Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day.
So why do some writers accomplish so much more than others?
The answer is better time management.
If you’re a new freelance writer, the demands on your time may surprise you. You expect to have more time as freelancer. What you don’t expect is that you have to manage your time well to achieve that goal.
Of course, if you’ve been a freelance writer for a while you already understand the demands freelancing can place on your time.
Freelance writing is about more than just writing all day. It’s also about running a business.
In this post, I provide six easy steps for writers to manage their time.
Step 1: Set Your Work Hours
Many freelance writers mistakenly believe that they have to work evenings and weekends to succeed. However, no one can work for long periods of time without a break and still produce good work.
If you’re a writer who works long hours just to stay afloat, know that you’re setting yourself up for burnout.
Some causes of working too many hours include:
- Not charging enough for your work. At the low-end, some of what freelance writers charge is scary. It works out to far below minimum wage. These freelance writers are trapped working long hours just to make ends meet.
- Not setting boundaries. Do your clients call you in the evening and during the weekend? Are phone calls constantly interrupting your work? While you need to stay in touch with clients, it’s also important to set reasonable limits.
- Not learning to say “no.“ Are you working on a project you shouldn’t have accepted? Nearly every freelancer makes this mistake. Learn to ask potential clients questions before accepting a new project.
Step 2: Estimate Project Time
This is a tricky skill, but it’s vital to learn to estimate project time.
For new writers, I always recommend keeping project time sheets. (I know, I know–you thought you were done with this.) Record every task that has to do with your project–not just the writing tasks.
Some examples of what to include on your time sheet include time spent on:
- Client Meetings
- Email Communications
- Project Agreement
- Actual Writing
In short, you should start recording your project time the instant a client contacts you and not stop until you’ve received final payment.
Over time, you’ll learn how much time you actually spend on each project. (Be prepared. It will likely be more than you thought.)
Step 3: Establish Working Hours
You’re running a writing business. Most other businesses have hours they are open and hours they are closed. Your writing business should be no different.
And just like a business, you should charge extra if a client requires you to work during non-standard working hours. Most business professionals will understand and accept this.
If a client is pushing you to work nights and weekends without a good reason, you have to wonder why. If they’re this difficult to work with, will they also be difficult to collect payment from? The answer is probably “yes.”
Of course, you may want to consider time differences and your client’s location when you set your working hours.
Step 4: Schedule Non-Billable Tasks
Non-billable tasks don’t bring in income, but they have to be done for your business to stay afloat. It’s easy to put them off until you are hopelessly behind.
When I started as a freelance writer all the “extra” things I had to do came as a big surprise. Those extras included:
- Talking to prospects
- Sharing through social media
- Tax and accounting tasks
- Website maintenance
Instead of putting off non-billable tasks, work them into your schedule. Set aside a small amount of time every day or week (depending on the number of tasks) and get them done. Treat this scheduled time as you would time scheduled for projects.
If you stay current with your administrative tasks, you’ll never get stuck with an administrative nightmare.
Step 5: Use Time Management Tools
A time management tool can help you save time, or not, depending on the tool.
There are a lot of time management tools available, but when it comes to freelance writing not all time management tools are created equal.
When evaluating a time management tool, ask yourself:
- Can I incorporate this into my processes seamlessly?
- Does this tool take into account small businesses (such as freelancers)?
Some time management tools are so complicated to learn and use that you actually spend more time on the tool than you would without it. Also, many time management tools are designed for teams and do not consider the needs of a solo professional such as a freelance writer.
If the tool is easy to learn and use and not overly complex, it is worth considering.
Step 6: Take Breaks
It may seem counter-intuitive, but making up for sloppy time management by working more hours creates more problems than it solves.
For one thing, it will wear you out. And most of us slow down as we get tired. That means that a tired you will take longer to complete tasks–causing you to need to work even more hours to catch up. Do you see the vicious cycle?
Also, writers have friend and family relationships we need to spend time on. A supportive network is especially important for writers, who often face rejection. But those relationships must be nurtured, and that takes time.
Taking time off is so important; I devoted an entire post to it. Read my post, 4 Reasons Why Freelance Writers Need to Take a Break.
What are your writer time management tips? Share your thoughts in the comments.