It might sound cliché, but TIME really is the most valuable tool you have in your freelance writing arsenal.
Use it wisely, and you can make clients happy, rake in tons of money, and become a successful freelance writer.
Use it poorly, and you can lose customers, money and your reputation.
Which camp would you rather fall into?
Great time management for writers is one of the most important skills you can have as a professional.
Let me put it into perspective…
Since most freelance writers charge per word or per project, the time we spend on our projects is the biggest determining factor in how much money we make.
If you procrastinate and take 5 hours to complete a 50-dollar project, you’re only making $10 an hour. You could make that flipping burgers at McDonald’s!
If, on the other hand, you put your head down, get to work and crank that content out in half an hour, you just clocked in at $100 bucks an hour, my friend! It doesn’t get better than that.
So if you’re wondering…
“How can I make more money?”
“How can I have the six-figure career that Maggie has?”
I’ve got a very simple and easy answer for you: Just manage your time better.
Not sure how to do that? I’m here to help.
When it comes to time management for writers – I’ve seen the best and I’ve seen the worst, and I know what works and what doesn’t. Here are a few tricks of the trade I’ve picked up over the years that can help you stop procrastinating, start writing and make the money you truly deserve:
Create the Right Atmosphere
There’s a big difference between writing in your quiet, closed-up home office and writing in a busy, bustling Starbucks.
At home, you may be in an atmosphere where you can focus, concentrate and think without distraction. In the other? You have people walking by, baristas shouting orders and horns blaring as cars go by.
Which one do you think is the most productive?
Now I’m not saying you can’t get work done in a Starbucks. Of course you can. My point here is that atmosphere matters.
What you surround yourself with plays a big role in how productive you are and how well you can accomplish your tasks. This is especially true for writers, as we need to hear ourselves think – to come up with the perfect word or phrase to make our clients happy. This is simply more difficult in a loud, busy or buzzing place.
But the key to the right work atmosphere isn’t just in reducing noise. Sure, a quiet place may allow you to be more productive than a loud one, but you also want to focus on these aspects as well:
- Distractions – What’s around you that could distract you? Cars? Pets? Music? Take into account anything that could pull focus away from your work, and minimize those distractions as much as possible.
- Comfort – How comfortable are you? Concentrating will be difficult if you’re thinking about how hard your chair is and how uncomfortable you are. Create a comfortable, relaxed space for yourself – somewhere you can settle in for hours at a time without aches or pains.
- People – Are you at home by yourself or are you at your parents, surrounded by family and friends? What are the chances someone could ask for something, interrupt your train of thought or take away your focus? Pure solitude isn’t necessary for great time management; just make sure you surround yourself with people who are respectful of your work and the deadlines you’re under.
- Tools – Do you have everything you need to do the job – items like research materials, style books and other resources? Is your computer charged? Do you have a full phone battery? You don’t want to have to stop your work just to get up and hunt something down. Equip your workspace with everything you need to get the job done.
Your work atmosphere plays a big role in how well you can do your job, so before you start on your next project, create a space that’s comfortable, quiet, well-equipped and distraction-free. You’ll be surprised at how much better you manage your time because of it.
Use the Right Tools
Thanks to modern technology, managing your time has never been easier.
There are dozens of apps, computer programs and timers that can help keep you on track, keep you focused and boost your productivity. And the best part is… most of them are free! It’s just a matter of knowing which ones to use and when to use them.
Let’s take a look at some of my must-have tools, and what situation you’d use them in:
- A good calendar – I prefer Google Calendar, because I can sync it across my devices and add other users to it as needed. It also gives me push updates on my phone when I have a meeting or deadline coming, and I can even use it to send myself reminders so I don’t fall behind. This is a tool you’ll need day in and day out. Put all your assignments on it, add in deadlines and due dates, and make sure everything is visible and accessible from every device you use.
- OmmWriter – This tool goes back to my last tip, meaning it can help you create a more productive work environment for yourself. A simple computer app that transforms your screen into a distraction-free writing environment, it’s a must-have if you have trouble focusing.
- Rescue Time – Another computer app, this one can actually help you improve your time management the more you use it. It records every second you spend on specific tasks, programs and websites, and then gives you a full report of where your time goes. This sort of insight is great for nailing down what distracts you, and it can be a good way to hone in on a more efficient work process for yourself in the long run.
- Trello – I would be lost without Trello. This online program is a free tool that allows you to create daily to-do lists and organize your workflow easily. Because of its visual interface, you can see exactly what your schedule looks like at a glance without muddling through many lists or chaotic schedules.
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
Though a productive atmosphere and a good arsenal of time management tools can certainly help you manage your time better, the real trick to time management is good scheduling.
Now I don’t mean you have to parse out tasks for every minute of every day you plan to work. That’s just not feasible – nor is it a good use of your time!
Instead, focus on budgeting your time … setting aside chunks of each day for certain clients, tasks or projects, so you can ensure you have plenty of bandwidth to get it all done.
Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done – especially for freelance writers just starting out.
Since most people are looking for a more freeing career when they get into writing, beginning freelancers often let their schedules go. They wake up at any hour of the day, take a 5-hour lunch, and don’t come back to the keyboard until 10 p.m. at night. While sure, that might be a relaxing way to live your life, it won’t make you the most productive – nor the most lucrative – freelance writer by any means.
If you want to manage your time well and make the high dollars that go along with that, you must commit to somewhat of a schedule. That means:
- Set office hours for yourself – These are hours you’re available via email or Skype for client interaction.
- Establish a general workday – You don’t have to work 9 to 5, but what about committing to at least 5 hours a day, sometime between 10 and 7? Give yourself loose parameters to work with so you still have some flexibility.
- Divide time between projects and clients – What days and time periods will you work on Client A, Client B and Client C? Work backward from any deadlines you have, so you never miss a due date.
Establishing some sort of schedule will help keep your work and your career on track. Use your calendar tool to manage your schedule or even share it with your clients and colleagues. The more accountability there is, the better.
If you had an employee you wanted to work harder, what would you do?
Would you yell at them until they worked faster?
Or would you give them incentive that would inspire them to work harder instead?
It’s no secret that the second option would be much more effective.
People respond to incentives. When they get something out of the deal, they’re much more willing to comply, to work hard and to work fast. And this is true even for us freelance writers.
You might not have a boss breathing down your neck, but you can still incentivize yourself to get more done and be more productive. Sure, you already have somewhat of an incentive in the fee you’ll get once the project’s complete, but you can go above and beyond that, too.
Here are some examples:
- Treat yourself – Craving a Frappuccino? Commit to heading to your local coffee shop for a tasty treat – but only once you’ve turned in that looming blog post. Want lunch with a friend? Set the date, but know you can only go if you’ve completed X amount of words on your current eBook. This will inspire you to put your head down and hit the pavement.
- Take some time off – Need a break from the daily grind? Plan a day trip once you complete your next project. The sooner you get that project done, the sooner you can hit that beach or enjoy that museum.
- Get an upgrade – Need a new computer? Take on a project that will cover the costs, and get to work. Once the project’s complete, you not only get that computer you want, but you’ll also likely have better programs and a faster system to complete future work. It’s a win-win for you and the client.
As a freelance writer, you’re your own boss. Treat yourself like an employee once in a while and give yourself little incentives to work faster and more productively. It really does work!
Good Time Management = A Good Career
Similar to any skill, you have to work at time management. And while it might not be fun or easy or simple, the truth is, it can have a serious payoff in the end and it will make you less stressed overall. Take some time to hone your time-management skills, and watch the difference it can make.