As writers, most of the ways we become known as experts involve writing. But it can be hard to find the time to pack more writing into your schedule, especially when you’re just getting started.
Time management is a subject mankind has always struggled with.
It’s been studied by the greatest minds of our time: Albert Einstein, Dwight Eisenhower, Dale Carnegie, and Isaac Newton, just to name a few.
We, as freelance writers, are especially interested in effectively managing our time because the time we use is all ours.
Many of us have the goal of living the writer’s life so we don’t have to directly trade our time for dollars like a regular day job.
Instead, when we work for ourselves, we can work more efficiently and increase our hourly income. We can set up systems to make money while we sleep. And we can raise our rates as our expert status increases.
When our time is ours – and we’re tasked with making the most out of it – we begin to realize how important our time actually is.
When you’re a freelance writer, you have to use your time efficiently, or you’ll find that your working hours bleed into your free time hours.
If this happens for too long, you’ll likely burn out and give up.
Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time studying how to use my time effectively. One of the biggest time management lessons I’ve learned is this:
It’s very difficult to force yourself to do specific tasks at specific times. Trying to stick to a specific schedule can be very ineffective.
When you force yourself to do something at the wrong time, your brain won’t be “tuned in.” It will take you longer to finish the task and it will be far more frustrating.
For example, many time management people will advise you to create a schedule and stick to it. There’s a problem with this.
Let’s say you write from 7-10 a.m. every morning. One morning, you wake up and you just can’t get into your writing. You struggle to get words on the page for your three-hour commitment so you can move on to your next assignment.
Those three hours were incredibility ineffective. You barely wrote anything and you probably won’t use what you did write.
But what if you had changed your schedule that day to work on something else from 7-10 a.m.?
Then you could have come back to your writing when you were in the right mood. Because you would have been focused and effective for the whole 3 hours, you would have less frustration and a bigger return on your time investment.
It can be done. In fact, I often switch up my schedule to get the most efficiency out of every working hour. To do this, I take on projects that involve more than just writing.
Let’s say I’m creating a website for a client. There are many tasks to complete for that project. My technique is to divide the project up into the different types of work: (1) planning and marketing ideas, (2) writing, and (3) design.
In the mornings, I like to write, so I spend that time on the copy. Afternoons are usually when I’m in a strategic planning mood. Usually at the end of the workday, I’m in a crafty mood. That’s when I do the design work.
If you only handle writing assignments for your clients, you might break your writing into the following tasks: (1) research, (2) outlining, (3) writing, and (4) editing.
If you have several clients at a time, you’re likely to always have a project that is in one of these stages.
Of course, if you have tight deadlines, you may have to buckle down and get something done, even if you don’t feel 100% into it. That’s why it’s important to realize you might want to shake things up a bit and agree to deadlines that allow you to do so.
Remember, you’ll work more efficiently in the long run and make more per hour, so it’s worth the extra planning in the beginning.
I’m still getting the hang of it, but I’m getting closer to my perfect schedule every day.
What about you? Do you use this technique, or do you have another tip for making effective use of your time? Comment below to join the discussion …
I used to be proud of it and even tried my hand at wedding planning. But I gradually came to realize that spending an entire working day just planning a project is not a good use of my time.
One of the great things about freelancing is the ability to raise your hourly income by being more productive. Planning doesn’t directly equal income. Productivity does.
As I’ve become more focused on productivity, I’ve begun to recognize a lot of planning for what it is: a convenient way to procrastinate. Sure, you feel like you’re working, but you’re probably just delaying the actual work.
To make sure I’m getting the most important thing on my schedule done every morning, I … eat a frog.
If you haven’t heard of this technique, let me assure you, I don’t eat an actual frog.
Basically, you do the worst thing on your list first thing. Then the rest of the day is easy.
Here’s how to determine what your own frog is and make sure you eat it:
Before you end work for the day today, figure out your most important tasks for tomorrow. These should be things that will move you closer to your goals or directly impact your income. My list includes writing a project proposal, calling a client, and updating my website.
Now, choose the worst of the most important things – the one you’re dreading the most – and circle it. Then put a star next to your favorite item.
I’m scared to death of making phone calls – even “warm” calls – so that’s definitely my frog. I’ll do it first thing tomorrow morning.
