The big productivity debate is settled: freelancers do go the extra mile

Even us – a brand marketing consultancy powered by creative freelancers -- has hosted the age-old debate that continues to divide many today. And that debate is this -- whether a self-employed worker is more or less productive than a full-time worker, writes Jess Sims, founder of The Doers.

So we ran a survey to work out exactly what productivity looks like through the workforce and the results are fascinating.

My own productivity battle

Before I get to those results; full disclosure. I myself have previously been known to linger a bit too long at the office water cooler! Perhaps related, I am far more productive in the evenings (after conventional office hours have ended) than in the day time. My worst time for productivity used to be the mid-afternoon, where I would often let email ‘pings,’ social media notifications, or pointless meetings get the better of my schedule.

There was another root to the research we ran. During the coronavirus pandemic, more brands turned to freelancers in a bid to create fast and effective marketing campaigns. There are many benefits for choosing freelancers over an agency which has its own internal staff chained to their desks - getting direct access to specialist talent, for example, plus lowered costs (once you kiss goodbye to those expensive agency overheads). But can we add ‘increased productivity’ to that list of reasons to use freelancers over agencies, too?

Productivity study: what we found

Our sample was 1,000 UK respondents, working in a range of different cities, and working – we found out – a range of different hours, in various industries. We discovered that the self-employed are productive for an average of 6.4 hours – that’s the equivalent of 6 hours and 23 minutes of a working day.

This figure came in at 36 minutes more than those who we polled that were in conventional, 9-to-5 employment. For such employees, they were productive for an average of 5.8 hours – that’s the equivalent of 5 hours and 48 minutes of a working day.

That extra mile you go? As a freelancer, it exceeds 150 hours

An extra half-hour or so might not sound much! But if you consider that there are 251 working days this year, our findings mean the self-employed are racking up an additional 150.6 hours of productive work each year compared to their employed counterparts! That equates to around 20 hours working days – or around a month in standard, Monday-to-Friday terms.

This going the extra mile, or precisely going the extra 150 hours, is increasingly being recognised by employers and is invariably playing into the currently high demand for freelancers.

More hours, yes -- but more perks too

In fact, from what we’re seeing in the hiring marketplace, talented creative professionals are more and more considering becoming freelance. That’s not to say making the leap to self-employment is being taken lightly, and nor should it. A careful consideration is required, even if the perks of self-employment are clear - no corporate structure to contend with (if you don’t want such a structure); the ability to travel or holiday when you want, and the freedom to plan your day around what works best for you -- whether it be school pick-up times or an allergy to working rigid 9-5 hours!

Individuals interested in freelancing often dip their toe in self-employed waters by taking on a ‘side-hustle’ while they are still employed. And with good reason. The challenges of ‘going it alone’ can be fierce. You have to wear every hat imaginable (from marketing to technology), and quickly learn how to navigate your finances, clients and taxes. To just get started, Google will likely become your best friend. But once your independent work is actually underway, you also have to get wholly acquainted with productivity -- without needing anyone else to support you. Interestingly, our research has some helpful suggestions.

How to boost productivity as a freelancer

Asked about the successful tactics and tools which respondents said they had actually used to increase their productivity, the most common were as follows:

  • Take regular breaks,
  • Write and work through ‘to-do’ lists
  • Play background music.

Less common, but still clearly used as productivity-boosters:

  • Work in silence
  • Plan your day/working time thoroughly
  • 'Bite the head of the frog' – a project management term but in effect, complete or execute the most important/hardest task first.

The least common of all, but still among the activities we found some people engage in to increase productivity:

  • Take regular exercise
  • Work flexible hours
  • Eat nutritious snacks
  • Set a strict sleep routine; (and, one which I very much relate to:)
  • Disable those pesky notification sounds on personal devices!


21st June 2022

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