How to create a freelance writing schedule that boosts your productivity

calendar-book

As a freelance writer, it’s easy to start the day with lofty goals, only to find that by dinnertime all you’ve done is catch up with fifth-grade BFFs on Facebook, play with your cat and write a half-baked outline of a piece you were hoping to finish.

That’s where a schedule comes into play.

As much as freelance writing is about freedom and writing award-winning articles in your pajamas, it’s also about discipline and structure. And it all begins with your schedule.

Having a daily schedule that outlines what you’re supposed to do at specific times — and sticking to it — is how you become a productive, powerful freelance force to be reckoned with. So here are some tips for creating a freelance writing schedule that will help to boost your productivity:

First, define your goals and create a plan to reach them

The first step to creating a killer schedule is defining your three short-term writing goals, because these goals will guide all of your actions. Your goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. For example, “I want to be published in three paying publications by the end of 2014” is a SMART goal. “I want to be a well-paid freelance writer” is not, because “well-paid” is vague and impossible to measure.

Once you identify and write down your top three goals, make sure they’re visible or easily accessible at all times, because they’ll serve as a constant reminder of where you’re headed.

Next, create a plan to achieve your goals. This should include your overall strategy as well as the specific actions you’ll take to implement it. For example, if one of your goals is to be published in three paying publications by year’s end, then your plan might include these beginning steps:

1. Identify at least 15 paying markets to write for.

2. Follow them on Twitter and study each publication, including writer’s guidelines.

3. Develop ideas for these publications and turn these ideas into pitches.

4. Find the appropriate contact info for each editor and send out at least 10 pitches per week….etc. etc.

Coming up with goals and plans doesn’t have to be a long process, but it is a crucial step, because if you don’t identify what you want to accomplish and how you plan to accomplish it, you’ll likely spend each day spinning your wheels instead of making steady progress toward a clearly defined destination.

Next, list out all of your freelance writing-related activities

Once you have your goals defined and your plans created, it’s time to list out all of the hats you’ll need to wear to build a thriving freelance writing career. Because — contrary to what the title of “freelance writer” may imply — writing is actually a very small part of the picture. In addition to being a writer, you’re also an accountant, a public relations officer, a CEO, a receptionist, a marketing coordinator, a webmaster, and on and on. You’re a one-man show, and as such, you have many roles to play. So now is the time to get clear on every single one of those roles.

For example, your freelance writing activities might include:

  • Goal-setting and planning
  • Answering communication via e-mail, social media, phone, etc.
  • Keeping track of statistics such as pitches sent, weekly income, etc.
  • Maintaining a website
  • Writing an e-mail newsletter
  • Posting ads
  • Developing print marketing materials for your business
  • Tracking and contacting leads
  • Developing ideas
  • Studying markets
  • Writing pitches
  • Writing letters of introduction
  • Looking for freelance writing work on websites, job boards, etc.
  • Invoicing clients and keeping track of income
  • Handling taxes
  • Conducting research
  • Scheduling and conducting interviews
  • Transcribing
  • Writing, editing and proofreading
  • Blogging
  • Writing e-books
  • Fact-checking
  • Guest speaking
  • Attending networking events
  • Collecting and posting testimonials
  • Writing press releases to promote yourself
  • Maintaining social media accounts
  • Scheduling your activities

Yes, freelance writers wear a lot of hats, and it’s important to define them all before you create a schedule — kind of like gathering up all of the puzzle pieces before you put the puzzle together. So take the items from this list that apply to you, add whatever else you need to, and then move on to the next step…

Determine when you’ll be working

Maybe it’s four hours over the weekend, or maybe it’s 40 hours throughout the week. It all depends on your unique situation and your goals. If you work a full-time job and have a family, there won’t be much time to devote to freelance writing. If you’re single and have a part-time job to pay the bills while using freelancing to supplement your income, you may be able to devote a significant chunk of time to your writing career. Whatever your situation, it’s important to identify how much time you can realistically spend on freelancing and identify what days and hours you’ll be working.

Don’t settle for something vague like “I’ll work Tuesday and Wednesday evenings” or “I’ll get a bunch of writing done over the weekend.” Traditional jobs have clearly defined hours and yours should too. Trust me, you’ll end up being far more productive if you say “I’ll work on Thursdays from 6 to 9 pm” and then actually sit and work during that time, than if you tell yourself you’ll work “sometime Thursday night” and leave the actual timing up to chance.

And once you’ve blocked off your work hours…

Determine which activities you need to do next week

Once you’ve identified your goals and plans, created your master list of freelance writing activities and blocked off your work hours, it’s time to select which activities you need to do next week. Though you may not be attending a networking event until next month, and you may not have a guest speaking gig until three months from now, you’ll most likely need to do some writing, pitching, social media management and invoicing next week.

