5 Energy-Boosting Productivity Tips for Freelancers

Carol Tice

woman stretching in officeBy Sarah Clachar

What’s the secret ingredient to a successful freelance writing business?

It’s not brilliance and creativity.

It’s not even good grammar.

It’s energy, and the ability to get down to work and stick with it.

But what really makes the difference between someone who wants to write for a living and one who does is whether you can get stuff done.

For many freelance writers, a cup of coffee is about the only productivity-booster they keep on hand.

As someone who ditched my espresso machine 17 years ago, I’m here to tell you the best stimulants are inside of you. It just takes some effort to tap into them.

Here are my five favorite tactics for making your workday more productive and energized:

Booster #1: Take breaks

It may seem strange that the first tactic I offer for getting more done is to take a break, but nonetheless it’s perhaps one of the best.  By planning to take breaks, you can also commit to getting work done. 

To use these breaks strategically, structure your work time in two ways.

·        First, allot an amount of time to work in a focused way and set a timer for this. I like to set my timer for 30 minutes. But some people do an hour, some do 15 minutes. 

While the timer is going you have to work without stopping. No checking email. No surfing on the web. No snack break.

When the timer goes off, stop. Just stop cold. And take a 5-15 minute break away from your work. Do something completely unrelated to writing like wash some dishes.

Or you can use the break for my next favorite tactic . . .

Booster #2: Exercise

Now before you groan and say you don’t like exercise, hear me out. 

Exercise is not only a waist-trimmer — it’s a brain-charger.

In fact, research has demonstrated that simply by walking on the treadmill for 10-minute spurts, women solved problems faster.

Better yet, exercise is best done in short bursts – not long slogs. So in this case – while I heartily recommend a good hour-long bike ride – that’s not what I’m talking about.

Simply do 5-15 minute bursts of exercise throughout your day. Ten jumping jacks, jogging in place for 60 seconds, a few rounds of sunrise salutations . . . not much.

Not only do these short bursts wake you up and recharge your body, they add up. Over the course of the day, if you keep sneaking these in, you’ll find you’ve gotten a full workout.

And you’ll discover how your mind hums after moving more!

Booster #3: Drink

I’m not talking caffeine, I’m talking water.

Your body depends on water to move nutrients around and to move toxins and waste out of you. Every cell in your body needs to have enough of this special liquid to provide room for the essential chemical reactions performed within them.

When you drink water, you give your body exactly what it needs to perform at its best.

During one of those breaks I just talked about, go fill up an 8-oz. glass and drink it down on the spot. Then fill it up again and take it back to your desk.

You’ll be amazed at how a little hydration can regenerate you and get your writing flow going again.

Booster #4: Nap

One of the problems with depending on caffeine is that we learn to ignore our body’s very real needs for sleep. If you’re tired, you probably need sleep.

Now this doesn’t mean you won’t have to give yourself a lecture sometimes and plug on through. I’ve conquered many a deadline mixed with family crises on a 4-hour night’s sleep.

But overall, you’ll benefit more (and get more done) by listening to your body and doing exactly what it’s telling you. Even if I lose 30 minutes-1 hour of work time to sleep, I make that up with the level of productivity I enjoy when I wake up.

Booster #5: Eat right

When I get stuck on a project, my mind inevitably wanders to the kitchen and the goodies stored up in the snack cabinet.

Bad news when it comes to energy – since most of these goodies I fantasize about are starches laced with sugar.

These may give you a little momentary spark. But soon they’ll leave you feeling more like a slug than when you started. Carbs and sugar put you to sleep.

And they make you crave more until you end up on a roller coaster of energy highs and lows.

When I get low on energy, instead of snacking on muffins, I’ve taught myself to reach for protein or fresh veggies or fruit. On days when I’m really pushing it (remember those 4-hour nights) my favorite lunch is a salad with roasted chicken.

For a wakeup break – if I’m not chugging water – I’ll take a few moments  and savor a refreshing piece of fruit. While the fruit has sugar it also gives me fiber which slows down digestion.

A scoop of peanut butter gives me not only a little protein but some energizing magnesium. And protein-rich hummus (or any other bean dip) boosts my B vitamin intake to fuel my metabolism.

Get more done and feel better

By using these techniques, you’ll have more focus, energy, confidence, and creativity.

And yes, you might even get tedious tasks like bookkeeping done.

Do you have some productivity tactics to add? Share your tips in the comments.

Natural health writer Sarah Clachar has combined her experience as a business owner and healthcare writer to create a unique resource for home business owners — a FREE report on a simple move that can revolutionize your day. To add it to your productivity tool chest, click here.


  1. John Detlefs

    If there’s another thing I’d add, it’s set a time limit for each article or piece that you’re going to write.

    Once you stick to it and nail it, then you feel great!

