How To Be More Productive As A Freelance Writer

When I began freelancing many moons ago, the biggest challenge I faced was working with little kiddies in tow.

My work and home life seemed to be a constant juggling act, as I flitted between writing, washing, editing, nap-times, editing, school runs, cooking, editing, and everything else in between.

The little kids became BIG kids, and as they all stumbled out of the house each morning, my days were blissfully kid-free. I could no longer blame them for my lack of focus.

And yet, there was still the ping of email, the boing of Tweetdeck or the flash of instant messaging on my mobile phone while it silently vibrated on my desk next to me, willing me to pounce on it and open the message. Now!

When you’re a freelancer, consultant or similar solepreneur working from home, you don’t have a boss literally standing over you chasing you for ‘that thing’. Yet ironically, this freedom can result in your day feeling a tad aimless.

I found myself wasting hours each day, only becoming truly productive when a client’s deadline loomed ever closer.

Trialing ‘TIMED’ WORKING Techniques

In desperation, I tried the Pomodoro Technique, a popular time management system developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo.

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s based on the theory that frequent breaks can improve mental agility. During his first years at university, Cirillo experienced slumps in productivity linked to distractions and interruptions. He decided to find a way of working that would help him remain focused and boost his concentration.

Cirillo used a kitchen timer, which happened to be in the shape of a tomato, to start working in set time frames on just one task. He found that the optimum time for focused work was 25 minutes, so he alternated these work periods with brief scheduled rests.

Did the technique work for me?  It did for a while and I know some people swear by it. But after a while, it began to feel a bit clunky and dare I say, childish almost? I mean let’s face it, starting and stopping a tomoto-shaped timer?

A Grown-Up Approach to focus and productivity

I stopped using the timer and continued to work in shortish bursts. But as the months turned into years, I realised I had to turn focus and productivity on its head a little.

What I mean is this.  As freelancers, we wrongly assume that because we have eight hours (plus) in our working day, it means we must spend those eight hours working.

Based on this assumption, once we’ve calculated how much we need to earn per hour, we figure we should multiply our eight-hour working day by our hourly rate, and that’s what we should be earning per day.

Inevitably, something goes awry and we realise, “gee golly gosh, I’ve only worked three hours today … that’s only half of what I should be earning today.” We panic, beat ourselves up for not working hard enough, then try to claim back those ‘lost’ billable hours by working an even longer stint.

I realised I had to stop this freelance treadmill style of working and work smarter not harder.

How to be more productive as a freelance writer
  • Work during YOUR quality core hours: You may have 10+ working hours a day at your disposal, but can you realistically dedicate 10 hours every day to your work (and should you)?  By ‘work’, I mean completely focused, undistracted and in the zone. My quality core hours are from 9:00am until 5:30pm. That’s my day done as I can’t work when the kids are home from school. If I find myself running out of time close to a deadline, I will wake up earlier at 5:30am and work until 7:00 am before the household stirs. At least that way, I can squeeze in 2 more uninterrupted hours. I also spend Sunday afternoons making notes, updating this blog or scheduling social media posts. So my advice is to simply find what works for you and stick to those core hours.

  • Calculate your fee(s) based on your quality core hours: Once you’ve decided what your core hours are (and you’ve worked out what you need to earn), base your fees on your core hours. Yes, it will mean higher fees, but that’s what you should be aiming for. Higher fees for superior work. When you charge a fee based on your quality core hours, you’ll be the freelancer who proactively controls your day, not the freelancer who is controlled by your day. 

  • Set aside a day for other essential tasks: Think of the additional extras you need to fit into your working day that are an essential part of your business as a freelance writer, such as invoicing, administration, updating your blog/website and/or social media updates. I have personally found it is far better to set aside a day to action these than try to fit them in whenever I get a chance.

This approach to working as a freelance writer isn’t just smarter, it’s more profitable. If you’re keen to learn more, why not take my freelance course.  In the meantime, what tips would you add?

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