This sets my tone for the day. I can do anything! And I have more energy and passion.
Next, I’ll write and send that project proposal. But in comparison to my frog, the proposal is a piece of cake.
Then, once all my tasks are done for the day, I’ll reward myself with my favorite task: updating my website.
Now, this only works if you eat the frog first thing in the morning. Resist the temptation to do small things first. Don’t check email. Don’t return phone calls. Don’t write a nonessential blog post. And don’t plan how you’re going to eat that frog.
Just eat it.
If you allow yourself to procrastinate by doing smaller, less essential tasks, your motivation and valuable time will be gone. Then you’ll have to tackle that big, scary task with less enthusiasm and energy. If you’re like me, that means you’ll put it off until tomorrow and feel guilty.
If you have a 9-to-5 job, you might be wondering how you can eat the frog first thing in the morning and still get to work …
You have a few choices. You could get up earlier and eat your frog before work, or you could schedule time each evening to eat your frog.
I personally recommend getting up earlier because after you come home from your J.O.B., your creative energy is likely gone. And other obligations will be screaming for your attention.
If you commute to work in traffic, try leaving your house an hour earlier. Eat your frog at the office. This way, you miss the morning traffic and save yourself some time and frustration.
What do you think? Do you already eat a frog every morning? Or are you going to start by making it your New Year’s resolution? Comment below to join the discussion …
Today, I want to talk about shiny objects and how they’ll hold back your freelance career if you let them.
Shiny objects are tips, tricks, or techniques that distract you from your main path. They make you think there might be a better, faster way to succeed.
When I started my journey to the writer’s life, I was plagued by indecision. I couldn’t figure out which direction I wanted to go or which route would give me the best payout in the shortest time.
Shiny objects constantly tempted me.
I would choose one direction only to hear about a better, faster one the next day. I would start learning about that, but in no time, I’d hear about something else that seemed even better.
It was a frustrating struggle that left me with a mess of training programs and bookmarked articles, but no progress. No matter how fast I learned, it felt like I would never know enough.
Finally, I heard about FOCUS (follow one course until successful), and I decided to come up with a plan – and stick to it.
I joined AWAI’s Circle of Success and met with Rebecca Matter. She helped me come up with a plan, and I didn’t look back.
I put away the programs and started ignoring the emails that didn’t support my focused path.
Filtering out the temptations to stray from my path is one thing that allows me to live the writer’s life.
Here’s how you can start avoiding shiny objects today:
First, decide on your path.
To make it really simple, pick an AWAI course. They come with step-by-step directions. It doesn’t matter which one as long as it’s something you’re excited about doing. Then make a commitment to finish that course and take action on what you learn.
Once you’ve made that commitment, it won’t be easy to stick to it. You’re likely to hear about all kinds of other paths and programs.
If you find yourself unable to commit and constantly chasing one method after another, but not making any real progress, take stock:
What happened with my last method? Did I follow through or abandon it? Why?
If you still think your last method is worth pursuing, don’t move on until you follow through. File away the new method for later.
If you still want to move forward on the new method, ask yourself:
Is this method essential to my success or another reason for me to procrastinate?
Essential would be contacting clients. Nonessential would be signing up for the newest social media site. Then ask:
What proof do I have that this method is better than my last method?
If it’s not better – or you have no way to know if it’s better – proceed with caution. Don’t try stuff just for the sake of trying it. Make sure you have concrete evidence that this is the way to go and that you will see results with this method.
Then, no matter which method you choose, make a commitment to see it through.
Going through this process has helped keep me on a path where I’m making progress instead of chasing after the newest thing.
I’ve found the key to achieving the writer’s life is staying focused and avoiding the pitfall of shiny objects.
Looking back, I realize my fascination with new programs was just an excuse to procrastinate. But along the way, I did find a few shortcuts that work and will get anyone to the writer’s life faster. (I’ll share them in next week’s article.)
So how about you? Do shiny objects distract you or have you found a way to overcome them?
A few times a year, I sit down and reflect on where my business has been, where it is, and where it’s going. I do this at the beginning of the calendar year and again on my birthday in August.
This year, I realized I had a major problem that was stunting the growth of my business: I had too many goals. Because I was torn in so many directions, I wasn’t accomplishing much toward any of my goals.
