Now that I am off the corporate clock and on my own time, I find myself working more than ever. There are no longer any start and stop hours to bookend the day, so I often find myself writing at 6am and then finishing another article up at 10pm. Weekends are for write-a-thons while hubby takes over the lion’s share of kiddie duties so I can work in peace.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was going to need to figure out how to optimize my new work schedule. I wanted to ensure that I was getting the right things done at the right time as I continue to grow in my new line of work. Most importantly, I wanted to be productive while still having time for my family and other pursuits. Following are some tips based on what’s worked for me.
Create a Schedule
While trying to accomplish everything at once, I found that I was getting nothing actually completed. Bouncing between freelance assignments, blog posts, email, social media, and research was overwhelming and not conducive to progress. So I decided I needed to develop a schedule to keep myself on track.
I decided that I would complete all paid work during the regular work week, Monday through Friday. I identified the specific periods of time I could work – before the boys wake up, during nap time, and after they go to sleep. And I am disciplined about using that time only to work.
With paid work occurring during the week, that left all unpaid work (e.g. blog posts, research, and other) for the weekend. This was and remains much easier because hubby helps significantly with the kids.
Coming up with my own work schedule has helped me focus on what I should be working on at any point in time. It also helps me better assess what assignments I can complete within the remaining nap times or bedtime periods of the day. An added benefit is that a firm schedule allows me to be in the moment with my children when I’m not working, relieving any guilt I may have formerly felt about not working during every second of the day.
Set a Daily Earnings Goal
After creating a schedule, it made sense to back into a daily earnings goal based on the hours I had each day to dedicate to my work. I came up with a number that was a “reasonable stretch” and have so far had no issues achieving it. Some days I take on higher paying assignments, so am able to reach the goal sooner. When that happens, I simply use my subsequent work hours to blog, research, or work on other related items.
This helps me identify a clean “end” to each day – once I achieve my earnings goal, my work day has ended. I am no longer writing to the point of exhaustion simply because the boys are asleep. Instead, I can choose whether I want to continue to write or if I want to take the rest of the day off.
Set a Daily Volume Goal for Unpaid Work
The daily earnings goal was great for my paid work, but I still had a lot of unpaid work to do on my blog, website, and other items that I needed to fit in somewhere. So for my weekend unpaid days, I came up with volume goals instead. Meaning that I have a goal each weekend to write a specific number of posts and complete a certain number of related tasks on my To Do list.
As with my daily earnings goal, this helps me more cleanly start and stop my weekend work days. Some weekends I may bang out all the volume goals by late Saturday morning, and then have the rest of the weekend free. Other weekends, I spread it out during times when we’re not otherwise occupied. If I know we have a weekend trip coming up, I will increase the volume goals in the preceding weeks to make up for it.
This again helps me better structure my day in order to work around other activities throughout the weekend. Once my volume goals have been reached, I am free to enjoy the rest of the weekend without feeling that I should be working instead.
Come Up with Assignment Review Guidelines
Every writer knows that a piece could, in theory, never be finished. Sometimes perfectionism comes into play and I find myself reviewing and revising a piece over and over because it doesn’t seem quite impeccable yet. I knew that this would kill my rate and my sanity, so I decided that I needed to self-impose guidelines as to how many times I would review and revise a piece once written.
In my case, I allow myself no more than two read-throughs and one set of revisions – unless a glaring error is caught during the second read-through. Then I submit the piece. Even if it doesn’t feel perfect. And you know what? I have yet to have a piece rejected using those guidelines.
Understand When to Leave It
We’ve all been there – a deadline is looming, you’re trying to power through a piece, and yet it just isn’t working. Whereas writing usually just flows like a conversation, you’re trying entirely too hard to put this thing together. Forcing it. And ultimately spending a lot of extra time on something that simply isn’t gelling in that moment.
I have finally learned that in those situations, it is best to resist the temptation to force it. I can now recognize the signs that something isn’t flowing the way it should, and I allow myself to listen to those. I put it away. I sleep on it. And then I come back to it in the morning when my mind is fresh.
This has significantly helped me in terms of wasted time and drafts when my brain simply isn’t in the mode to write. Instead of struggling through hours on a piece, I wait until my mind is fresh and then let it flow. Now – I understand that sometimes pieces are just difficult, no matter how you cut it. But there is a difference between challenging subject matter and a temporary mental block when you just need some time to reboot.
Focus Only on the Task at Hand
I’ve always been the type to bounce between my work, social media, text messages, and anything else that beeps or rings for my attention. And this was killing my productivity, especially when I max out at only a couple of hours at a time to work. So I decided to turn off the distractions. The phone goes on the shelf in the other room. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and all the rest of them get shut down completely. Ringing phones go to voicemail. And I completely focus on the task that I’m working on.
This tiny change has saved me an immense amount of time. Whereas before I justified the interruptions as just a few seconds each time, I now realize that I was not taking into account the several minutes it would then take me to get my thoughts realigned back on whatever piece I was working on. Eliminating those distractions keeps me focused and able to concentrate on the task at hand.
Schedule Time for Play
Anyone who works for themselves understands the slippery slope of finding yourself working all the time. While that is doable and even necessary for short term goals or spikes, it is simply not sustainable over the long term. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
So now I consciously schedule “me time” into my weeks. And yes – it has to be conscious or you simply won’t do it. Whether it’s a meal with friends, a movie, a day out with the family, or a weekend or more of no screens, this time refreshes and re-energizes me. I come back to work with a new perspective, rested and ready to go. And it shows in the quality of my work.
These tips, combined, have saved me time and anxiety as I’ve settled into my new role. They’ve allowed me to maximize the organization of my days and work to encourage optimal productivity. What other tips do you have for busy freelance writers?