Making money as a freelance writer has just as much to do with your time as it does with how good of a writer you are or how many clients you have.
The most successful freelance writers are not those who can write the best copy or even write the fastest. The most successful freelance writers are those who know how to manage their time to get the most quality work done. (Agree? )
As a freelance writer who works on the side of a full-time job, I know there are only so many hours in my day. If I can’t make my mornings, nights and weekends the most productive they can be, I’m not just wasting my precious free time — I’m also not getting paid.
Below are four lessons I’ve learned the hard way that have ultimately helped me make the most of my time and be more productive in my freelance writing business.
1. Accept that you are not a writing machine
Just because there are 24 hours a day doesn’t mean you can use every single one of them to focus on writing for clients. As a human, you need time to sleep. And eat. And occasionally watch trashy TV. (Occasionally being the key word.)
Since I’m a driven and motivated person, sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that I do not operate like a machine. But I’ve learned when I’m mentally exhausted, my resistance to distractions weakens. Pinterest beckons. The dishwasher needs to be unloaded. I wonder what snacks are in the fridge. Three hours later, I’m frustrated because I thought this blog post would only take me an hour.
Through experiences like these, I’ve accepted that I am not a writing machine.
I am a human who writes, and I need to be fully energized and focused to do my best work. That means it’s okay to close my laptop for an hour or two while I go for a run or cook dinner. Oftentimes, I will finish my assignment faster on my return because by turning off my brain from writing for a bit, I regain my focus.
2. Log your time right this very minute
Some clients pay a flat fee per project. But if you’re getting paid hourly, it’s up to you to keep track of how much time something takes.
Keeping track of exactly how much time you spend on a particular client can be tough, especially if you’re jumping between projects. But it’s absolutely necessary to track your time to ensure you’re properly compensated for your work. If you try to rely on your memory at month’s end, it’s likely you could under report your time — and undercut your own paycheck.
I save myself a lot of time and stress if I log my time right after I complete a task. Even if it’s only 30 minutes, those minutes add up! I find that if I stay on top of my time sheets, I report my time more accurately — and ultimately get paid more — than if I try to guestimate at the end of the month when invoices are due.
3. Save the best assignments for last
Even though writing may be your passion, it’s still work. And like with any job, some projects are more exciting than others.
Even if you love all your clients, you’ll always have a favorite. When you have two projects to complete, it’s tempting to start on the one you like more first. But at the end of the day, you need to finish both.
I’ve found I’m more efficient in completing all my freelance work if I start with the task I want to work on the least. I’m then more motivated to complete that less-fun task so I can get to the fun stuff faster.
If your time is mostly dedicated to writing for one client, there might be certain tasks that are more enjoyable than others. For example, I like writing blog posts much more than I enjoy finding the right images for them. If I find an image at the end, it seems like even more of a drag because I already did the fun part. But if I find the image first, the writing is more enjoyable because a task I don’t particularly enjoy is already done.
4. When the going gets tough, envision your best self
While being your own freelance boss can be rewarding, it’s hard to be your own boss AND employee.
You have to self delegate — and self motivate — to get your work done. If you spend too much time online window shopping this week, you don’t get paid. Of course you strive for efficiency, but a blank page can be daunting. It’s so much easier to spend just 10 more minutes on Facebook before you get started.
When my motivation is lacking, I try to think about who my best self is and what that person wants to accomplish. Often this is just the kick in the butt I need to stop procrastinating and get back to work. Do I want to be the freelance writer who is great at pinning delicious recipes I will likely never even try? Or do I want to be the freelancer whose writing brings new customers to a product and client I believe in?
By refocusing on my goals and how my best self wants to run my business, I am more motivated to sit my butt in the chair and get back to writing. I know I can always shop later.
It takes practice, trial and error to figure out how to best manage your own time as a freelance writer. You may find you’re more productive at certain times than at others. The good news is that you’re in complete control. Whether you’re a morning person, afternoon person or middle-of-the-night person, you have a freedom most employees do not: control of your own working hours.
So just as you take control of how much you charge and what clients you accept, take control of how you manage your time. Your productivity — and your bank account — will thank you.
What tricks do you use to manage your time?