6 Hacks to Increase Your Freelance Writing Productivity

What I’m reading: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
What I’m listening to: Blackstar by David Bowie


That was the focus of my weekend, at least until yesterday when the sun came out. Well no, even then. It all had to be moved. And there is a lot — about 31 inches of it. I got halfway through the driveway when I gave up. We have a long driveway and two snow shovels.

I spent the weekend checking the blog, too. Some of you may have noticed the site wasn’t working Friday morning. A hacker managed to get in (I thought my password was strong, too) and bring things down. Jenn Mattern to the rescue — not only did she fix it quickly, but Jenn reported it to Google and sent over the source code just in case anything can be gleaned from it. Hopefully she got more response from Google than I did. No acknowledgement whatsoever.

Time to move the blog to WordPress.

Because I spent Friday morning trying to sort out malware scans and help Jenn (which means do the fretting and thank God Jenn knows what she’s doing), I had to spend the afternoon catching up on work. Luckily, I have my system, which keeps me on track.

And we freelance writers need our systems, don’t we? Routines are, for me at least, the way we keep up with the work. Anyone who’s ever juggled three or more projects at a time knows the value of time. So how do we build our routines around capturing more productivity?

With a few simple hacks.

1. Revert to the outline. As much as I hate outlining (really hate it), I’ve created my own sort of pseudo-outline that helps me get the job done faster. As you think of your questions for whatever project you’re doing, think of them as subheads. For example, an article I did on pandemics asked the following questions: What is a pandemic? How is it affecting insurance companies (the audience)? What should insurance companies be doing? Those translated into these subheads: Pandemic Defined, How Insurers Respond, Best Practices.
How this saves time: you spend less time going back to your sources for that missing piece of info.

2. Put research first on the list. And limit it to an hour or two. Beyond that, you’re spinning your wheels (and that’s your cue to find an expert who can answer that particular point).Try digging up statistics and learning about the topic long before you even get the questions written. There could be plenty of information out there already that negates one question and brings up another. (Plus, you can find any number of experts for your articles in already-published articles.)
How this saves time: you avoid digging for facts that may not be relevant later, and you avoid being sucked into surfing when you should be working.

3. Break the work into segments. When I had seven projects in one month (and then when the eighth one came in), I had to be on top of my scheduling. When this happens to you, segment off the work in hour increments. Schedule it on your calendar, complete with pop-up reminders. Make sure you schedule 10-15 minute breaks, too.
How this saves time: your brain stops trying to do those seven projects at once, and you give yourself permission to forget the others and concentrate on what’s in front of you.

4. Ignore the phone. And while you’re at it, turn off your email program and avoid your social media accounts. Disconnect long enough to get some serious work done. Use your breaks to get your Twitter fix.
How this saves time: you avoid interruptions in your train of thought and your momentum.

5. Use a timer. You’d be surprised how little of your time is spent on product work. Get a simple timer. You’re more apt to stick with your project if you look up and realize you’ve spent just 25 minutes on your project.
How this saves time: it’s like a little reminder that you’re wasting time each time you have to pause the timer.

6. Adjust your work space. The minute I turned my desk away from the wall and faced it into the room, my productivity shot through the roof. Whose wouldn’t? I was staring at a beige wall before, and now I’m looking at bookshelves and artwork.
How this saves time: you want to sit in an atmosphere you enjoy, and the view you create can also increase your creativity.

7. Schedule your admin work. That pile of papers sitting on your desk (or worse, on the floor beside it) is a distraction. It’s saying “You haven’t dealt with this yet.” Schedule five minutes in your day to sort invoices, papers, and notes.
How this saves time: you’re not going to keep digging for notes, tripping over papers, or feeling like you just don’t have the time to get it all done.

8.  End your day with planning. Don’t skip this step. It’s the easiest way to keep yourself on track and make the most of your time going forward.
How this saves time: when you sit down the next day, you spend no time wondering what to work on first.

Writers, how do you improve your productivity?
What one thing have you changed that’s made the most impact?

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  • Jennifer Mattern January 25, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Your picture looks just like the ones I saw from my mom and a friend over there in Pville. You guys must not have gotten the kind of wind gusts we had here. It was vicious. Our snow didn't lay nicely. We have a few areas (like one of the front garden beds and part of the deck) where there's no snow at all. And then we have huge snow drifts (if you remember the pool heater, that's covered by a good 6 foot drift of snow now). The best part? Watching the pup try to navigate it. She's enjoying it, but doesn't want to be out in it for long. It's adorable when she's trouncing around in the snow and jumps into a deeper drift without realizing it. lol

  • Paula Hendrickson January 25, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    I'm jealous of the snow! We've only had one "big" snow this season and it was maybe 8-9" – too much freezing rain and one-inch snows. I can't remember ever getting that much snow in one storm. Even two-feet around here would probably be a record. Smart to stop halfway. I'm a shoveler. We had maybe 4-5 inches of the heavy, wet snow over ice, and I had to break that shoveling into chucks. But when a friend's husband asked if I had the driveway plowed, it was nice to say, "No – I shoveled it myself."

    As for your great tips…I do the no-outline outline, too. I'm about to make one for an article I'll write today. They work when writing questions for sources, too. Intellectually I know it's a type of outline, but because I don't use the classic I, II, III, A, B, C format I can pretend it's not really an outline.

    Funny thing about the work space. When I bought my big old oak desk (at a thrift store for $45.99), people asked why I positioned the right side against the wall since it took up so much floor space in my office. I had two answers,depending on my mood: "Why would I want to face a wall?" Or, "What do I need empty floor space for in an office?"

  • Katharine Swan January 25, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    What a timely post! In a week I'll be returning to freelancing full-time — as the kids have gotten older and the family's situation has changed, they've needed a nanny less and less, so we're finally making the break. I'm excited to be freelancing more again, but I'll have to work out a schedule and relearn some better productivity habits, I'm afraid. It's been too long since I had to do this full-time, and even longer since I felt I was truly productive at it (I got the part-time nanny job partly because I was feeling burnt out). Your post was just what I needed to read!