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Time management for freelance writers
Some of us are early birds, some of us are night owls. No matter what kind of bird you are, the easiest time to write is when you are truly at peace. If that means getting up at 5am, grabbing Starbucks and typing away, make a commitment to that time of day, because it is likely when you feel at your best, and as such, are most productive.
Create a ‘to do’ list
1. Set your goals – Every day before you start to work you should set your writing goals for the day. If you do not set goals, you will flit from one task to another without direction. When you set goals, you are formalizing your day and instilling motivation to complete them. You are telling yourself that this is what I need to accomplish in order to have a successful day. In addition, you need to make sure that you do not set unrealistic goals.
Have you ever created so many line items that you could not possibly accomplish everything within the allotted time period? You become frustrated with your goals and you toss them aside. It is important to make sure that your daily goals are achievable. Keep in mind that your writing is a business. If you keep this in mind, the importance of goal setting becomes clear.
2. Make your list – Creating a to do list of the things that you need to accomplish each day is a perfect way to ensure that you perform each task, and it also serves as an indication of things you have accomplished. Each time you check a box, it feels great. You have completed another portion of your writing responsibilities. One of the resources that I use, which is helpful in so many ways is Microsoft One Note (One Note). One Note allows you to create a virtual folder. You can create a folder for each topic in your life. In your writing folder, you can create a tab for each article that you are working on. You can even create your to do list and actually check each item off as you complete it.
3. Prioritize your list – In addition to creating your to do list, you should prioritize your list. Place the most important aspects of your writing day first. If you get the most important things completed, you will feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of your day. Make sure that you include a few breaks on your list also, so that writing remains a pleasure and not drudgery.
Use organizational tools
There are many organizational tools on the market, it is best if you do some research and pick the one that is most suitable for your needs. In the case of Microsoft Word and One Note, you can include your research, images, ideas and even work on formatting your citation list. The software is amazingly useful for writers and aids in keeping you organized.
Your writing folder can also contain a dedicated tab which contains examples of the various citation styles. You can create an APA tab, an MLA tab and a Chicago tab. Every time you discover a new citation requirement, you can add the format so that eventually, you will have your own directory of most useful styles. Another organizational tool that is similar to Microsoft One Note is Evernote. You can create:
- To do lists
- Numbered outlines
- Individual files
Your files will synchronize in the cloud, so that you will have access to your information and files on any of your devices. Evernote has both a free version and a paid version.
1. Intake Template – If you want to make certain that you have included every item that your client has requested, create an intake template in One Note, Evernote or any other productivity tool. For example, if your client, or their instructor has a list of ten items that must be addressed in your writing, create a numbered list on your intake template that itemizes every concept that must be included in the writing. Add to the numbered list a check box, so that as you complete each line item, you can check it off as completed. It is the best way to reduce the need to perform a client requested rewrite.
2. Action Enforcer – Action Enforcer is a timing productivity tool. For those who get easily distracted, creating multiple timers that ring when your time has expired could be useful. It forces you to commit a period of time to a specific objective. If your task is to conduct research online, you can set your timer for 15 or 30 minutes, and while it is ticking down, it forces you focus on that goal. You can actually set consecutive timers to start when the previous one completes.
So if your goal is to complete research, write an outline and write two paragraphs, you would set up three alarms, each with different elapsed time intervals. When you set the alarms, there is no time to chat with Mary on Facebook, or read about how Scot Pollard was blindsided and eliminated from Survivor. In addition to Action Enforcer, if you have iPod Touch, iPad or iPhone, you can set up multiple alarms, as well. Androids offer stopwatch and timer apps too. The benefit of using Action Enforcer is that it creates a list of your accomplishments and the time it actually took to complete.
3. Toggl – Another time management tool, which is actually used by freelancers to record their time for billing purposes is Toggl. You can use Toggl to identify how long you are taking to complete a task, like Action Enforcer, it will keep a tally of each aspect of your work day. You have to manually turn it on and off from the desktop “switch” on your taskbar, as you go from one task to another, but once you get used to it, it helps you to identify what you are spending too much time on.
