January Redo: Your Freelance Time, Wasted

What I’m listening to: Runaways by The Killers

Midweek already? It was a good week so far. As expected, client projects are rolling in, and I’m back in my office, so the routine is coming easier than when I was working remotely at my parents’ house. That’s a condition I’ll be returning to quite soon, so best to get things in order now.

So it’s mid-January and you’ve either not made any resolutions or have given up on them already.

Today is your New Year’s Day.

Today is as good a day as any to set goals and build on how you’ll reach them. Not resolutions — goals. Goals are actionable. Resolutions are pie-in-the-sky dreams.

Let’s start by finding time to get this all done.

If you’re like most freelance writers, you wonder how you’ll ever squeeze another minute out of your day to get a real plan in place.

If you're really like most freelance writers, you've got plenty of time that you could free up. #freelancewriting Click To Tweet

That’s right — I just said you’re wasting time somewhere in your day. I should know — I do the same.

For me, it’s an unhealthy obsession with an installed solitaire package that has daily challenges (we’re not American if we don’t rise to a challenge, right?). For you, it could be hours spent on Facebook, or time spent emailing six friends. Or talking to one or two on the phone for an hour apiece.

That time right there — slice into it and find your goal planning and execution time.

A few things you can do to take back that time —

  • Cut it in half: Make that six-times-per-day Facebook check-in a three-times-per-day check-in. Allow yourself just five minutes (and time it).
  • Use it as a reward: Jenn Mattern is a big fan of the Pomodoro method — timed work with timed breaks. Make those breaks your time to waste time, not the timed work minutes.
  • Chart it: I stopped plenty of my bad surfing habits by simply writing down the time I started, then writing down when I closed the app or website and got back to work. Ew, was that really 35 minutes? You can use a project timer, if you like. You’ll find that just the act of turning it on or writing it down makes you that much more aware of what you’re doing.
  • Check emails on a schedule: This was my big time-waster (that and games on Facebook). When I decided to check emails during my break time and continue writing, I got a lot more accomplished. I used the emails as a sort of reward — if I got through this section, I’d give myself ten minutes to check emails. Even client emails will wait a few minutes. Very little is critical and that time-sensitive.
  • Make a to-do list: My days all start with a to-do list. I open a calendar appointment, put my list in there, and set it to remind me the next morning. I move it forward each day, too. At the end of the month, I see how much I did (and who needs an invoice). It helps me to see what I’m needing to finish — I’m less inclined to blow it off for another round of TriPeaks solitaire.
  • Silence the phone: My phone allows me to silence the ringer if the call is one I have to put off until later. It still rings in and goes to voicemail, but I can continue without interruption. If it’s someone who’s looking to chat, you can always send them a quick email telling them you know they called, but you can’t pick up right now.
  • Use time boxing: It’s a lot like the Pomodoro method, but with a twist. Suppose you’re staring at that 2,000-word article that requires a good bit of research and interview transcribing. Set aside 30 minutes for it. Or 45 minutes. Look at the deadline and decide how much time you’ll put into that project on each day. That allows you a little time to surf and play on your break time without feeling guilty or overwhelmed by big project deadlines.
  • Turn off notifications: My email notifications drive me nuts. So I shut down Outlook whenever I need to concentrate and can’t be interrupted. If you get Twitter updates, ditch them (those nearly buried me when I first started on Twitter). No cell phone notifications for games or New York Times news updates. No Facebook updates or blog notifications when someone comments. Just go distraction-free for the time you’ve allotted to your work.

Using even one of these things can help you free up time you didn’t know you had. It’s a great way to become a more productive, focused writer.

Writers, what are your biggest time-wasters?
How do you handle the distractions effectively?

About the author




  • Anne Wayman January 17, 2018 at 10:48 am

    My favorites are turning off the phone, relegating facebook to its own folder so I decide when to look at it and working on the best paying projects first.

    • lwidmer January 17, 2018 at 2:01 pm

      I like the idea of putting Facebook in a folder, Anne. I suspect in my case, just not going online until I’m finished is a good solution.

  • Mary Schneider January 17, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    Is there an app that can train my family to not try talking to me while I’m working? Because if there is, the creator will be a millionaire.

    • lwidmer January 17, 2018 at 1:04 pm

      LOL I hear that, Mary! I’ve actually been able to enforce those boundaries for myself. I give them times they can call, times they can interrupt, and my quitting time. If they interrupt any time around those times, I fail to respond except to remind them I can’t talk right now.

      Other than that, it’s a crap shoot. 😉

  • Paula Hendrickson January 17, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    Please don’t tell me which solitaire version you play. Way back when I was a teenager I learned Spider Solitaire and played it with actual cards (multiple decks at that). Now that I’ve got it on my Kindle, if I don’t have a knitting projects I can play it for hours on end while watching TV. Total waste of time.

    I usually only answer the phone if it’s a sibling or business contact, so that’s not a big deal for me. Neither is Facebook, since I never joined. The Mail system with my new computer has notifications and it’s so annoying. It reminds be of the bad old days on AOL. Because I’m constantly setting up interviews, and more often than not the publicists alert me with short notice via email, I can’t ignore it, but I’d rather glance to see if any important things have come in than hear the chime each time something arrives. (Worse? I can usually see the message sitting there about a minute before the chime sounds.)

    I think I need to block out times to work on a couple of personal projects, because once I get my work stuff done I’m usually out of steam. Like right now.

    • Devon Ellington January 17, 2018 at 6:46 pm

      Paula, I do my own creative work first in the day. First 1k on the novel before any client work. The whole day goes better & the client work is higher quality because I’ve met my commitments to my own projects first.

  • Devon Ellington January 17, 2018 at 6:44 pm

    Gotta disagree with you on resolutions. My goals are steps that allow me to achieve my resolutions. They’re building blocks. But yeah, too much wasted time. That’s why I bill for phone time — people interrupting my day with a “quick” call is the biggest waste, when they have to pay for it, they are more focused. Also, taking at least one day disconnected makes a huge difference. Thinking of you. I’m here if you need me.

    • lwidmer January 18, 2018 at 10:05 am

      And you’ve hit on exactly why resolutions, without goals attached, are wasted time, Devon. Building blocks — yes. Dreams with no direction? Pointless.