Time Management Tips for Freelance Writers

Time Management Tips for Freelance Writers

As a full-time writer, I know all too well how easy it is to, well, not write. We each have our obstacles; for me, too much freedom means too many reasons to avoid writing.

Until recently, I would sit at my computer with no specific agenda and do whatever I felt like doing at that moment. Maybe I’d write…or maybe not. Maybe I’d review social media “for just a minute” and then find myself reading article after article on the latest political scandal. Maybe I’d begin a post for Medium but get sucked into obsessing over my stats. Maybe I’d peruse a book on writing but then fail to use anything I’d learned.

The day would end with a lot of hours filled, but nothing accomplished.

Finally, after two months of banging my head against a figurative wall, I realized in order to increase my output I had to change my entire way of thinking about my work.

This new career of mine isn’t a hobby; it’s a capital-j Job. And if I’m lucky enough to have it, I should work my ass off to keep it, just as I did when I was a full-time employee.

If you’re in the same boat — filling your hours with stuff but feeling as though you’re not accomplishing anything — perhaps the tips below will help.

Know Your Goals

Before you do anything else, list out your short-term goals for the week. For example, maybe by week’s end you’ll want to have written at least 5,000 words of your novel, published two Medium posts, and submitted fiction pieces to six literary journals. Or maybe you’ll want to have pitched to 20 potential clients, revised your website, and written five blog posts.

It’s okay if your goals change from week to week. You just want to have the upcoming week’s goals in mind when you create your schedule.


Map It All Out

Once you know your goals, use them to map out your time. Spend 30 minutes each Sunday planning the upcoming week, day by day, hour by hour.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Incorporate any atypical events taking place during the week. For example, maybe your kid has a half-day at school on Tuesday, so you know on that day you’ll be unable to work between the hours of 12 and 5. Or maybe you have a dentist appointment on Wednesday that will take up two hours of your morning. You must take these items into account when planning out your schedule.

  • Upcoming deadlines should be part of your timeline. For example, a literary journal is closing its submission window on Wednesday, or you owe an email to someone by Friday, or your email newsletter is due to go out on Thursday.

  • Include personal priorities, such as exercising, taking a full lunch break, or networking.

Once you’ve made note of all of the above, you can flesh out your schedule. Be sure to give enough time to each activity; the goal is to accomplish tasks, not to shove every last agenda item into one day.

My schedule might look something like this:

  • 9:00–10:00: Exercise/shower/dress

  • 10:00–10:30: Check/respond to email

  • 10:30–11:30: Novel

  • 11:30–12:30: Medium post

  • 12:30–1:00: Check email

  • 1:00–1:30: Lunch

  • 1:30–3:00: Social media marketing/fiction submissions/additional writing

My son gets out of school at 3, so the late afternoon and evening hours are taken up with Mommying. But I usually get another hour or two later in the day to wrap up anything I may have missed, whether it’s more writing, more social media marketing, or general prep for the following day.

I dedicate one day — usually Fridays — solely to marketing and learning. I use Hootsuite to schedule my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter posts in advance. It’s time consuming, but it’s much more productive to take 90 minutes one morning to schedule a week’s worth of posts ahead of time than to do it every day.

I also try to spend time on Friday afternoons “studying.” That is, reading, taking webinars, catching up with the work of fellow writers, etc. As Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”


Figure Out How to Track It All

As you’re mapping out your week, think about how best to track everything. Are you better at following an online calendar? Do you prefer an app that will ping you each time something is due? Or do you like to jot it all down by hand?

What will get you to focus and stay on track with your timeline?

Personally, I love to check off boxes as I go. I have a notebook — nothing fancy, just a spiral-bound one from CVS — where I keep all my work-related notes and reminders. This is how I’ve functioned for years, so why change it now just because I’m working out of a home office?

I map out my entire week in my notebook and include a little box next to each time period. Once I complete a task, I check it off. It feels good to tick off the boxes, and it’s also a helpful visual at the end of the week: What boxes are still unchecked, and why? How can I incorporate this info into the following week’s planning?

The Long and Short of It

For me, maintaining an hourly schedule has been a game changer. I no longer turn on my laptop and stare at a screen, wondering where I should focus my energy. I don’t find myself flipping over to social media or checking email throughout the day because I know there are dedicated times to do so.

I used to feel constant guilt: “Why am I reading when I could write? Why am I writing when I could market my work? Why am I marketing when I could update my website?” But now, because I have a specific time slot scheduled for each activity, I don’t feel pulled in as many directions and I’m able to focus on the task at hand.

I hope the tips above help you accomplish your writing goals. If you have additional tips, please post them in the comments. I’m always on the hunt for new ways to streamline my days!

A version of this post first appeared in The Ascent

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