One of the best things about freelance writing is that you get to manage your own productivity. One of the worst things about freelance writing is that you have to manage your own productivity.
It’s a whole new level of adulting.
One of the secrets of successful writers is that they establish a set of habits that help them be productive. Here are some of my best freelance writing habits and productivity tips to help you manage your time.
Daily Habits for Successful Freelance Writing
Every writer has different scheduling needs and preferences. Perhaps you work best at night, or early in the morning. Perhaps you have to balance a day job, or child care, or other demands on your time.
While we all need flexibility from time to time, establishing these daily habits is the best way to become a successful freelancer.
Have a Daily Schedule
Establish a daily writing schedule and stick to it. Professional writers know that you can’t wait for inspiration to strike: writing is about discipline. Give yourself a realistic schedule that allocates daily, habitual time for:
- Writing, including writing, researching, proofreading, and editing
- Client management and business administration, including client communication and follow-up, tracking and planning, invoicing, etc
- Business development, including looking for new clients and projects, creating pitches and proposals, or researching new opportunities. If you have plenty of stable work, consider using this time to improve your skills and grow as a writer or business owner.
Get Dressed Every Day
Yes! Get dressed. New data about the effects of working from home has shown that simply getting dressed boosts your productivity for the day. Getting dressed in (comfortable) work clothes and then changing into your “relaxing” clothes also helps you distinguish working time from non-working time, which creates more structure and can help you manage stress.
Have an Office
Along with getting dressed, having a dedicated office or workspace can boost your productivity. If possible, create an office, desk, or area that is devoted to work and use it only for work. This helps to focus your attention, minimize distractions, and help your brain build good productivity habits.
Keep Your Workspace Organized
Keeping your physical and digital workspaces organized saves time in finding lost documents and making you more efficient. But studies also show that cluttered, disorganized workspaces increase stress and anxiety, and make it more difficult to focus.
Whilst writing this, I’m looking at my desk and thinking I really should follow my own advice here. Time for a bit of a cleanup I think 🙂
Plan Your Productivity
In addition to making and keeping a daily schedule, make a plan for every task or project, and slot it into your daily schedule so you complete tasks on time. For example, if you allocate 4 hours a day of writing time, you may want to spend 2 hours creating a rough draft of Project A, and 2 hours proofreading, editing, and polishing Project B.
Organize Your Resources
Every writer should create an organized system for their resources. Perhaps you have a list of favorite resources you use for specialized research or your frequently-used bookmarks. Keeping an organized set of documents or links to your writing samples makes it faster and easier to create new pitches and proposals.
Many writers also enjoy keeping a “swipe file”: a body of work from other writers that you can refer to for inspiration or techniques. Paying attention to how other writers work and the methods they use can help you solve your own writing problems and improve the quality of your work.
Writing Tips to Improve Productivity
Once you have established a daily schedule and healthy habits, here are some ways to make your writing time as productive as possible.
A lot has been written in recent years about the myth of multitasking, but distractions are especially perilous for writers. A typical office worker may have a job that consists of answering the phone, replying to emails, staying on chat, and participating in meetings.
Good writing, on the other hand, requires long periods of focus and concentration, both while researching and while writing. If necessary, use an app that mutes all but emergency communications so you can focus.
Write First, Proofread Later
The truth is, the part of your brain that needs to be active, creative, and engaged to get words on the page is a different part of the brain than the critical skills you use for proofreading and editing. In fact, if you get distracted by scrutinizing and proofreading, you may sabotage yourself and never get the words on the page at all. The most important thing is to write it all, and write it well.
Afterward, use your critical and analytical skills to proofread, edit, and improve what you have created.
Work in Segments
Breaking your projects down into discrete tasks helps you stay organized and on schedule. It also helps you keep an eye on the big picture. Writing an outline gives you a framework, so you know where the piece is going and don’t get distracted along the way.
Creating segments lets you keep an eye on pages, word count, or keystrokes for the whole project as you write. Finally, writing in stages lets you communicate clearly and accurately with clients about what you’re doing and what they can expect.
Healthy breaks are proven to improve your concentration, creativity, and even your mental and physical health. Remind yourself to regularly step away from your work and go for a short walk, have a healthy snack, take some deep breaths, or even take a short nap.
Whenever possible, create templates that make writing faster and more efficient. If you regularly create the same type or style of content, or if a long-term client has a specific format or preferences, creating templates makes the work faster, and helps ensure that you deliver to spec.
When All Else Fails, Drink Lots of Coffee
Coffee goes in, words come out. It’s a time-honored writing productivity tool.
Establishing regular habits, looking after your health, and managing your productivity helps you work efficiently and be successful as a freelance writer. It’s the best way to maintain your professionalism and client relationships, while also creating a good work/life balance.
How can I develop my writing habits?
Whether you write novels, white papers, newsletters, or blog posts, the only good way to develop a good writing habit is to write every day.
Establish a time limit, a word count, or a page count, and then do it every single work day without fail.
Here are some ways to make daily writing easier:
– Write at the same time every day. This builds the professional habit of writing even when you aren’t in the mood, helps incorporate writing into your lifestyle, and reduces the chances of procrastination.
– Don’t stop on a blank page. When possible, stop writing mid-page, mid-paragraph, or even mid-sentence. That way you know exactly where to begin the next day.
– Write something else if necessary. If you are simply blocked and can’t move forward on your main writing task, then write something else to meet your daily target. If necessary, write in your journal, write down a childhood memory, or write a detailed observation of everything you see, hear, smell, and touch.