Great Tips for Improving Writer Productivity

Writing productively and managing your time well is essential for success as a freelance writer. Freelance writers can get paid by the word, by the page, by the project, by the hour, or a combination. No matter how you get paid, here are the best tips to manage your time and maximize your productivity.

Why is Time Management Important for a Freelance Writer?

When people imagine life as a freelance writer, they often think of it as creative work, driven by passion and inspiration. For those people, talking about time management and productivity can seem boring and practical, ruining the romance of their vision.

But being broke isn’t terribly romantic, and time management has several crucial aspects for freelance success:

  1. Ensure your rates are fair. Without good time records, you can’t really tell whether your rates are fair and accurate. A company may be offering $50 per blog post, but if it takes you 10 hours to write the post, that’s not a good rate. Good time management may let you write that same post in just one hour, getting a better rate for your time.
  2. Meet your deadlines. Meeting deadlines is arguably the most important aspect of building good client relationships. Clients have to be able to trust that you will deliver work on time, so they can plan correctly and stay on their own schedule. If you don’t manage your time, you can’t accurately plan to meet your deadlines.
  3. Enjoy the benefits of freelancing. Controlling your own time and schedule is one of the best parts of being a freelance writer. However, if you are always behind schedule and frantically scrambling from deadline to deadline, you don’t get to enjoy that sense of freedom and control.

    Managing your time, maximizing your writing productivity, and working efficiently gives you that sense of independence that makes freelance writing so enjoyable.

How to Efficiently Manage Your Writing Projects

As a freelance writer, you are your own boss. Like any boss, you need to manage the time and productivity of the business, which means managing yourself and improving efficiency. Here are the most important ways to manage your freelance writing projects:

  • Use a time management system. Creating clear, accurate time records is incredibly important. It helps you measure your writing productivity, your rates, and manage your schedule. You can use written planners or calendars, or keep written lists, but it’s easier to analyze and use that information when you keep it digitally.
    • A spreadsheet. If you’re most comfortable with spreadsheets, they can be a great way to track and manage your time. You can use them to add up time spent, track your rates, and simplify your invoicing process.
    • An app. You can use computer or mobile apps to manage your time. These can be easy to use, and you simply start and stop the time you spend on specific projects, and then you can add up the relevant time by project, client, or task.
    • A project management system. There are more complex project management systems that incorporate time tracking along with details like project specs, client communication and feedback, calendars and scheduling, and other features.

      Depending on the scale of your freelance writing work, these systems might take too much time and expense to set up and maintain, but they are a great option as your business scales up.
  • Keep a regular schedule. Keeping a regular schedule is one of those tips that experts always give to newcomers, and it’s almost always ignored.

    Keeping a regular schedule is the best way to stay on top of your productivity and deadlines, while also maintaining your mental and physical health, and ensuring a good work/life balance.

    Freelance writers can devise any schedule that works best for them, whether you are more productive at night, have a day job, have family obligations, or simply need to rest and recharge. It lets you stay in control of your time and your life.
  • Adopt a productivity system. Many people benefit from established productivity systems, and there are so many to choose from.

    Some writers like Kanban, some use the Pomodoro Method, or GTD (Getting Things Done), ZTD (Zen To Done), etc. Each one can be a good fit, depending on your work style and preferences, so you may need to try a few different systems to find the one that works best for you.
  • Communicate clearly with clients. Client communication is an integral part of time management because their deadlines and schedules are so important.

    Discuss time frames from the very beginning of a project, and set clear expectations. If a client wants something done ASAP, don’t be afraid to communicate a more realistic timeline, based on your schedule and experience.

    If a client asks you to complete a task, communicate clearly when they can expect the task to be done (for example: “Yes, I can write that blog post, but not until next week”).

    If for some reason you know that you’re going to miss a deadline, let the client know as early as possible (for example: “I’m working on that blog post, but my internet went down and it looks like I can’t deliver it until tomorrow”).

Tips to Maximize Writing Productivity

If you have a good system to manage your time and your writing projects, there are still several ways to improve the speed at which you can actually get words on the page. Getting words on the page more quickly is the best way to make more money as a freelance writer, so here are some tips to get it done.

  • Know yourself. Regularly tracking your time gives you the data you need to know how long it actually takes you to complete writing tasks.

    If you track your time as you write a few 1000-word-long articles, you then know approximately how long it takes you to write a new 1000-word-long article. You also get a feel for how long it takes you to complete different writing phases, like researching as opposed to writing, or how long it takes you to work with different types of content or subjects.

    This self-knowledge, based on your own records and experience, lets you schedule your projects more productively.
  • Use outlines. Many writers don’t use outlines, preferring to just write as they go, but an outline is an excellent way to improve your productivity. A good outline has two important productivity benefits:
    • Guides the finished length of the piece. Depending on what type of writing you are doing, and your personal style and habits, the outline informs the length of the final product.

      For example, if you know that each sub-topic in an article requires about 200 words, the outline is a good estimate of the total length.

      On the other hand, if you know that the finished piece needs to be 1000 words, and you only have two subtopics, you will need to think of more subtopics to include.
    • Focuses your research. The outline lets you know what specific aspects of the topic you need to focus on and include. Without an outline, you may end up reading and researching a number of things that won’t end up on the page at all.

      For example, if you are writing an article about “gasoline engines”, you can easily spend hours of time researching and reading about gasoline engines.

      Your outline can focus you on the invention and history of gasoline engines (who, what, when, where, how), or how gasoline engines work, or the effect of gasoline on the environment, or different applications for gasoline engines, or whatever specific aspects of the topic you are actually writing about.
  • Look after the basics. It may seem so fundamental as to be boring, but take a look at your most fundamental writing skills. Are you a slow reader? Are you a slow typist? There are lots of ways to polish these skills and gain speed, so you can simply produce more words more quickly.
  • Consider economies of scale. New freelance writers tend to underestimate the value of economies of scale, but they are incredibly important for maximizing your productivity. It’s best to leverage your research time to make it pay off as much as possible.
    • For example, if you are working with a new client, you invest a lot of time researching their company history, brand voice, preferred style, and building a relationship with your contacts. So then you want to make all that time investment pay off by working with them on multiple projects over time.

      If you do all that research one time, you then have information that you can use over and over.
    • Another important aspect of economies of scale is simply considering your research phase against your writing phase for a specific project.

      If you are writing on a new and unfamiliar topic, shorter is not always better, because it takes so much time to familiarize yourself with the subject and determine what you are going to say.

      Maximize your research time by writing more content on the same subject when you can. For example, if it takes you 90 minutes to write a 700-word article about gasoline engines, you may spend 45 minutes of that time reading and researching.

      You might think that it would take double that time to write a 1400 word article about gasoline engines, but you would be wrong: it doesn’t take 180 minutes, but more like 120.

      Once you’ve invested 45 minutes in reading and research, you probably have enough information (if you have a good outline) to write at least 1200 words on the topic. In other words, it takes just as much reading and research to write 600 words as it does to write 1000.

When you’re a freelance writer, you are both the boss and the employee. Making the most of your business means managing your time like a boss, to get the most work from the employee. Mastering your management and productivity tools is the foundation for success.

Photo of author

About Rebekah Villon

Rebekah Villon is a professional writer and marketing consultant who specialises in strategic content for B2B communications. In her personal life, she enjoys the freedom of remote digital work while travelling, pursuing hobbies, and continuous learning.

Leave a Comment