Time is money. That’s a no-brainer.
But when your work for yourself, the equation gets a bit more difficult. You get a limited amount of time you can “sell” to make a good living. And there’s a point when commanding even higher rates becomes impossible to justify.
That’s exactly where time management rolls in. If you learn to keep more plates spinning without compromising the quality of those “plates”, you’ll end up with extra $$$ in your bank account at the end of the month.
And even if earning more money is no longer your primary objective, less “busy” time means more awesome time to be spent with family, friends or travelling. Here are 17 tips I’ve been using to stay on top of my productivity curve and sustain a healthy work/life balance.
To Do Lists Really Do Work When You do Them The Right Way
Keeping a to do list really does help you to stay on top of things. The trick is to find an approach that works for you. Some people find that the traditional check list on paper works for them. Others need to prioritize and organize using different colors. Of course, there are dozens of to do list apps that are options as well. I make my lists at Trello - a visual, board-styled tool.
Make a Schedule
Yes, one of the benefits of being a freelancer is that you can, mostly, set your own schedule. This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go without a schedule entirely. You’ll find that having at least a loosely formed schedule to your day will help you to stay on task. Here’s a rough example:
- 7:00 A.M. Breakfast, Texts, and Email
- 8:00 - 11:00 Research And Note Taking
- 11:00 - 12:00 Client Meeting
- 12:00 - 1:00 Lunch, Texts, and Email
- 1:00 - 2:30 Gym And Walk Dog
- 2:30 - 5:00 Writing For Clients
- 5:00 - 7:00 Writing Extras for Personal Projects
Get Rid of Distractions
Five minutes checking your email, ten minutes scrolling down Facebook, another five minutes playing with your phone, and those are just electronic distractions. Your cat, your kids, your spouse, even your word processor can act as roadblocks to getting things done.
Do what you have to in order to get rid of distractions. Block social media sites during work hours. Close and lock your door. Put Fido outside. It takes 20 minutes to regain your focus after a 2-3 min distraction. Don’t do that to yourself.
Consider Limiting Your Client Base
If you’re just starting out, you may need to take any job that comes your way. You need the money. Even more so, you need the references and recommendations. Unfortunately, many freelancers never get out of this mode. The result, they have a lot of work to do that simply isn’t worth the headache.
Take a long hard look at your client list. Do you really need to continue working for the guy who wants everything revised six times because he can’t figure out what he wants? Maybe it’s time to pass that low paying blogging job onto a more entry-level writer.
Learn to Say No to The People Around You
For some reason, the moment people learn that you work as a freelancer, they assume you have open availability to do their bidding. It’s even worse if you work from home. Suddenly, you become the go to person in the household for errand running, giving people rides from one place to another, and another last minute tasks.
If you aren’t careful, you can lose several hours of productive time in a day doing little favors for people. Learn to say now, and to establish boundaries. The sooner you train people to understand that your work hours are just as important as anyone else’s, the better.
Get a Decent Pen And Paper
If you use a pen and paper to take notes, invest in something decent. It may seem like a small thing, but these are tools of the trade. Don’t use tools that you have to fight with. Invest in a decent rollerball pen. Then, by a set of decent stationary from a store that specializes in selling that sort of thing.
You will see a noticeable difference in the time it takes for you to write things down when compared to the cheap stuff you can pick up at the local discount store. It’s also much easier to be productive when you find ways to eliminate small sources of frustration.
Get Some Exercise
Fact. People who exercise have higher energy levels and better focus. If you have to make sacrifices in your schedule, make sure that working out doesn’t land on the chopping block. First, your health is too important. Second, your productivity may just depend on it.
In fact, if you find that you are getting distracted easily or even starting to doze off a bit, try a light workout. It may be just what you need to get your blood flowing and your thought process kicked into gear.
Write Around Writer’s Block
There are two letters that when combined together can be a lifesaver for a writer. These are ‘TK’. These initials originated as shorthand for print journalists. They simply mean ‘To Come (kum)’. Basically, they are used as a placeholder and to indicate that more information will be inserted as the writer gets it.
The purpose of TK is to allow the writer to continue writing the parts of the story that they do have, while putting the other parts on hold. This technique can absolutely be applied to freelance writing as well. Not sure how to start your piece, just type TK. Then, move onto the parts of that post you are ready to write.
Consider Outsourcing Some Tasks
It might be time to hire some help. Remember the idea is to spend as much time as possible on the task that earns you the most money. This is taking words and putting them down on paper.
