Maintaining a consistent workflow and output is difficult at the best of times, but it’s essential to becoming a great freelancer. Not only do you have to avoid distractions, but you need to find a way to keep your output consistent no matter how dull a given task might be.
Thankfully, after two and a half years of working remotely, I’ve found some foundational tips for how to improve your daily workflow and stay on track no matter where you’re working. From working at home to working as a digital nomad, I’ll be going through the 8 most useful ways I’ve found to give my old workflow a run for its money.
Working At Home
1. Set Aside a Work Space
One of the biggest problems I’ve found with working from home is that it’s difficult to get out of the mindset that you can relax and take your time. You’re at home, so your brain automatically thinks “this is me time”.
To combat this, make sure that you have a set area set up for your work. This should ideally be a separate room for anything else entirely, but setting up a desk in the corner of a quiet room (no TV, etc) can work too.
The biggest thing you need to do is to make sure that the area you set up isn’t used for anything outside of work. This helps you to keep up a consistent workflow and avoid distractions by changing your mindset – as soon as you sit down, you know it’s time to work.
2. Let Everyone Know Your Work Hours
Distractions aren’t always caused by your own lapse in motivation – if you’re working from home anyone can come by and disturb you, which can wreak havoc with your workflow.
I, for example, take around 20 minutes to get into any kind of productive mindset, so having a family member walk in and ask a question wastes far more than just the 10 seconds it takes me to answer.
The best way to limit this is to let everyone know what times you’ll be working so that they know not to disturb you unless it’s an emergency. It’s a simple trick, but even pinning your work schedule to the door of the room you’re working in can work wonders.
Thankfully, this is something which becomes less of a problem over time. After you settle into your working routine and everyone else in the house becomes used to your “do not disturb” times you should be free to blast through your work without distractions.
3. Don’t Stay Inside All Day
At the risk of sounding like a concerned parent, you shouldn’t spend all day working inside. Even if you pop outside during a five-minute break or to grab a sandwich for lunch, getting up and away from your computer screen is a must to give your mind a break from your work.
Aside from a lack of sunlight triggering some forms of depression, you simply can’t sit in front of a screen without any kind of break to process information and not expect your performance to drop.
All you have to do is take around 5 minutes every hour to get up and have a walk around outside without looking at a screen. It’s easy to do, and you’d be surprised how much it can help your performance.
Outside the House
4. Test Out Alternative Locations
If you’re not working at home, your first task to sort out a consistent daily workflow is to test out various locations to see which works for you. Depending on the nature of your work and the technology you need, it’s well worth trying out a day or two working in a different place than you usually set up to see if you can find somewhere to settle.
Even if you find that working in the same place every day doesn’t work for you, test several locations to see if you can find a rotation which suits your needs. For example, my fellow writer Ben Mulholland rotates where he works depending on the work day, spending three days a week in local cafes, but Tuesday and Thursday at home to take calls.
As for suggestions, take your pick from libraries, cafes, co-working spaces, and even outside locations such as local parks. Again, the locations you can test will depend on your tasks, the tech you need, whether wifi is required, and so on, but don’t be afraid to try out something new – you might just find somewhere that provides a perfect backdrop for your work.
5. Fill Your Dead Air
Whether you’re walking, driving, commuting, or just eating, doing so in silence is a great way to waste a fantastic opportunity to learn more. When you don’t need to focus on a specific task too hard, that’s the perfect opportunity to get some fresh ideas for projects or expand your skillset by listening to a podcast or audiobook.
One thing to remember, however, is that if you’re driving or otherwise splitting your attention with something else (like cooking) you probably won’t take all of the information you hear on board the first time around. It’s a great way to pick up some useful snippets, but to effectively improve your trade and turn your dead air into a productive part of your daily workflow, you’ll want to dedicate a little more attention to what you’re hearing.
6. Find Your Ideal Background Noise
I really can’t overstate the importance of finding the kind of background noise which works for you. Other than making a set time management method, this has to be the single biggest part of improving my daily workflow, and even now I still struggle sometimes.
Everybody’s different, and what serves to keep me focused as I work mind irritate and distract you to no end. However, there are a couple of consistent rules which you can use to kick-start your search.
First, try to avoid anything with lyrics. Although it’s tempting to put on the music you love when you have free reign, anything with lyrics (especially ones you know) will probably wind up being more distracting than useful, since you’re effectively giving your mind extra information to process.
Second, know that the “best” music choice might change with the task you’re doing. If you’re doing something which needs you to heavily focus and flex your mental muscles, you’ll probably want something calmer or even complete silence to devote your attention to the work.
Third, you don’t have to pay a penny if you don’t want to. Although Spotify has some fantastic “focus” playlists and other apps are specifically designed to choose music which helps you focus, a quick search on Youtube will bring up several focus music collections, and even a few live streams.
7. Know When You Work Best
Some people are night owls and others early birds. Either way, you need to know what your most productive time of day is in order to maximize your output.
The best way to do this is to take a look at what part of your day you’re usually the most productive. Try to take a long-term sample to make sure that you’re not just seeing the natural ebb and flow that everyone experiences with their productivity.
Once you know this, organize your day so that the most difficult and/or important task is tackled during that time period every day. If you don’t already have one, make a to do list template and fit your tasks around your most productive time of day.
This is a great way to improve your workflow since you’re not actually working any harder or changing anything too major to get the benefit. Instead, you’re just shifting around what time you’re tackling a particular task.
8. Take Short, Regular Breaks
Finally, make sure that in your day-to-day work you’re taking regular short breaks to keep your mind fresh and on-task. Much like your background noise and ideal work time, this will change depending on your own preferences and the tasks you’re completing, but try to at least take 5 minutes every hour to get up, shake off any stiffness, and give yourself a break from staring at your computer.
As a general rule of thumb, if you’re tackling an in-depth task which requires a lot of focus (such as writing a blog post or running an editing checklist), you’ll want to give yourself as long as possible before taking a break. This is because it will take you time to get going again, and every time you take a break to come back to the same task you’ll be more fatigued for the topic.
There you have it – my main tips for improving your daily workflow. Hopefully you’ll be able to take action on these and see the massive benefits that a little structure and care can do for your workflow. I’d also love to know in the comments what your biggest workflow tip is.
There you go – 8 ways to improve your daily workflow as a freelancer. Now it’s your turn – tell me your best tips for improving your daily workflow.