• Advice

5 productivity tips and tools

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

I get a lot of requests from old friends, colleagues, and clients who are trying to break into consulting or freelance work. One of the things I’m often asked is “How do you make it all work??”

When you’re used to life at a big company, going solo (with no IT support, finance department, or mail room) can be challenging.

Here are my favorite tips and tools-- from the perspective of an independent worker, but they can probably help almost anyone!

Stay out of your inbox!!

We live in an email obsessed world, and I’m as guilty as the next person of over-checking my phone, reacting to every notification, and often being overwhelmed by my bloated inbox. I’ve trained myself to focus on work and resist the temptation of constant email checking.

One tool that helped is Sign up with your email and they will show you all the lists you subscribe to (I had over 300!). Then for each list, you decide if you want to allow emails to hit your inbox, unsubscribe, or have emails from that sender included in your “daily rollup” -- one email that rolls up ALL the messages from your lists. This tool is FREE and I have to say, going through my massive list of subscriptions was 10 minutes very well spent!

Avoid clutter

Lots of people are going paperless or at least trying to reduce paper. Mail can pile up and quickly become an unsurmountable mess. I’ve heard productivity experts say you should “Touch each piece of mail only once.”

But I’ll do them one better: I don’t touch them at all. I’ve had an address at for almost five years. It’s a real street address (not a PO box), which remains my mailing address wherever I happen to be living. The magic fairies at Traveling Mailbox scan every envelope I receive and send me an email notification. I can look at my virtual mailbox and decide if an envelope should be immediately shredded (junk mail, I’m looking at you), forwarded to wherever I happen to be (checks!), or opened and scanned.

I usually get between 15 and 20 1099 forms at tax time, and this way I can have them all electronically-- MUCH easier than messing with paper!

Listen to your body

One of the best things about working for yourself is being able to work anywhere. In my early years of freelancing, I often sat on the couch with my laptop until my wrists and neck started to complain.

The Roost Stand folds up to about the size of an umbrella and keeps my laptop at a height that is MUCH more ergonomically sound. I miss working on the couch, but I feel SO much better using this. I also meet people any time I’m working in a coffee shop or airport -- everyone wants to know what this amazing contraption is!

Go old school

I love working on my laptop, but whenever I’m having trouble coming up with content, making a connection between ideas, or just hashing out an outline, I break out a pen and my trusty Moleskine notebook. It never fails.

Outsource where you can

This is a tough one, especially when you’re just starting out. But I have saved myself lots of time and headaches by hiring people who are strong where I’m weak: an accountant, a graphic designer, and a virtual assistant to keep me out of the administrative weeds.

It makes sense, since clients come to me because they’re trying to write surveys or do qualitative research on their own, when their strengths really lie in product development or design or communications!

I'm a strategic research partner who helps you better understand your customers, prospects, employees, and stakeholders. I develop and execute research strategies that unlock information about target audiences and inform brand strategies, product design, and overall business strategy.