    Thanks for the article, great confirmation on how to keep on track. 🙂

    • Sarah

      John, that’s a great one. I use that a lot! Those small mental tricks change your perspective and transform your day!

  2. Kevin Carlton

    One of the great benefits of being a freelance, Sarah, is of course that you generally work from home. And that gives you the scope to do all these energy-boosting things.

    Just imagine taking a nap or doing some star jumps in the middle of a busy office.

    So, as you have the choice to do #1, #2 and #4 as often as you need from home, I totally agree that you should make the most of the freedom to do so.

    • Sarah

      Good point, Kevin. Some of these tactics certainly take advantage of working at home. But not exclusively. And -hey – instead of jumping jacks you can walk briskly across the office or simply stand up twist a bit and stretch. Or go a step further and recruit the whole office in periodic workout breaks (if you’ve got a gung-ho crew!)

  3. Jessica Flory

    LOVE these! So simple and so effective. I’ve found that taking a nap does wonders. Just a quick, 15 minute cat nap (even though it’s hard not to make it longer) can rejuvenate me so fast!

    • Sarah

      Yeah, Jessica, it took me a bit to relieve myself of nap guilt. You know – the I’m-working-at-home-I-should-be-professional complex. But then I realized how much more I got done with a quick one when I needed it. Guilt relieved!

    • Carol Tice

      I am a total power napper. I can usually only manage about 6 or 6 1/2 hrs at night, so I will often catch 15 mins sometime during the afternoon. Like getting a whole second day of productivity for me!

  4. Jane VanOsdol

    Thanks, Sarah! I work for one of my clients in the morning at his office, and he encourages us to get out and take a 10-minute walk. I’m one of the few who does, but I love it. Fresh air and a quick pace energize me.

    Thanks for your tips!

    • Sarah

      Smart client!! Smart you for taking him up on it!!

    • Carol Tice

      Wow, that sounds like an awesome client, Jane! Wish more workplaces were that enlightened.

      One place I worked was cool enough to have a nap couch in the women’s room…but then they remodeled and it disappeared, which sucked.

  5. Lori Ferguson

    Great tips, Carol. I’m a freak about exercise–I find that it really clears my mind, dissipates excess ‘nervous energy’ and helps me stay focused. And according to a recent article in Fast Company, exercise makes you *smarter* too. 🙂 http://bit.ly/11Pwzzp

    • Sarah

      Lori – it does make you smarter. I provide a lot of research on this on my blog but it increases problem solving speed, helps boost confidence, has been shown to increase math and reading scores for children (without tutoring) and in animal studies has been shown to help grow neurons in old mice. Research also shows it’s better than antidepressants and beats any drugs they’ve tried for dementia/Alzheimer’s hands down!

  6. Alexandria Ingham

    Great tips, Sarah. I do all of these. I’ve always found exercise really helpful for curing writer’s block or getting a few fresh ideas when I’m running out of steam.

    One that I want to add is to keep the door closed if you can. On days that my husband is home, I have to have the office door closed. It’s the only way I get a moments peace without him coming in and asking all sorts of questions!

    • Sarah

      I hear you Alexandria – I sometimes have the same problem! (hee hee). The nice thing about breaks is that you can point to the timer and say I’ll be done in 10 minutes!

  7. Melissa Weir

    Hi Sarah — great post!

    I’m one of the computer workstation early adopters (meaning, I’m old!) and working over a computer for many decades has made my spine a mess. All of your suggestions are spot on. The one I’d add is stretch — every time you leave your chair, and even in your chair. It will save you from a world of hurt as the years click by.

    Thanks for the post.


    • Sarah


      You bet – sitting is rough rough rough on your whole body. Yes, stretch – even tilt up the screen a bit and read while standing. I provide some other ideas in the free guide I offer above.

  8. Rohi Shetty

    Thanks, Sarah, great post.

    I already do all of these (pat on the back).

    One thing that’s helps a lot is to make a list of daily goals and to do them one at a time.

    List the work and then work the list.

    It’s not as easy as it seems.

    At least to me.

    • Sarah

      Double pat on the back!
      Yes, nothing as energizing and satisfying as crossing things off your list and seeing it shrink. Great tip, Rohi!

  9. Sarah

    You know the interesting thing about drinking water is that it helps your kidneys work better. And your kidneys play a key role in managing your blood pressure. So good you discovered this and it turned you onto drinking more. Many times we think we’re hungry when we’re really thirsty.
    Yes! Go have a drink on me and enjoy the beautiful sky!

    • Karen J

      Sarah ~ This is a great collection – thanks!

      *Not* getting enough water into your system has another little-known side effect:
      It heightens that “I need a cigarette, now!” feeling that so many smokers and former smokers will recognize.
      I discovered this years ago (long before we were branded with the Scarlet S) when my on-site freelancing entailed hours of concentration and I hesitated to interrupt myself to get a drink, but we could still smoke at our desks.

