How to Schedule Your Way to Freelance Productivity
As a new freelancer, one thing I struggle with is how to be productive during the day.
Back when I worked in an office, I was the person everyone came to when they needed something done. Now that I’m on my own, it seems like no matter how much time I put in, I can never get everything done that I want to. There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.
I know the days haven’t gotten shorter. I have no commute now and take less time getting ready in the morning. Technically, I should have more time to work and be productive.
To figure this out, I went on the hunt for answers. I scoured the Web for tips. And, I read everything I could find on productivity, including “The 7 Habits of Successful Copywriters” and nearly every article in the AWAI Article Archive. Then I realized there was a vital element missing from my new life as a freelancer: a schedule.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Freelancers are supposed to be spontaneous and flexible. That’s the benefit of freelancing. I agree! But, I knew if I didn’t start getting things done faster, I wouldn’t have time for the fun things. That’s why I’ve adopted a schedule — so I’ll have the time to go to the beach for the afternoon if I feel like it.
After sifting through the information I found, I came up some easy tips to help schedule a productive day. I’ve been using these for just over a month now, and I’m definitely getting more done, and not wasting as much time during the day. I’ve even found a little time to have some fun during the week! I’m also identifying spots in my schedule where I still need to tweak things … more on that later.
Be realistic and don’t overplan your day. It’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. Be honest with yourself about what you can really get done each day and make a list of your planned tasks. Rebecca Matter recommends writing your daily to-do list on a Post-it® note. After a few weeks, you’ll get an idea of how long it takes you to write that blog post or make those phone calls, and you’ll have a good idea of what you can get done each day. If you’re worried that you might not have enough planned, you can always have a backup list of tasks. (I have yet to get to my backup list.)
Schedule blocks of time. Decide what you’re going to do and block it out each day. Don’t leave it to chance — know what you’re going to do. Take your to-do list and turn it into appointments. When you plan, you control events instead of them controlling you.
First, I schedule blocks of time, such as “9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. – Write.” Then, I borrow Gene Schwartz’s famous trick and use a timer to keep me moving forward. Gene would set a timer and write for 33 minutes, but I like to write in 25-minute blocks, or sometimes shorter, depending on the project. (There’s nothing magical about 25 minutes, it’s just what works for me. You can use any amount of time you like.) For me, racing the clock to see how much writing I can cram into a small period of time really gets my creative juices flowing. When I don’t use a timer, it seems to take a lot longer to get things done.
Write down your schedule. Write it out on a Post-it note, or in your planner, or using time management software. (I’m a Post-it note and planner person.) Do this the night before, if you can. It should only take about five minutes. Writing your schedule down gives you a plan for the day and will help you make sure you don’t forget something important. If you want, you can hang it up so you and family members can see it. I put my Post-it on my monitor so I see it first thing in the morning when I turn the computer on.
Leave room in your schedule for breaks and interruptions. Don’t forget to take lunch and periodic breaks throughout the day. Plan to get up, walk around, and get a drink of water, so you’ll return to work feeling energized. Interruptions also happen, so make sure there’s a little time in your schedule to deal with them.
Establish daily and weekly routines. Decide what you’ll do each day, and make it a habit. Do you like to get up and write first thing in the morning, and make phone calls in the afternoon? Great, do that every day. When your schedule becomes routine, you’ll always know what you should do next. Of course, it’s okay to have a different routine on the weekends.
You can leave a little flexibility in your daily schedule. But, when it comes to making positive changes in your life, experts say that creating a routine will lead to success. Routines help eliminate distractions and keep you from wasting time, allowing you to focus your energy.
Fine-tune your schedule periodically. You’ve set up your schedule — how is it working? Do you routinely have several things left undone on your daily to-do list? Take a look at what’s going on, and be honest with yourself. Maybe you’re being too ambitious. I often have leftover tasks on my list at the end of the day, because I underestimate how long it takes me to research and overestimate how much I can write. To combat that, when I plan my day, I try to allow more time than I think I’ll need.
Give yourself the gift of extra time. Okay, you can’t actually give yourself more hours each day. But, it will feel like you did if you get rid of time-wasters.
Here are some ways to do this: avoid tasks during the day that don’t contribute to your bottom line, only take work-related phone calls while you’re working, and unsubscribe to email newsletters you never read. While you’re at it, turn off your email during the day. Or, at least try not to check it more than a few times during the day. Do these things and you’ll probably free up a few hours each week that you can put to better use.
So like I said, I’ve been doing this for over a month now. When I have my list ready at the beginning of the day, it keeps me on track. And, I’m making progress.
Mornings are my most productive time of the day, so I’ve blocked them out to write. Unfortunately, that’s also my favorite time of the day to run errands and do household chores. But, I’m learning to reprioritize and schedule those non-moneymaking activities in the late afternoon, when I’m less likely to be writing.
I still sometimes over-schedule my time, and find it frustrating when I have items left on my list. But as I gain experience, I’m becoming a more accurate judge of what I can get done.
So there you have it, some tips on scheduling a more productive day. In the next article in this series, I’ll talk about how you can increase your productivity by throwing your schedule out the window. (And, yes, this will fit with everything I just said — trust me on this.)
The Professional Writers’ Alliance
At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »