Part of the joy of being a freelance writer is creating your own work schedule.
The recipe for success, though, comes down to discipline and time management.
If you’re not great at managing your time, an entire day can slip away, and you can feel like you’ve accomplished nothing. An unorganized workday means missed deadlines, unhappy clients, and unnecessary stress.
Additionally, if you take on too much work without knowing your own personal limits, it’s a recipe for burnout. That’s why learning the best time management tips for your style and working habits is a smart move to do as soon as you start your freelancing business.
Whether you’re just getting started as a freelancer or are already an experienced freelancer, you’ll need a healthy dose of motivation to put these ideas into place.
Below, I share scientific research on the truth behind multitasking, time management tools, and tips to nail your deadlines like the boss you are.
Here’s a look at time management tools and secrets every freelance writer should know:
1. Schedule and Prioritize Projects
When you don’t have a boss breathing over your shoulder to get work done, it can be easy to slack off. After all, you don’t have a time card to punch or a coworker in the next cubicle to keep you accountable. Set a schedule at the start of each week to prioritize your work and schedule your days around your most productive times.
Here’s how to do it:
- Keep prioritized lists
- Divvy up your highest priority tasks throughout the week
- Keep your days reasonable with some leeway for the unexpected
- Add appointments, events, and schedule downtime for self-care/exercise/date nights, etc.
- Schedule business tasks as if they were client work (weekly, monthly, marketing, etc.)
Freelancer time management tip: Give yourself leeway when promising work on specific deadlines so that you can get it done early. It gives you extra time if you need it and looks great to the client.
2. Track your Time
While there are plenty of freelance time trackers out there, you have to use what works for you. Time blocking, setting timers, working for 50 minutes straight… your method must be one that jives with your work habits and personality. However, if you have no idea where to start, that’s okay, too.
A few favorite tips of mine:
- Use a free time management app — An app like Toggl is a fantastic (and simple way) to stay on track. Simply name your project, hit the start button, and remember to hit stop when you’re done. This is a fantastic way to time yourself to see how long certain style projects (like researching for a blog, for example) take you. Then you can make sure your rates are set accordingly, too, based on what you want your “hourly” rate to be.
- Track everything for a week — This goes for your work and personal schedules. This will give you a good view of how you’re doing with specific tasks and projects. It will also solidify those tasks that are time wasters, too, so you can work on eliminating those.
- Do a real inventory — See where you’re doing well and where you can improve.
- Get in tune with your true work self — Discover when your most productive times really are. If you know you’re not going to do your best writing by waking up at 5 am, save it for the afternoon.
- Pick a freelancer time tracker — It takes a little trial and error, but once you find a freelancer time tracker that works for you, you’ll wonder how you ever managed your life without it. You’ll need patience and practice with getting used to using one, but you’ll learn what works for you. Be Focused is a free option and is a great way to keep yourself on track!
Freelancer time management tip: Get in the habit of tracking work hours so you can prepare better quotes in the future. It also ensures you don’t spend way more time than necessary on any given project when you see how quickly time ticks away.
3. Batch Work and Minimize Distractions
Think you’re a good multitasker? You’re not. No one is, according to neuroscience and psychology research. MIT neuroscience professors have confirmed that we really can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. It actually takes more time — at a 40% productivity loss — when you try to focus and perform multiple tasks at one time. While it’s tempting to write and edit at the same time, it’s much easier to miss errors that way because you’re technically multitasking.
Here’s how to batch work and nix distractions:
- Batch work is good — If you need to complete a lot of work at one time — like researching all of your blog title ideas for a single month — batching is the way to do it. Then, move on to researching for outlines. Follow-up by writing and editing as two separate tasks.
- Avoid distractions by doing focused work — When you time yourself for a full week, take special note of what distracts you. Add up the work time lost due to those distractions. A University of California Irvine study found, “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”
- Have a dedicated workspace that is sacred — Whether it’s a corner desk in the living room or a full office, make a workspace your space. Keep only work-related items in that area.
- Leave your phone alone — Unless you need your phone on you for an emergency, plan to keep it in another room on silent during your workday. At best, it’s a distraction that you don’t need. Dings and alerts will keep you looking more at your phone than focused on your work.
Freelancer time management tip: When you sit down to work, make that your main focus. Set up a to-do list, use website blockers, and make your work time count. The more you get done, the more money you make.
4. Set Boundaries and Say No
When you work for yourself, some people may think it’s part-time or really more of a hobby. Be clear about what you do and when you do it. The book Boundaries is a great read for anyone who has a tough time setting and sticking to personal and professional boundaries.
Here’s a brief overview of how to set boundaries as a freelancer:
- Stick to your schedule — Keep specific work hours and off-hours and honor them. These may shift as your schedule fills with client projects or you run into a busy season. What’s important is balancing it, so you don’t let work take over every single moment you’re home. Home and work-life have to remain separate, or you’ll lose your sanity.
- Communicate — Let friends and family know your working hours so they know when you are and aren’t available.
- Share your availability to clients — Let them know you accept calls “x-x times or only by appointment” and respond to emails from “x-x times a day.” Consider putting in your onboarding document email your response times, too, to be clear from the start.
- Block time in your calendar — This can be especially helpful if you have a client who has access to your calendar. Make sure you use it and block time so you can firmly say, “Sorry, I’m busy” or “I’m working.”
Freelancer time management tip: The better you get at setting firm boundaries from the start with clients, the better “training” you give them on how they may interact with you. For example, when starting a new relationship with a client, avoid sending emails and communicating on weekends. Otherwise, you set a dangerous precedent that shows that communication at any time is okay.
Add to Your Freelance Success With Time Management Tools
Different types of work require different time management techniques.
Freelance writing is no exception.
You’re in charge of your schedule, your workload, and your clients. From word counts to content calendars and topic selection to writing, you have to keep it all organized in order to hit those ever-important client deadlines.
That’s why finding the ideal time management tools and freelancer time tracker is essential to your success.
The beauty of freelancing is the freedom that comes with your daily work life. But if you don’t take hold of it and watch your time carefully, it can slip away fast.
Experiment with different techniques to find what works for you and your business. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, but the freelance writers who do manage their time well are the ones who turn into successful six-figure earners and beyond.