  10. Angie

    Great tips, Sarah!

    One of my very first freelance assignments was an article about the effects of caffeine on the body, and alternative ways to stay awake. I still indulge in my morning coffee, but I definitely find other ways to recharge when I feel my eyelids drooping and my attention wandering.

    I also keep a stress-relief kit on my desk with things like thinking putty and little gadgets to occupy my hands while I’m researching or brainstorming. Helps to relieve a bit of tension, which also boosts the productivity. 😉

    • Carol Tice

      Lately I’ve found listening to music while I work is really taking my tension down a notch. I had been out of the habit for years and now I’m back to it.

      • Angie

        Yes, that’s another great stress-buster (funny you mentioned it – I just wrote a post about it today). I have the Piano Guys on iTunes (look them up on YouTube – they’re a lot of fun!) and they’re usually playing while I work.

      • Erica

        Right now I have a New Age Jazz mix with whale songs, piano and water sounds. Loving it. So much.

    • Sarah

      I’m glad you brought this up – I used to be a diehard espresso drinker. Now I don’t drink caffeine. While I won’t completely naysay a cup of coffee, I’ve found that it sometimes masks your body’s very real need for other things to maintain your energy – proper diet, exercise or sleep! Glad you’ve cut down and found the silly putty substitute works!

      • Carol Tice

        I drink one cup of tea with caffeine in it in the morning, and then it’s herbal all the way. I realized drinking black tea all day was making me jittery and too jumpy to concentrate. I’m pumped about what I do kind of naturally! Once I’m awake, really I need more help staying calm… 😉 So less caffeine for me.

        • Angie

          I have panic attacks now and then, so caffeine and I don’t get along so well anymore. I still indulge sometimes, but I keep it to a minimum.

        • Rohi Shetty

          I’ve announced at the office that I have stopped tea and coffee. This has the added benefit of giving me the perfect excuse to give a miss to the two “tea breaks”.

          • Carol Tice

            Maybe you can get a little writing done instead!

  11. David Gillaspie

    There’s nothing better than getting the go sign for my favorite things. Food, rest, and work outs, make for a great way to live.

    Toward improving the mix, I’ve switched to a stand-up desk. The sit-down routine didn’t make sense unless I got up a lot, which isn’t always a good way to stay on task.

    I like what you said about listening to your body. Athletes, at least those who compete without the steroid booster, don’t always listen to their bodies, but it’s happening from the coaching level.

    If you track your energy level and out-put based on diet, why not replicate that routine? My goal is finding the groove and staying in it. Your post is a sign toward the right direction,

    Thanks Sarah

    • Sarah

      Well put, David! I’m a standup desk fan too. And you’re right so much we can learn from just paying attention!

  12. David N. Cleary

    I pretty much do this exact thing. I make a list of things to get done between writing(chores, working out, reading, posting…). It keeps me very productive and balanced, but if inspiration for a new piece of work comes along, I definitely set that list aside. I write everything down about this new idea in a notebook so I can reference it later, because I know I’ll forget details about it, or forget it entirely. I’ve wrote down dialogue, ideas, insults, dreams, and even entire book outlines.

    • Sarah

      I agree David, schedules should be rough outlines of your day, open to changes as opportunities present themselves. I keep a few notebooks/lists as well!

  13. Peter

    Hi Sarah, I wish I had read your post a couple of years ago, at the beginning of my work-from-home carrier… now I already have a lot of bad experiences, my back hurts every morning and I have some issues with the nutrition as well… at first I thought it would be better to work from home, because I could manage my time more efficiently, but now I have to recognize that I am not able to manage my time smart enough…

    • Sarah

      It’s true, Peter, working at home has its challenges along with its freedoms. I think you’ll really like my free guide. I’ve suffered from back pain as well and by using a standup desk and a yoga ball, I’ve been able to work even when I have to sleep on the floor at night due to back pain. Think about exercise and good food as investments in your business success and keeping that freedom of working at home. Because they are!

  14. Dvora

    Thanks for the article, Sarah. I’m a teacher, and I’m plotting a career change that will provide freedom. The tips would help anyone, especially when we’re constantly confronted with too much to do in too little time. 🙂

    • Sarah

      Good luck on your escape plan to working at home!
      I’ve actually worked a little with teachers at my children’s school in integrating more movement into their classroom plans so kids can focus better and get more done.

      • Karen J

        Good for you, working with the teachers ~ especially in these days of dollar-driven elimination of “creative arts”, gym and recess in so many schools!