It may save time, and help you to earn money, if you outsource tasks such as creating graphics to a pro. You might even consider taking on a college student to do research and fact checking. If you speak with sources over the phone, you probably do a lot of transcribing. A service like Go Transcript can take over that task just for you. For small chores like creating graphics, there’s also Fiverr. For anything else - make a post at a freelancer’s FB group and ask other folks to propose their services. You’ll quickly come up with a number of helpers.
Use Technology to Stay on Top of Things
The number of time saving apps that can benefit freelance writers is almost limitless. There are apps for taking notes, apps for editing and proofreading, and apps that help you add visuals to your content. There are even speech to text apps like Dragon Dictation that you can use if you are a faster talker than writer.
Take advantage of these! By automating many of the tasks you do each day, and by using technology to keep yourself organized and on top of things, you can save precious time and boost productivity.
Don’t Edit And Write at The Same Time
Turn off your spell checker. Even better, find a distraction free word processor that doesn’t assault your eyes with annotations and squiggly red lines every time you make a typo or miss an Oxford comma. When it’s time for writing, just write. Don’t back track to fix errors or to reword things. You won’t save yourself much time in the editing process. Instead, you’ll just stymie the progress you are making writing.
Try Gamification Strategies to Boost Your Speed
Can you write six thousand words in a day? What about finishing that 800 word guest post in less than an hour? Can you beat every deadline you have set for the next month? It turns out that if you challenge yourself, you really can increase your productivity.
This is known as gamification. Essentially, you can motivate yourself to become more productive by using some of the elements that you might see in games. This includes setting timers, keeping score, and challenging yourself to increase your output.
Work During Off Hours
If you work when other people aren’t working or otherwise active, you’ll deal with fewer disruptions and distractions. If you get up an hour or two before everyone else in your household, take advantage of that time to get in some disruption free writing.
What about that 24 hour coffee shop? It’s probably packed with people with people in the afternoon. Head over there at ten at night, and you might find it’s the ideal place to get a cup and write.
Doing this can be a real adjustment. However, if you can manage it, you will be surprised at the amount of uninterrupted writing time that you have.
Remember that not every task and not every client can be a top priority all of the time. In addition to keeping a to do list and making a daily schedule, you have to set priorities. The best way to do this is to look at each task individually. Then, ask yourself a few questions:
- What benefit do I get from completing this task?
- What are the negative consequences of delaying this task until later?
- Will this task be easier to do at a later time when I’m less busy?
- If I don’t tackle this now, will it snow ball?
Then prioritize in this order.
- Tasks That Will Cause You Headaches if Not Done ASAP
- Tasks That Are Beneficial For You to Finish ASAP
- Tasks That Are Medium Urgency But Not Important
- Tasks That Are Neither Urgent nor Important
Do Your Work in Batches
Most writing is done in roughly three phrases. You research. You write. You edit and proofread. If you have multiple writing projects at once you might find it more efficient to do these tasks in batches. For example, you could hit your favorite coffee shop in the morning to research and take notes. Write from your home office in the early afternoon. Then, take cover of editing and proofreading in the evening.
Cut Out Time Wasting Activities
‘There’s just not enough time to get everything done.’
Bull. There is plenty of time to get things done. The problem is that most of us don’t use our time wisely. Instead, we waste it on meaningless tasks and activities. Think about it for a minute. How many hours did you spend in front of the television this week? Now, how many of those hours were spent half watching?
Make a list of the things you spend your time doing. Then start cutting out the tasks that aren’t really important to you. Most people can salvage at least an hour or two per day if they spend more time focusing on tasks that that are valuable to them rather than passively doing things that aren’t even important to them.
Work on Difficult Tasks During High Energy Times
The ‘Eat The Frog’ philosophy encourages people to take on the most difficult tasks first thing during your work day. The only problem is that this assumes that you are on the ball first thing, and that your thought processes are fully engaged. That’s just not true for many people.
Instead, take the time to learn how your energy levels fluctuate during the day. It may be best to tackle that monstrosity of a job after your 2:00 cup of coffee, not at 8:00 in the morning when you aren’t quite feeling human yet.
Good time management isn’t an option for freelance writers. It’s a must. If you can’t stay on top of your tasks, and get things done in a timely manner both your sanity and your wallet are going to suffer the consequences. The tips above are designed specifically with the writer in mind.