How To Stay Focused and Productive as a Freelancer (+ Free 30/60/90 Day Plan Template)

In Episode 1 of Season 2, Austin unpacks the root problem for freelancers, explains the 2-step solution, and shares a free 30/60/90 day plan template.

December 15, 2023
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Disclosure: This episode is sponsored by CrowdHealth, and also includes affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through my link. All opinions are my own.

In this episode, Austin explores the root problem freelancers face and the constant battle to ignore distractions in the midst of an overwhelming number of to-dos: marketing, client projects, website updates… No wonder many freelancers are burned out!

The truth is, we don’t really want to get more done. No, we want to focus on the right things at the right time, and push the unimportant stuff to the periphery.

So how can freelancers and consultants get clarity, reduce complexity, and build momentum faster?

You create an actionable plan you believe in.

If you want to do that and make minimum viable to transform your freelance business, be sure to grab the free 30/60/90 day plan template Austin mentions at the end.

Key points

  • What is the root problem for freelancers and consultants? (03:34)
  • What is the solution to the freelance focus problem? (08:25)
  • How can freelancers get more done without burning out? (11:42)
  • What is the next step? (14:57)

Notable Quotes

  • "You get more done by doing less but better."
  • "When you have a plan you believe in and make minimum viable progress each day, you will transform your freelance business."



[00:00:00] Welcome to the Freelance Cake Podcast. I'm your host, Austin L. Church. The goal of this show is to help full-time, committed freelancers get better leverage.

[00:00:13] As the sworn enemy of busyness and burnout, I have no desire to see you work harder. Instead, I reveal the specific beliefs, principles, and practices you can use right away to make the freelance game more profitable and enjoyable. So chill out and listen in, because the best is yet to come

[00:00:35] This episode of Freelance Cake is brought to you by CrowdHealth. Healthcare in the US is complicated, confusing, and highly personal. Insurance premiums, deductibles, and copays can get really expensive, especially for freelancers and consultants who don’t have an employer paying for anything.

[00:00:54] Case in point, here’s what a UX consultant wrote to me in an email: “My biggest headache is currently health insurance. It’s so expensive for a family of 4 with 2 self-employed parents. Really tough.”

[00:01:08] That is exactly why my family of 5 switched to health-sharing. Over the last 9 years, my wife and I have been through 2 births, a broken arm, 2 surgeries, emergency room visits, MRIs, allergy shots, and a disability diagnosis. Get this, we’ve saved over $60,000 in out-of-pocket costs without sacrificing our quality of care.

[00:01:32] If you’re not familiar with healthcare crowdfunding. I hope you’ll take this opportunity to educate yourself. I’ll drop some links in the show notes, or you can head straight to and use code “freelancecake” (one word) to get 3 months for $99. Go to

[00:01:53] My home state of Tennessee has an abundance of ruby-throated hummingbirds. These tiny feathered gems defy belief. They weigh about the same as a marshmallow – that’s .1-.2 ounces or about 3 grams – and beat their wings 53 times per second on average. Crazy.

[00:02:18] They build walnut-sized nests with materials straight out of a fairytale. The down of thistle and dandelion held together with spider web and covered with lichen. I did not make that up. That's real. The nests can stretch to fit the growing nestlings and be reused the next year. Again, crazy.

[00:02:39] Perhaps the most impressive thing though is their yearly journey across the Gulf of Mexico to winter in Mexico or Central America. They fly nearly 500 miles or 800 kilometers nonstop for at least 18 hours.

[00:02:58] Have you ever watched a hummingbird in a garden? They flit from flower to flower to flower and use their straw-like bills to sip nectar and double their body mass before migration.

[00:03:12] Many growth-minded freelancers act like hummingbirds. We hover above one flower, we see another out of the corner of our eye. Perhaps the honeysuckle is better and sweeter. Perhaps we're wasting our time on the zinnia. We buzz to the more enticing opportunity without finishing what we started.