        Bright Blessings ~

  15. Lindsay Wilson

    Great productivity tips, Sarah! Thank you for sharing. I especially like the frequent breaks one. That is the one that helps me the most. Of course, it is hard not to go for another caffeinated beverage every time I get up! 😉

    • Sarah

      I know, Lindsay, that’s why I started going for the water breaks. Or even a fresh fruit break. I take the time to really savor the flavor and refreshment of my favorite fruit. Quite a wakeup call!

  16. Thomas Hill


    How do recommended dealing with stress from clients who promise to pay, based on the signed contract, then “disappear?” This includes clients who I have signed contracts with.

    I had one client who promised me a payment. They finally got back to me 4 months later saying the project has been canceled with the “possibility” (yeah right) of it starting next spring. His final message only came back after I chased down some of the clients business partners and begged them to have to update me (either way). There’s no way I’m dealing with them EVER — I found out that their LLC is inactive!

    Another client promised they would pay me via company credit card or check — this one we signed a contract — tomorrow (7/11) will be 30 days (our agreed upon timeline after submission — and they said it was approved). I’m still waiting on a response back …..

    Along with the lack of payment, spending the extra time looking into suing them and the extra time to commence a lawsuit and keep track of it is awfully stressful and takes away from my marketing and writing time —

    It seems like bad luck, but how much bad luck can I have before it bankrupts me financially and healthwise? It’s frustrating and infurating. Suing them MAY provide some relief for their actions — but doesn’t let me concentrate on my good clients or my business moving forward….

    What do I do?

    With some publishers giving a 4 to 8 week lead-time to get back on pitches — how do I know that my pitches are horrendous, in the middle or knock it out of the park? Two months is a lot of time to be doing something wrong — it helps me develop a bad habit and no feedback to know what I’m doing wrong and how to fix it. Any suggestions?

    I would like to use the pitching question(s) for tomorrow’s tele-seminar!



    • Carol Tice

      This is a guest post, but since you addressed it to me, I’ll just say I’m not in favor of suing anyone. It’s too costly and time-consuming. You should write it off to experience, learn to qualify your clients better, and move on. Use that energy to find new and better clients instead of hiring lawyers and standing around courtrooms.

      I think word spreads fast that you’re litigious and it makes it harder to get future gigs. But most importantly suing keeps you in a really negative, angry head space for a long time. Then you get a judgment, and how will you collect on it? Hire yet another costly professional to try to attach their bank account, etc.? Often you get a meaningless court judgment because the client is broke and there is no money to get.

      Have you already sent a late bill with a 2% late charge and indicated you will charge 2% compounded monthly that it is additionally late? Have you called the accounting department?

      I’d also let them know you will discuss this in social media, that they’re a deadbeat, if they don’t pay.

      As far as how I cope…it’s been years since I was stiffed by anyone, and it only happened once. I sign well-defined contracts with quality clients and have never had a lot of trouble with deadbeats. If this is sort of thing happens a lot, it’s a sign that you’re not qualifying your clients well. You want established, reliable companies with a good reputation and track record of paying freelancers.

      On pitches…if you’re not getting any response, you need to learn more about how to pitch. If you’re getting gigs off your pitches, you’re doing it right. If it’s crickets, something’s wrong.

      We have a lot of resources in my Freelance Writers Den community on that, including a chance to get critiques from me and Linda Formichelli. We’ve also got many useful posts here on this tag:


      Hope that helps! See you on the call tomorrow.

  17. Rhonda Kronyk

    Sarah, this is a great list. I do okay with each of these, but there is always room for improvement. Exercise is one that I am going to focus on right now. I walk every morning and evening with the dog, but get little exercise during the day. I love the idea of a couple of short bursts during work breaks to recharge. I am going to start immediately!

  18. Amel

    There was a period when I was having a terrible time staying productive. I was tired all the time and couldn’t stay focused. I eventually found out that I was low on iron. My doctor prescribed supplements, and I returned to normal within a week or two and actually had incredible energy. Around this time, I learned how caffeine is bad for people with low iron and gave it up completely in favor of water. The difference was amazing! These days, I might have an occasional cup of coffee, but I now understand how to respect what my body is telling me. If you are feeling tired and unproductive day after day, that is not normal, and something needs to change. Women in particular need to pay attention to things like iron, thyroid levels, and other things that may affect energy. As a Muslim, I am now fasting for the month of Ramadan, which means 16 hours of no food or water each day from dawn to sunset, which brings its own challenges related to productivity and makes it even more important to eat the right foods during non-fasting hours and get sufficient rest throughout the day.

    • Carol Tice

      I suffer from low iron as well, since when I was a kid, Amel. I start every day with tea with a tablespoon of molasses in it for the iron, and take supplements. And eat a lot of broccoli, spinach, raisins, etc.

      I’m impressed with the discipline required to get through Ramadan. We Jews never fast for more than 1 day sunset to sunset, which is hard enough!


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