What’s worse is that because I was spending so much time working, I stopped doing a lot of things I’m passionate about. That led to unhappiness with my business and feeling like my work wasn’t paying off.
For my mid-year analysis, I looked at the areas of my life and quickly saw if I didn’t take time to relax and recharge, my business would only suffer more as my creativity drained away and my passion burned out.
The first thing I decided to do was take a hard look at my goals and where my time was going. I quickly realized I had two types of goals:
1. Someone Else’s Goals.
These were goals someone else had given me – either by making them sound like something I should want to do or by asking me to help them with a project. Making six figures per year and self-publishing a business book were on this list.
2. My Goals.
These were goals that got me out of bed in the morning and kept me up late. They were the things I was truly excited about accomplishing, like being featured in Entrepreneur magazine and getting Sara Blakely (the creator of Spanx) to notice my new venture, ComfyEarrings.com.
It was hard to make progress on my goals because they were getting pushed aside to make time to work on someone else’s goals.
I decided I didn’t want to spend my time working toward a goal I wasn’t 100 percent in love with. It wasn’t easy, but within a few days, I had “resigned” from all of the goals that weren’t mine and freed up quite a bit of time.
Next, I decided to spend an hour every day doing something I used to enjoy. The only requirement was it had to be fun and get my creative juices flowing. I chose to read fiction books and get outside more. On the days when the weather is nice enough to read outside, I get a double dose of enjoyment.
So far, the results of my streamlined goals and doing more things I enjoy are:
My stress is almost completely gone.
I have more energy and passion for my projects.
I’ve read more books in two weeks than I did in the past six months.
My creativity is back and writing is much easier.
I’m not struggling for ideas because my brain isn’t exhausted or numb.
I’ve always thought reading is important, but after the past month, I truly believe reading fiction is essential to writers.
Just in case you won’t take my word for it, here is what some famous writers have to say:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King
“Be awesome! Be a book nut!” – Dr. Seuss
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Richard Steele
So what about you? How do you take time to recharge? Comment below to join the discussion …
As freelancers, we sometimes get overwhelmed because we’re expected to juggle many different hats – business owner, writer, accountant, marketer, etc.
This causes you to lose momentum and, as a result, your business can suffer.
Today, I want to tell you how I went from being overwhelmed and frustrated to making real headway with my copywriting career.
When I first started my writer’s life, I found it very difficult to build my own business after spending the whole day working at my full-time job.
There was so much to be done, and because I didn’t know where to start, I found it easier to spend the evening procrastinating in front of the TV.
I didn’t know if I should build my website, write and send self-promotion letters, respond to job ads, put together a prospect list, study something, choose a niche …
It just kept building on me, and I seriously considered giving up.
But then I had a moment of clarity. I read somewhere to FOCUS (or Follow One Course Until Successful) and to do something daily to move closer to my goals.
I decided to follow the path of building my expert status in the “web writing for self-help companies” niche. The first thing to do was to create my freelance website.
After all, I could do all the promotion in the world, but if no one could find or hire me, everything else on my list, like sending out self-promotion letters and cold calling potential clients, went below finishing my website.
First, I made a list of only the most essential items.
I knew I would use a WordPress site, so my list looked something like this:
Write the copy for my home page
Write the copy for the about page
Find samples for my samples page
Buy a domain
Buy website hosting
Find and install a theme
Add pages with my content
Then I organized my list in order of importance. I basically just went with my gut. If it had to be done to launch the site, it was high on the list. “Writing my copy” and “getting a domain name” were near the top. If it was an enhancement that could be done after launch day, it was lower on the list. Stuff like “tweaking the design” wound up low on the list.
To keep me going, I set a deadline, which was pretty easy considering my goal.
My goal was to submit it to the “Build Your Freelance Website in 4 Days” Challenge. The challenge had a specific deadline.
Once I had the deadline and the list, I broke it into chunks and added it to my calendar – starting with the deadline and working back. I wanted to do something every day so I didn’t have to cram it all in a small amount of time.
Previous to this new FOCUS plan, I had avoided building my website for months. It just seemed like so much to do. I never did anything because I wasn’t sure where to start.
When you have very limited time, it’s easy to look at a task and think it’s too big. But when you create a plan with bite-sized daily tasks, you know exactly what to work on each day and it makes it easier to jump in.