[00:03:34] So what is the root problem for freelancers and consultants? No one can fault our work ethic. We work so hard. Our problem isn't intelligence either. We read the books and posts. We listen to the videos and podcasts. We know to work smart on top of working hard and navigating the challenges of being a creative or consultant becomes a job unto itself.

[00:04:00] Can you tell I'm speaking to myself here too, not just you? Most of us care deeply about delivering good or excellent quality and leaving clients better than we found them. If the root problem for freelancers isn't work ethic or working hard or even working smart, intelligence, or skill, what is it?

[00:04:27] The root problem for freelancers and consultants is fractured focus. Paralyzing optionality surrounds us. And when you're responsible for everything and everything seems like a priority, it's hard to decide what is most important.

[00:04:47] Investing an hour in your marketing versus a client project. Updating your website versus updating your LinkedIn profile. Creating a positioning cheat code versus creating juicy offers. Finally niching down versus emailing clients about your rate increase. Crafting an email to request referrals versus attending a local start-up event.

[00:05:12] And that measly list of five choices barely scratches the surface, doesn't it? No wonder we end up feeling overwhelmed. At least hummingbirds can follow their instincts, but we can get tangled up in our own second-guessing, not to mention the abundance of distraction from inboxes to new apps to kids who act as though they will perish unless you give them some Cheez-It crackers right now. Maybe that's just my house.

[00:05:44] In the absence of a plan we believe in, we overthink where to put our time throughout the day. We constantly wonder, “Is this what I should be doing right now?” Here's a hot slice of irony for you: Some of the smartest freelancers and consultants I know sink the most time into over-analysis because they're so adept at seeing all the angles, all the possible paths forward. We can't think ourselves out of incessant bids for our attention.

[00:06:25] Okay, you might be wondering, “What is the solution to the freelance focus problem?” We must create a plan we can fall back on when the next flower beckons, when the urgent but not important threatens to hijack our attention.

[00:06:44] After another quick word about our sponsor, I'll keep going with this. Healthcare crowdfunding is a model a lot of people in the United States are still unfamiliar with. Basically, instead of submitting your medical bills to an insurance company, you send them to other people and those people pay a share of your bill. Then when they have medical bills, you reciprocate.

[00:07:08] And thankfully, there are health-sharing memberships like CrowdHealth that facilitate that whole process and make it easier and even support the process with some really good technology.

[00:07:20] So you continue to go to whichever healthcare providers you prefer, you negotiate often significantly lower bills because you’re cash pay or private pay and then everyone benefits because instead of all of the inefficiencies and extra costs of the insurance industry and insurance companies, you just bypass that and you crowdfund your medical bills.

[00:07:47] So if you haven't already, go check out CrowdHealth. Go to On the home page, you can learn more about the model and I do want to reiterate that my family has had a crowd-funding healthcare membership for nearly 10 years now. We're huge fans of this model because we've saved conservatively over $60,000. So again, go to, put in promo code “freelancecake” (all one word), and you will get your first 3 months for $99. That's it.

[00:08:25] All right. Now, back to this sweet, sweet slice of Freelance Cake. Thankfully, I've found a fairly straightforward 2-step solution for combating complexity and spending less time second-guessing myself. 

[00:08:41] Here are the steps. Number one, create a 30/60/90 plan, also known as a quarterly action plan. Number two, break down your key objectives into 30-minute sprints. “Surely it's not that simple,” you're thinking. I totally get your skepticism. I mean, for the better part of 8 years, a frenetic energy defined my daily workflow, my career even. I had high capacity and ample motivation to go with it.

[00:09:17] As the primary breadwinner for a growing family, I felt the pressure acutely. A productive day for me was one where I drew a line through several dozen tasks. If I managed to reach inbox zero, all the better. Because I could squeeze a lot in, I took on more clients and more projects compulsively.

[00:09:42] I liked most of the work most of the time. I liked making extra money and God knows my family and I had lean months where I paid bills one at a time and often just in time. When not quite enough has been an unwelcome guest too many months in your home, you develop an unconscious habit of saying yes to everything.

