How Can I Increase My Productivity?

What is getting in the way of your productivity?

As you loyal Stapler Confessions readers know, every month I set for myself a goal to “make ends meet with my income,” and many months I fall short. It’s not for lack of work — the attorney I work for has plenty for me. It’s for lack of putting in the hours.

Although, I do have a nagging feeling that, if I get everything on my “to do” list done, there won’t be any more work for me. This is not logical, however, given that we have a dozen cases in active litigation, and something always comes up. We are also taking on a new litigation case each month. So, the work isn’t going to dry up any time soon. If only I could get my brain to communicate that more directly to my subconscious, I would be much more productive.

I Need to Increase My Billable Hours

I need to take steps to increase my billable hours, so am starting to implement a Productivity Plan. I have the first few steps mapped out, but I want to get some suggestions from readers, too. And, of course, it’s great that you keep me accountable. That’s why I love you all — your encouragement and your ability to steer me in the right direction.

What Are Billable Hours?

Think about how much time each day you eat a snack or lunch, grab a coffee, read or send a personal email, use the restroom, and … and this is the killer … chat with your co-workers. An hour per day? More? If you’re billing clients by the hour, then that is time you won’t paid for. If it’s just an hour a day, you would have to work 45 hours per week in order make 35 billable hours.

Why Am I Short of Billable Hours?

At the beginning of each two-week billing cycle, I commit myself to 40 billable hours and plan what days I will make the two-hour roundtrip drive in to work. I am full of optimism. If I were a cartoon character, you would see dollar signs in my eyes.

On the days I go in to work, I usually don’t start working until an hour after I arrive, due to chatting with coworkers, checking email, and putting out whatever personal fire has cropped up in my email. I starting working (and billing), then take a break when my stomach is nauseous (signalling snack or lunch time), and chew on it while I read emails or blogs or Twitter or Facebook. I get distracted and continue reading long after I’m done chewing. Then I snap out of it and finally get back to work, and the cycle repeats itself.

At about about 4 pm, I invariably add up my billable hours for the day and discover that I’ve only billed 3 hours or 4 hours, or some amount that’s short of my goal. I usually spend 4 – 4:45 pm furiously working, until I hit the road in time to pick up Little Stapler from preschool by 6 pm.

How Can I Be More Productive?

There are two competing forces in my day. On the one hand, I don’t feel guilty reading emails or Facebook, because I’m not billing anyone for that time. It leads me to more goofing off than I ever did while on salary, when I would feel guilty doing personal things at work. On the other hand, there are the dollar signs in my eyes, telling me that the more I work, the more I earn. Somehow, I need to keep those dollar signs in my eyes instead of Facebook or whatever else is distracting me.

First on my Productivity Plan is to Stop The Email Madness. I implemented some long-overdue measures to reign in my email, and after only a few days I can see the difference already.

My Productivity Plan is a work in progress, so I welcome suggestions you might have — knowing what you know about my productivity problems — that can keep me on track.

What suggestions do you have to help me increase my billable hours? Is this something you struggled with too, as a freelancer? 

This post was added to the Fabulously Frugal Thursday and Thrifty Thursday Linkups!

Image by digitalart, courtesy of

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10 thoughts on “How Can I Increase My Productivity?

  1. Have you thought about using technology to help keep your time in check, and stay focused? I would check out “Focus Time” ($5)or “PomodoroPro” ($3), both based in the Pomodoro technique of 25 minutes of focused time, and 5 minutes of break time.

    They’re not free, but an app like this could be a great addition to your time management skills and Productivity Plan.

  2. Ah! I’ve reduced my e-mails too. Got rid of a lot of subscriptions, marked a lot of advertisements as spam, etc. Only negative is now I feel unpopular.

    On a side note, the 2 hour round trip is a HUGE drain. I’m currently commuting 2 hours and 40 minutes a day until mid-July. I can’t wait to get my time back. It will be a life changer. 10 minute commute. That’s over 2 hours of time gained back! Guessing there’s no way for you to minimize your travel though? Moving, working extra long days to make less trips, etc.?

    • The commute is constantly on my mind. I’m going to devote some whiteboard time to figuring out my options. I have a hard time focusing when I’m working from home, so unless I can get that under control, going in to work is important to my billables. At the very least, I wish I could make my commuting time more productive — whether it’s billable hours or doing necessary household things or even getting some relaxation time in.

  3. I use my iPhone timer. I’ll set it for 30-60 minutes. In that time I tell myself, no email, no Facebook, etc. When the time is up, I’ll set it for 5-10 min to do that stuff.
    I also write my goals for the day as soon as I sit down. That helps me get started.

    • Great tips! At the beginning of the day, I choose 3 “must do” items and write them on a post-it note. But I’ve found that I don’t always get them done. Maybe I’m being too ambitious.

    • Great suggestion! I use my personal computer for work, so I am working up the courage to ask my boss to get me a work computer — if that happens, I’ll definitely block out those time suckers! (not your blog, of course 😉

  4. Pingback: How I Efficiently Pay Bills and Save Money — Plus, a Bonus for You | Stapler Confessions

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