So figure out which tasks you need to do next week to forward your plans, and double-check to make sure they’re aligned with your three short-term goals. If a task doesn’t contribute to one of your goals, cross it off the list.

Now, create your schedule

Hurrah! It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. You know what your goals and plans are. You’ve created a gigantic master list (or chart) of freelance writing activities. You’ve got your list of next week’s activities and your designated time blocks. Not it’s time to put your puzzle skills to use and fit those activities into your time blocks.

The look of your schedule is totally up to you — like your freelance writing career, it should be uniquely suited to your wants and needs.

I use a Google spreadsheet to create my schedule, but you can use any computer program or calendar you like. As you’ll see in the screenshot below, I have the days of the week labeled horizontally and the time of day listed vertically. Then, for each day, I assign specific activities to specific blocks of time, and I color code the activities according to type.

For example, communication-related activities such as answering email are color-coded in orange, while production-related activities like writing are in green and marketing-related activities such as social media are in purple. (If you’d like to see my actual schedule and not just a screenshot, email me and I’ll share it with you in Google Drive.)

Screenshot (2)

Here’s an example of what a generic Monday includes:

7 am – Wake up, do yoga, have coffee and breakfast, shower, post to Instagram

8 am – Answer all communication — check email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google Plus, voicemail

8:30 am – Write blog post for freelance writers

12 – lunch/break

1 pm – Distribute blog post via Facebook (profile and page), Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, LinkedIn and FB and LinkedIn groups

2 pm – Do writing, editing, consulting, and/or coaching work; write and send pitches for guest posts; work on blog posts or articles; respond to communication

4:30 pm Join FB or LinkedIn group, participate in discussion

5 pm – Clean up, make dinner, go for a walk, read, relax and write tomorrow’s battle plan

And here’s what a Friday looks like:

7 am – Wake up, do yoga, have coffee and breakfast, shower, post to Instagram

8 am – Answer all communication — check email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google Plus, voicemail

8:30 am – Social media scheduling — schedule links to blog posts and Rap Rehab articles; find or create and schedule quotes, inspirational posts and promo messages

10 am – Develop next week’s content plan

10:30 am – Record and post YouTube video

12 pm – lunch/break

1 pm – Update website — add before-and-afters, testimonials, improve sales copy, work on design

Afternoon – Down time, then work a night shift in the newsroom

As you can see I’ve included activities from my personal life and my part-time editing job on my schedule, so my day is planned out from start to finish. Note that the times provided are estimates and serve as more of a guide than a set structure. If an activity takes more or less time than anticipated, I adjust the rest of my schedule accordingly. Also note this is a general template that I fill in every week to include specific details, such as the topic of blog posts, YouTube videos, etc., and more specific times.

One of the great things about having a schedule is that it gently forces you to devote time to those activities you conveniently “forget” each week because you’d prefer not to do them, such as writing pitches, staying active on social media or updating your website. It’s easy to say, “I’ll write a few pitches next week” and never get around to it because you “didn’t have time,” but it’s much harder to come up with an excuse when you have a four-hour time block dedicated to writing pitches and nothing else.

Tailor your schedule for you

The important thing to remember when creating a schedule is to make it work for YOU. A schedule is not a rigid structure you begrudgingly abide by because you have no choice. That’s the rat race you’re trying to leave! A schedule is something you create as a tool to help keep you organized, increase your productivity and achieve your goals.

So play around with your schedule and figure out what works best. Decide when you want to wake up and go to sleep (if you’re lucky enough to have that option). Figure out when you’re most creative and energetic, and schedule your most mentally demanding tasks during that time. Allow yourself some breaks and down time. If you prefer to write in the morning and do marketing in the afternoon, or vice versa, by all means set up your schedule that way.

Keep tweaking and adjusting your schedule until you get it right — or as close to right as you can.

Your schedule gives you the structure of a regular job with the freedom of a job you create and control. It takes the guesswork out of what you should be doing with your day and lays out the specific things you need to reach your goals. It helps you remember some of the minor, tedious or daunting tasks that are easy to “forget.” It’s the tool that will help you make orderly progress toward your dreams. So use it wisely!

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9 Comments on “How to create a freelance writing schedule that boosts your productivity

  1. Pingback: SEO Copywriting Top 10: June 18 to 24, 2014 » SEO Copywriting

  2. Pingback: Create your freelance work schedule using Microsoft Excel

  3. Thanks for posting this Lauren! It’s exactly what I needed; I’ve been away from full-time work for almost a month and in the absence of a work schedule/calendar, I end up finding my days busy but annoyingly unproductive. Will definitely be putting your tips into practice. You’re a God send!

  4. Thanks for these lauren, i have another one to add. I have been using scriblers.com, it does so much more for me, for instance i love that i have a publishing/tasks calendar that’s kind of designed for a writer and that i can publish to wordpress right from the app.

  5. Pingback: Setting a Freelance Writing Work Schedule & Sticking To It - Writing Freelance Right

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