4. Stayfocusd – Stayfocusd is another time management tool. It is a Google Chrome extension that prevents you from accessing time-wasting sites for longer than the time you have allotted. Once your allotted time is up, you cannot access these sites for the rest of the day. I have not tried this tool, but it sounds very interesting. We can all relate to their advisory:
You sit down at the computer, and you swear you’ll be productive. Next thing you know, it’s twelve hours later. You’ve checked your email, updated your Facebook status, browsed the trending topics on Twitter, read your RSS feeds, looked up your favorite band on Wikipedia, vanity-Googled yourself, cyber-stalked your ex, looked at all your high-school crushes’ Facebook photos, and lost a week’s pay playing online poker. What you haven’t done is WORK. (Stayfocusd)
Create a writing space
All you need to write is a desk, a chair and a computer. Make sure that you create a formal writing space so that everything that you need is within reach, and you know that when you sit down, completing the writing assignment is your only objective. You can buy a ½ gallon cooler and fill it with water and ice so that you do not have to keep getting up to hydrate yourself. You can also get a box of granola and set it in your drawer, so that it is there if you need to munch.
Schedule formal breaks
It is really important to feel good and remain alert while you are writing, thus, it is really important to make sure that you schedule at least two breaks into your day. Get out of your chair, get something to eat, take a short walk, take a nap! Do whatever you enjoy that will help you to power up. You cannot create quality articles if you are sluggish or feeling mentally distracted. Taking a break is as important as staying focused when you are actually writing.
Create an outline
Creating an outline is different from creating a to do list. An outline should be part of your actual writing effort and should be the first thing you do after completing your research. Constructing an outline makes the job of writing so much easier. You know what you are going to talk about, you can see the direction you are going in, and as you get closer to the end, you can feel a sense of accomplishment.
When you develop an outline for your article, you can change the order, insert new concepts between other ideas, or add to the end of the outline if needed. If you have not tried creating an outline, you do not know what you are missing in terms of becoming an organized and empowered writer. Creation of an outline almost eliminates problems with writer’s block because you are not overwhelmed with trying to figure out your journey. It may be one of the most important actions a writer should perform.
Perfection is not required, but always appreciated
You will realize that you are a great writer when you come to the conclusion that perfection is not required. Your writing does not have to be perfect the first time around. What is more important is that you write your thoughts. The sentence can be grammatically incorrect, the structure can be unformatted, your ideas can be out of sync. What is important is that you present your thoughts on paper, in whatever way it comes out.
Keep writing until you are finished. The purpose of self-editing is to correct grammar, restructure ideas and ensure that your writing makes sense. If you simply write and fix later, you will be amazed at how much work can be accomplished in one sitting. Obsessing over your writing is an indication of immaturity. Get it on the paper, critically self-edit and move on to the next writing.
Pick your best topics
For some reason I felt that psychology, one of my favorite subjects, was a great topic choice for me. I selected a psychology journal and struggled for hours trying to understand how to get answers to the issues and present the information in the way that it needed to be rendered. What I did not realize was that although I may love psychology, I did not have the proper background to present the information in the way a psychology scholar needed. The article required scientific information on:
- PET scans
- Neurological systems
- Physiological mechanisms
It was one of the most painful assignments I had ever accepted. In fact, I kept walking away from the computer, thoroughly upset about the choice that I had made. I finally realized that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. I created my outline to ensure that I addressed the required topics. I spent an inordinate amount of time doing research and I never chose psychology again.
There is a difference between a scientifically-based writing and a discussion piece on why Charles Manson is insane. Make certain that you fully understand the context of your intended writing assignment. If you know the subject, you can write faster and make broader judgments about what needs to be included. I could have written two business articles in the time that it took me to write that psychology article.
The 3 D’s of time management
Discipline, determination and dedication are the 3Ds of success. This is true for any type of success, including freelance writing. If you do not have the 3Ds, make a commitment to incorporate these foundational characteristics into your personal repertoire, and treat your writing like a business.
Do you want to write like a pro freelancer? Check out 10 mistakes professional writers never make.
“Stayfocusd.” CNET. CBS Interactive, Inc. 29 July 2010. Web. 25 April 2016. .