"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.
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.