Since my website experience, I break all my major tasks into daily tasks. When I take on a client project, I schedule the entire thing, starting with the due date and working back. I schedule time for research, writing, revising, brainstorming, etc.
At the beginning of my copywriting career, I realized if I didn’t do something every day, I would never succeed. Because I had a full-time job, it was too easy to come home and crash on the couch if I didn’t have a solid day-by-day plan.
Freelance writers face a lot of hurdles, and sometimes it can feel like they’re too high to jump over. By doing something every day to move your business forward, you’re gradually knocking a few inches off your hurdles at a time.
Eventually, they’ll be short enough to just step over so you can move on to the next level in your copywriting career.
The toughest part is knowing where to start. There are so many things to do. The answer is to just start somewhere. Anywhere will do because when you’re taking action daily, things fall in place faster than you would think.
When I started, I made a commitment to spend at least 30 minutes a day on my business. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but in the beginning, it was all I could manage. Little by little, it paid off.
Based on what I did and how it worked out, I think there are three essential things a copywriter needs to do on a regular basis:
Here are some ideas of where you can start and how you can do something every day in 30 minutes or less.
Each day, you should spend a little time learning more about copywriting and marketing. You could use your daily time to read a chapter in a program. The next day practice what you learned. If you have more than 10 minutes for learning, read the chapter and practice in the same day.
Here is a list of things you might do in your 10 minutes (put several of these on your schedule for next week and see how much you can get done):
Review or read a chapter of a book or the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.
Read and analyze an email autoresponder you received from opting in at a website. (You should be receiving emails from potential clients as well as companies that give advice to move your business forward.)
Do a practice activity in a course or learning program.
Take a headline from something you got in the mail and write 10 different versions of it.
Copy a sales letter from an A-level copywriter by hand.
2. Take Action
Learning something every day is great, but I hear interviews all the time where successful people say the reason for their success is they took action.
If your goal is to live the writer’s life, you’ll have to take action – there’s no getting around that. But it doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming.
Here are some things you can do in 10 minutes to move your business forward (again, put several of these on your schedule for next week and see how much you can get done):
Touch base with a potential client. This doesn’t have to be stressful. If you need a reason to connect, tell them about an article you think they might enjoy.
Outline a blog post or guest blog post for your website.
Record a video for your website of yourself giving some advice to potential clients.
Outline or work on your one-page self-promotion letter.
Address and stamp 25 self-promotion letters.
Apply to a job posting or two.
Research some potential clients and add them to your list.
Pick up the phone and call a few potential clients.
Call a few companies you’d like to work for and ask if they hire freelance copywriters.
Follow up with a client who has hired you before. Ask if they have any current needs or can give you a referral.
3. Stay Motivated
This is the first thing I do every day, but it’s last on my list here because some people like to focus all their time and energy on the easy stuff and leave the hard stuff (like action) for later.
Be careful how much time you spend on motivation and mindset. It is easy to get sucked into a personal development program and believe that you can’t do anything actionable until you have finished the program.
This happens because often there is this belief (or hope) that by going through the program, you will be “ready” at the end. But personal development is a journey that should be done daily. Use it to improve yourself, not hold you back from taking action.
Now, on to staying motivated … Lately, my favorite method of working on motivation is to practice meditation. I have found it helps me focus and keeps me from getting stressed.
Here are some suggestions for how you can use your 10 minutes of motivation time:
Start a gratitude journal and write in it daily.
Start a goal poster or dream board.
Add something to your goal poster or dream board.
Talk to your accountability partner.
Review your reasons for wanting to live the writer’s life. What will your life be like when you achieve your goals?
Review any compliments you’ve received about your writing.
As you can see, learning, taking action, and staying motivated don’t have to be time-consuming. By doing something every day in each area, you’ll move your business forward in ways you wouldn’t believe.
And, of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to only 30 minutes a day. But smaller chunks of time are much more manageable for a lot of people who are just getting started.
Thirty minutes is so short, you could easily squeeze it into your day. You could get up 30 minutes early, cut your TV time by 30 minutes, or work 10 minutes in the morning, 10 at lunch, and 10 before bed. It may take some creativity, but if you’re committed, you can make changes in your life that will allow you to live the writer’s life.