When you start a freelance writing career, your first concern might be getting enough work to support yourself, or making the right connections to get better paying jobs. However, if you keep producing good work and gain a good reputation in your industry, you will eventually reach a point where you are getting so many offers that you will feel overwhelmed.
Whether you are at the start of your career, or have reached a point where you simply don’t know how to handle your increased workload anymore, learning how to manage your time is of the utmost importance if you want to succeed as a freelance writer.
The following time management tips and programs can help get you on the right track so you can focus on your writing.
1. Learn to Say No to Projects
This seems like common sense, but for freelance writers who are just starting to get multiple job offers, the temptation is always high to say “yes” to everything and accept the extra money the work will bring. This is a mistake.
Saying yes to any job that comes your way might make sense to you in the beginning of your career, when offers are few and far between, but at some point you will have to learn that you can’t handle every project at once. If you try to juggle it all, your work will suffer, deadlines will be missed, and you will likely not be asked to work for those clients again, as missing deadlines is one of the cardinal sins of freelance writing. On top of that, you will feel constantly stressed and overworked.
So what should you do instead? Accept the projects that pay the fee you feel you deserve, or the ones that put you on the path to the specialty on which you want to focus.
2. Use RescueTime to Minimize Distractions
Image via Flickr by Eelke
The more work we have, the more likely we are to get distracted and procrastinate. You may think you’ve put in 10 hours of work on your freelance projects, but in reality, three to four of those hours may have been spent checking social media and your favorite forums or websites.
RescueTime is a tool that tracks how you spend your time online, so you get a better sense of your biggest time wasters. Keep in mind that this tip isn’t meant to stop you from browsing the Internet entirely, but rather of realistically tracking how much time you spend on entertainment rather than work when you’re online. You should still take breaks every once in a while to do something you like, but just make sure you’re not spending too much time on these activities.
3. Implement a Break System
Whether you favor the Pomodoro technique or some other time management method, taking breaks once in a while is important for your stress levels. Also, though it may seem counterintuitive, semi-frequent breaks can boost your productivity and help you get your work done faster. Focusing on a computer screen or an article for too long can lead to “brain fog,” which makes you work at a much slower rate and produce lower quality work. Frequent breaks where you avert your eyes from the computer screen, get up and walk around, or simply get a breath of fresh air, will help keep you focused when you get back to work.
4. Designate Specific Times for Social Media
In the current world of freelance writing, social media is an important way to connect with new potential clients and promote yourself and your work. However, it can also be an endless distraction for writers who constantly check their social media profiles whenever they hear the “ping” of a new notification rather than getting work done. To stay on top of your social media but also stay focused, designate specific times to check your Twitter, Facebook, and other profiles (twice during the workday should be more than enough), and also designate a time limit for how long you should spend on social media. Set a timer to make sure you stick to this self-imposed limit.
5. Don’t Check Emails Until You Can Process Them
Freelance writers usually wake up to tens or hundreds of emails a day. Most of us make the mistake of lazily going through our emails on our phone while we’re still in bed in the morning, or before our first cup of coffee, or before we can really take the time to organize and respond to them. This can waste a lot of time.
Don’t go near your emails until you are in a place, physically and mentally, where you can fully process, organize, and respond to them, and then start your day’s tasks. Whether that means you need to eat a full breakfast first, change clothes, read your morning newspaper, or whatever else you need to do, make sure you are relaxed and ready to work before you click on your inbox for the first time.
6. Use Momentum to Stay on Task
Anyone who has Googled randomly connected topics furiously into the night knows that every new tab you open up in your browser can lead you down a rabbit hole of distraction. “Momentum” is a great extension that will help you stay on task and not get too far removed from your work. The extension is quite simple: every time you open up a new tab, you will get a screen with a beautiful travel photo and inspirational quote, but more importantly, the screen will have the current time, your main goal for the day underneath, and your complete day’s to-do list on the right-hand side.
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Every day when you wake up, or the night before, type up the tasks you need to complete that day into the right-hand to do list, and enter the one major project you absolutely must finish in the screen center. From that point on, every time you open up a new tab you will be reminded of your uncompleted tasks. The premise is simple, but most freelance writers who use it agree that it works wonderfully for minimizing distractions and keeping your to-do list in one simple, easy to access place.
If you follow these tips, you will establish lifelong habits that will continue to help you as your career grows, and you can use trial and error to build upon these initial habits and see what works best for you. When you manage your time better, you are free to focus on the creative, productive sides of your business, and master your niche. Implement this advice today and take your work to the next level.