you decide to let the stressful stuff go and you concentrate on what you consider "fun," you'll start attracting more of the "fun" stuff. Don't be afraid to turn down certain kinds of work. Working happy will benefit your business more than you think.

Sometimes Outsource Unhappy Tasks. There'll always be certain tasks that you'll just have to drudge through. That's just a part of life and is often unavoidable. However, it sometimes makes sense to outsource some of these tasks so you can focus on what really excites you. This does mean that you have to deal with the initial headaches associated with finding good help, but once you have a reliable system in place, you should avoid some of those more annoying tasks.

Community Comments
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Great stuff again Sam. Its interesting to see the 'less is more' approach moving from design work to working on design.

Thanks for the great post.

As useful as ever! The multitasking business is definitely something I need to cut back on. It's just difficult for me to focus on one thing at a time when my brain is visiting 20 other places.

Got any hints to help with that? heh

This is so absolutely true. I see so many posts and articles that talk about how to do a million things at once to get more done, and all I've ever found is that the single most important skill for me has been to 'prioritize.' The projects, the clients, my time--everything. And then I only take time for the things that will get me the most return--whether that's profit, or simply satisfaction and happiness.

Brad Pyne
No matter what you say or what argument you have, I will never be able to hold myself from surfing the web.

Bryan A. McCarty
Thanks for the good thoughts. The outsourcing thing is tough... I struggle with bringing in people in fear they won't do things up to my standards. I guess this brings in the idea of "finding good people" and having an initial trust... from there, building the relationship would be key.

Anyone have good methods to handle this "fear" of always wanting complete control over you're services?

Much thanks,
Bryan A. McCarty

Good post. I would add IM in with emails and compulsive RSS-checking.

I also really liked the idea on packing in as much work into a smaller block as you can, rather than stretching it out.

I have recently used some of these tactics for increased productivity. I can say from experience it is a relief to rid myself of certain clients that just aren't worth it. I was also able to "pawn" them off on new designers looking to establish a client base. Good for me and good for them.

Amy Lillard
Nicely done! The bit about ignoring email and RSS is a great tactic I've recently instituted. I learned just how much of a timesuck keeping my email open all day was, and I've found it much more productive to check in a certain designated "email times" each day. Same with RSS.

Sonali Agrawal
Another very useful article from you. Thank You for coming up with this at the right moment for me.

Multi-tasking is what I can't stop myself from, and surfing is another because of which I can't concentrate.

Regarding the clients, by God's Grace, till now I haven't faced any such who would make my life miserable, and I really wish for the same in future.

Thanks for this wonderful article. You always encourage me with your articles somehow!!

Bryan A. McCarty
I like the idea of cutting out email. It's true, we all feel the need to be constantly connected. Let's all wake up and realize we don't. Responding to that email two hours later isn't going to make a huge difference. If you're in the zone and the work is flowing, stay focused and resist the temptation. Email is great, but it's also a huge distraction.

Thanks for the post.

There are new studies out that say multi-tasking hinders our comprehension of certain matters. When we adapt our minds to multi-tasking, we sacrifice our long term memory and depth of understanding of a given situation or item, in order to compensate for the multi-tasking going on in our heads.

Rodrigo Mejía
This is a great article!!
I specially enjoyed the "be happier" part. Very elocuent.
Also, I'm just making changes to my email and rss approach, thanks to another of your recent articles and the difference is notable. I quit the web clips in my gmail and started using a feed reader in the appropiate moments. With emails now I respond just after reading if is something relatively simple or I put the email in a "pile" if is something not prioritarie. Of course, I check this pile regularly enough.

I enjoyed that man, short and too the point, nice one!

Ahmed Amanatullah
Thank you for informative article, I do most of these thing and wonder where time goes.

great advice... except now i'm subscribed to yet another RSS feed!

Guy Labbé
Thanks for this article. It makes a lot of sense to me, especially what you say about making tasks that make you Happy, and outsource for the rest. will be following this blog!

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What is all this?
My name is Samuel Ryan and I make websites. Sometimes, I write about it. I disappeared from this blog for a couple years, but I'm jumping back in now -- even began using my twitter account. If you care to know more, go here.