As freelance writers, incomes sink or swim based on our ability to find work, stay productive, and get stuff done. Here are 10 life hacks that can make your writing much more efficient and make your freelance business much more successful.
Time Management Hacks for Freelance Writers
“We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.” -Seneca
Avoid To-Do Lists
For most freelancers, the to-do list is what runs your life. However, 41% of items on a to-do list are never completed. This leaves you with a long list of things that you’ll never end up doing and a lot of anxiety surrounding them. So what should you do instead?
Put Everything in a Calendar
Instead of a to-do list, use a calendar to plan your tasks for the day, week, and however far ahead you’d like to plan. This ensures you’ll make time for the “big rocks.” It also helps you make the most of your time rather than letting it slip away to less valuable tasks.
So what should the tasks on your calendar look like?
Rather than spending 10 minutes after an assignment to throw together an invoice or spending 5 minutes every hour to send a social media message, batch these tasks into longer, more productive blocks of time.
Author Pat Flynn takes this hack a step further and assigns each day a specific task. Mondays are for writing, Tuesdays are for podcasting, and so on. He says this “helps me organize my thoughts around a specific function and mentally prepare for what the week is going to bring.”
Follow the Rule of Three
As you batch your tasks for the day and week, avoid the urge to pile too much into a single day. Instead, decide on the three most important things that you could accomplish that day. These should be the three things that will provide the most value to your business. Put these into your calendar first. You may find you finish these three with time left in your day to do extra tasks, or you are able to squeeze a few small things in between, but as long as these are a priority, your day will be a success.
Efficient Writing Hacks
“The way to get started is to quit thinking and to start doing.” – Walt Disney
You have your list for the day; how can you knock those items out most efficiently?
Freelance Writers Should Have Separate Spaces for Working and Living
Working from home can be a dangerous prospect for a writer’s productivity. There’s no one to tell you not to work from bed or to work in front of the TV. However, this can make it extremely difficult to focus on your work and doesn’t allow your brain to shift into the working mindset. Then at the end of the day, it doesn’t let your brain shift out of the working mindset. Instead, clearly separate your working and living spaces either by rooms or by sections of the room.
Austin Kleon, the author of Steal Like an Artist, helps his brain shift into different tasks even better by creating two separate work desks – one for analog work like drawing and generating ideas and the other for digital work like editing and publishing.
Pomodoro is a great technique to keep your day on track while still offering you enough breaks to avoid burnout. Using this technique, you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. After 4 cycles, you take a longer break. I often find that 25 minutes is a pretty manageable chunk of time to commit complete focus to, and once I’ve built up a head of steam, I may work straight through a break or two to see whatever task I’m on completed.
Listen to One Song on Repeat
Most writers like to have some kind of noise blaring through their headphones to block out the distractions around them. Some listen to white noise, ambient sounds, or instrumental music. Most don’t listen to anything with lyrics because it can be so distracting to the writing process. I tried a mix of all of these for a while until I stumbled on this life hack from Ryan Holiday. He listens to one really repetitive song on repeat. The song quickly drowns into the background. I’ll end up listening to the same song for a week straight and realize I still don’t know the lyrics! This method provides a more up-tempo version of white noise without the distractions that instrumental music can have as it changes from song to song.
Hacks for Better Writing
“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” -Henry David Thoreau
Freelance Writers Should Keep a Notebook on Them at All Times
You never know when inspiration is going to strike. Having a place to capture that great idea for a blog post, that great statistic you read, or that perfect quote you heard ensures they’ll be available when you need them most. Most of the hacks and quotes for this post came from my carefully organized notecard system. I simply sorted through quotes on productivity and notes from books and podcasts on writing.
Tim Ferriss has some suggestions for taking your notes to the next level in his blog.
Organize Evernote with Tags
If you haven’t heard of or started using Evernote to keep track of your research (and life), now is a good time to start. This tool serves as a second brain that lets you clip anything you read or view online, scan offline documents, record your own text and audio notes, and much more. Then it gives you notebooks and tags that make all of that information sorted and searchable so you can reference something you read a year ago in an instant.
If you’re already using Evernote, Michael Hyatt offers a great hack to make your organization much more powerful. Rather than using notebooks, which have a limit to how many you have and how many sub-sections each stack can create, he suggests using tags as your primary organization method.
The Other Rule of Three
A great hack to make your writing more engaging and impactful is The Rule of Three. This rule has been followed by storytellers (The Three Little Pigs, Blink Mice, Bears, Musketeers, Wise Men, Stooges…), screenwriters (the three-act structure), and most importantly, writers. The reason this technique is so prevalent is that people process information best when it is presented as a pattern, and three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern. In your next piece of writing, focus on creating three main points or sections that will help break down your content in a way your reader will understand.
What other life hacks can you tell us about to help freelance writers improve their productivity? Share them with us on Twitter!