[00:10:07] As I gained experience, I gained efficiency and that efficiency freed up some capacity. What would I do? You guessed it! I’d scramble to book out that capacity I just freed up, never mind that I needed time for my own business development and marketing. When scarcity mindset tells you to do something, you do it.

[00:10:33] So yeah, I'm not here to judge. Overbooking myself and operating on next to no margin was my habit for the better part of a decade. I had a string of high-earning months in 2013 that were false positives reinforcing that habit (“Look, my hard work is finally paying off”). Instead of saving the money for a down payment on a house as originally planned, I invested $25,000 in a tech start-up, rather the idea of a tech start-up.

[00:11:08] While I acted as the COO for a start-up that wasn't paying me, my freelance business became the side hustle. Within 2 years, I went from having $20,000-$30,000 months to being broke and burned out. Here's a reliable recipe: Chronically overbooked plus broke equals burnout. I found myself slow to get out of bed in the mornings and enshrouded in a gray grim outlook when I did.

[00:11:42] Next question, how can freelancers get more done without burning out? I had to realize that my high capacity had come back to bite me. Through being chronically overcommitted and handing out yeses like candy bars at Halloween, I had devalued my greatest asset: me.

[00:12:05] When my energy and optimism returned, I didn't want to forget what I'd learned. More doesn't mean more effective. Faster doesn't mean better. A longer to-do list doesn't mean a more fruitful day. I'll talk more about fruitfulness versus productivity another time. For now, let's circle back to the idea at hand.

[00:12:29] You don't get more done by doing more. You get more done by doing less but better, which is something I learned from Greg McKeown's book Essentialism. McKeown borrowed heavily from one of Industrial Designer Dieter Rams' design principles, forgive my German, Weniger, aber besser. Less but better.

[00:12:55] The truth is we don't really want to get more done. We want to focus on the right things at the right time and push the unimportant stuff to the periphery. We all get the same number of hours each day, but each of us has a unique mix of capacity, energy, not to mention various responsibilities and circumstances vying for attention. Everything from chronic pain to caring for children to full-time jobs.

[00:13:26] The single best way to get more of the most important work done is to create a simple actionable plan you believe in. That way, even on the days when you question the sanity of being a freelancer or consultant at all, you can give the complexity a rude shove to the side and make definitive progress on what matters most, even if that progress consists of a single 30-minute sprint.

[00:13:57] When you have a plan you believe in and you make minimum viable progress each day, you will transform your freelance business. Not if but when. Here's basic math to prove it: 30 minutes per day, so 1 30-minute sprint per day, 5 days per week, 48 weeks per year, that's 120 hours of focused effort per year.

[00:14:29] Notice that you wouldn't be making those minimum viable deposits on the weekend. Notice that you'd take 4 weeks off and give your mind and soul a break. Feel free to give yourself more vacation if you need it. Notice that this approach is sustainable. If you invested 120 hours in building the business you actually want, where would you be in 12 months?

[00:14:57] Final question, what is the next step? Well, download my free 30/60/90 day plan template. You can find the link in the show notes. That template includes an example of a plan I created with a client plus a blank worksheet for you.

[00:15:15] I'd encourage you to spend 30 minutes doing a brain dump with pen and paper and then another 15 minutes plugging in your key objectives and your 30-minute sprints, plug those into the worksheet. That's it for now.

[00:15:33] Hey, before you go, a quick reminder, be sure to check out the business redesign group coaching program. It's fundamentally about revenue design and lifestyle design and it's based on the $300K flywheel framework that I have developed over the last 15 years of trial and error and nearly $2 million earned as a creative entrepreneur.

[00:15:57] Instead of feeding more and more time into the business machine, you can join me and other like-minded freelancers and consultants as we learn how to think like a CEO, not a technician, stack up the right advantages, and find our income-lifestyle sweet spot.

[00:16:17] Go to to learn more about business redesign and apply. My friends, the best is yet to come. See you in the next episode.


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