How to Maximize Your Productivity as a Freelancer

Face down the mental barriers of this major career switch.

(Image credit: Susanna Hayward / Getty Images)

The pandemic has catapulted capitalism into a future unknown—and the gig market into center focus. Pandemic-related layoffs have created intense need and competition for contract jobs, and women especially are on the market: During March and April, 11.7 million women lost their jobs, compared with 9.6 million men. But the freelance space, one of the few sectors to thrive as a result of the national crisis, saw a surge of openings. This year, two million people joined the nearly 57 million Americans who already called themselves freelancers. And the shift doesn’t show signs of slowing. So if you’re a recent free agent, don’t panic. We’ve got you: Here, our guide to going freelance.

Going freelance is no doubt an anxiety-inducing decision: You have to adjust to a new lifestyle that doesn’t include structure or guaranteed income and might, at first, feel lonely (no more tea-spilling cubemates!). But there are ways to make the move more manageable mentally.

According to productivity expert Lisa Zaslow, founder of Gotham Organizers, having a job job creates a ripple effect of external structure. Without that, life can feel chaotic. “Some people are just naturally better at creating structure and routines,” she says, but even if you’re a loosey-goosey creative type, make a schedule and stick to it—and include everything from exercising to coffee dates to chores. “If you don’t do that, [work] becomes a blur and your anxiety grows. You’ll have a tendency to feel like you always should be working, that there’s always more to do.” To quiet that nagging voice in your head, respect your own time, just as you’d expect your boss to.

To maximize your productivity, “match tasks to your energy level,” says Laura Adams, author of Money Smart Solopreneur. “If you’re a morning person, do the most difficult things for your business first. Toward the end of the day, work on things that are less exacting.” Pacing your work to your rhythms will sidestep the kind of downtime that might have arisen when you danced to your boss’s tune and that you could kill with coworkers at the Keurig.

And last, don’t be afraid to give yourself a gold star or two: When Zaslow started her business, she set up a list of criteria separate from what’s on a balance sheet—including goals like public speaking and fun things she could do because she had a freelancer’s flexibility. She suggests keeping a file of kudos or praise—like when you get a nice note from a client. “Chart your wins,” she says. We’re here for it.

Read the Rest of our Guide to Going Freelance:

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Marie Claire.

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Maria Ricapito

Maria Ricapito is a writer who lives in the Hudson Valley.