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The 7 surprising things that boosted my productivity as a solopreneur

By Gwenydd Jones · November 29, 2021
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As a freelancer and solopreneur, I've spent years trying to make every move count. I know I'll never eliminate every inefficiency or remove every distraction, but since I'm doing things solo, I need to maximize my time. Here are the things I wish I'd known sooner.

1. Start the day with your pet project 

Bob Dylan told us: "you're gonna have to serve somebody." And if you're a freelancer or small business owner, you might feel as though serving somebody is all you ever do. One thing I know for sure is that when I'm going all out to keep everyone happy, the one person who inevitably ends up miserable is me.

It seems ironic that my low points as a freelancer often come when I'm making the most money. But when I'm selling all my time to someone else, my self-motivation plummets. This happens because I have no time left to dedicate to my own goals. 

Last year, I joined a subscription-based training course about YouTube. Two months in, I still hadn't started. I felt guilty about the expense and resentful toward the clients who were taking up all my time. But it wasn't their fault that I kept "sacrificing" my training time to work on their projects.

The solution? I figured out what putting myself first means to me. It means giving myself the first hour of the working day to focus on my pet project. No exceptions. By being generous enough to myself to put my own project at the top of my daily to-do list, I completed the YouTube course in a month and got my channel up and running. Now, I'm on to achieving other goals.

2. Clear your inbox at the end of the week

Do you keep emails in your inbox until whatever action they require is done and dusted? I used to. I didn't dare archive lest I forget whatever important thing the email contained. I'd make it my goal to empty my inbox once a year before a long vacation. In that last afternoon before heading off, I'd delete piles of emails, while reprimanding myself for my incredible inefficiency at not having managed to read this or do that.

But how are you supposed to clear your inbox at the end of the week if you still haven't done whatever the email requires you to do? The solution I found was bringing a work platform into my life. In my case, ClickUp. Following their guidance, I learned to make a decision on every email and then archive it. These are simple decisions, like moving a webinar recording to a training-I-want-to-do-someday list along with the other 100 recordings amassed there. 

By moving the tasks elsewhere, you aren't confronted with that stack of accusatory emails every day telling you how much you haven't done. And you don't lose anything because you organize the work platform into folders and lists. It's motivating to feel the breeze blowing through your empty inbox. Try it!

3. Write down your business processes as you complete tasks

A couple of years ago, I started working with a business coach to help me grow my translator training business, The Translator's Studio. He's the one who alerted me to the fact that I had zero written business processes. I informed him that I know how to do everything in my business without an instruction manual, thank you. Except for the bits I don't, of course. I have to keep learning and re-learning those. But in any case, I assured him, I do it all much more quickly and better than anyone else ever could. 

He wasn't convinced.

This guardian angel of my business processes told me in no uncertain terms that if you want to grow your business to a point where you can delegate (and what entrepreneur doesn't?), then you'd better start writing down some instructions to enable the poor delegatee to do their job.

He was right. I started creating processes in my work platform. I refer to them all the time and am now climbing the learning curve toward effective delegation. All this would have been massively more productive if I'd done it from day one.

4. Get good (and I mean good) tools

A lot of freelancers and small business owners are hesitant to invest in tools and software. But an online business is only ever going to go as fast as the computer it runs from. And having good software these days is like having a little army of Santa's elves that you don't have to feed. 

I'm not going to harp on this point, but my focus when it comes to tools is firmly on the return on every investment—not the initial cost. This approach has led to a high level of productivity and profitability. It's that simple.

A screenshot of Gwenydd's ClickUp

Besides investing in quality equipment like a custom-built tower computer with specs that are specially adapted to my needs, I also have a wide collection of software to help me write, translate, and run my business. This includes a combo of yearly and monthly subscriptions to ClickUp, ActiveCampaign, Teachable, Canva, Zoom, Ahrefs, and Surfer SEO.

5. Nothing good happens in your inbox after 8 p.m.

I don't have a problem with checking emails too much. Yes, I check frequently, but so does everyone. First thing in the morning? Well, yes, quite early. On weekends? I've been known to, but...how many times an hour? Stop questioning me!

If you're fortunate enough to have a misspent youth, you know that nothing good happens after 2 a.m. But when it comes to your inbox, the cut-off is a lot earlier. 

Despite the strong pull of the email inbox, I generally regret going in there after 8 p.m. Once that dopamine hit of a new email is out of the way, things tend to go downhill. If you received good news, you'll be too excited to sleep. If you received news of a problem, you'll be too stressed to sleep. Smart sleepers wait until morning.

6. Plug into the wall

I'm not referring to the classic Pink Floyd album, though that's also recommended. Do you know how much faster an Ethernet connection is than Wi-Fi? I don't actually know. But as the user of the excellent cabling system my husband set up for me in my home office, I can tell you that I have the Usain Bolt of internet connections. 

Just Google "ethernet vs wifi" if you need convincing about the massive productivity boost you'll experience from getting a wired connection set up between your computer and the hole in the wall where the internet magic comes into your home.

7. Automate wherever possible

I've been working on being more technically-minded for some time now. What that involves for me is reading articles, listening to podcasts, and doing training. My goal is to find and use software that helps me make my business more successful. Where do I find the time? See point 1 above.

Time invested in learning how and where to automate has paid massive dividends in my business. Good places to start are in your sales funnel, task management, and social media publishing, but if you break your processes (which are now written down!) into small steps, you'll find all sorts of tasks you can automate. 

I set up my first automation on Zapier not too long ago. I had no clue where to start, so I went in blind and followed the instructions. To start, I looked at the list of suggestions provided by Zapier and chose one. This took me into a wizard and, presto, I have a Zap: when I star an email in Gmail, it automatically gets added as a task in ClickUp, and I save a minute of my precious time.

Add starred Gmail emails as tasks in ClickUp [Business Gmail Accounts Only]

Add starred Gmail emails as tasks in ClickUp [Business Gmail Accounts Only]
  • Gmail logo
  • ClickUp logo
Gmail + ClickUp

There are a gazillion things you can Zap using every app combination under the sun. I thought it would be hard, but it wasn't. Working on being more technically-minded means I'm open to marvelous innovations that will help me increase productivity so I can make more money. A no-brainer.

And there you have it. Seven specific and easy things you can do to improve your productivity today before 8 p.m. or, at the very latest, first thing tomorrow. Which one are you going to do?

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A Zap with the trigger 'When I get a new lead from Facebook,' and the action 'Notify my team in Slack'