One of the best things about running your own freelance writing business is that the old 9-5 is a thing of the past.
Long gone are the days of clocking in, scheduled lunch breaks, and long commutes home.
But with all the benefits of being your own boss comes one slight hitch.
How do you go about scheduling your days?
Without the overlooking eyes of a boss or other routines that accompany an office job, what’s a freelancer to do?
Some people are naturally gifted with a knack for time management. Others are not. Regardless of if you have that skill or not, running your business on your own schedule can be a daunting task.
Keep reading, and we’ll dive into how I learned how to schedule my time and make the most of my days.
Beginner Freelancer Mistakes
When I first started freelance writing full-time, I made mistakes. And I mean a lot of them.
My first mistake was being too excited. Sounds nuts, but hear me out.
My enthusiasm was quickly outshined by my lack of planning. I dove in and started working. I also did so without any clear plan.
I remembered the old adage, “One Without A Plan, Plans To Fail”
It seemed logical to outline what needed to be done and begin at the beginning. I would complete one task and then move on to the next.
Apparently not. What I didn’t take into account was that while item #1 needed attention, so did items #2-35.
The Month Gone Wrong
In my early days, my top priority was setting up a website where I could host my portfolio and blog. I didn’t know the first thing about creating a website, but I dove in regardless and was happy to learn along the way.
I also learned that learning-as-you-go could be extremely time-consuming. Starting and launching a website, even for those with the know-how, isn’t something you can do perfectly in a day or two.
A week later, I had created what I considered to be a passable beginner’s website. It needed work, but by then I had spent a week on the site, and I hadn’t actually written a thing. What kind of writer was I?
So I jumped back in and started writing. I wrote blog posts and submitted pieces for any site that would have me. I spent three days churning out posts as fast as I could.
Armed with a mediocre website and some sample articles, I thought it was time to take my work from “passion project” to paying gigs. I woke up early and began pitching. By the time I looked at the clock, it was well past 8:00 pm.
This cycle continued for days until I finally landed a job. I then spent days just working on my assignments for that gig.
Deadlines be damned, my client work became priority number one. Nothing else mattered, and I wouldn’t do anything else until I had finished.
I was proud that I had been checking tasks off my list and felt I had made some real progress. Then came a time at the end of that first month where I looked at my checklist, with so many items ticked off, but I didn’t feel that same pride anymore.
Of the tasks I had completed, all were halfway done, at best:
- The website needed a ton of attention
- I still had to pitch for more ongoing client work
- My blog had been pushed to the back burner
I was working, but not at all efficiently.
Looking back at that first month, I realized I needed to do better.
I made a call to my mentor and complained that I had been putting in the work, but couldn’t seem to get ahead. She asked me a simple question, and it clicked: “How have you been scheduling your days?”
The answer was clear. I hadn’t been scheduling my days.
I made a to-do list and was going through items one by one.
Some plan that turned out to be.
The Juggling Act
Another mistake I made was seeing my day as wholly linear. While I focused on one task, the others fell by the wayside.
Being a freelancer is a lot like juggling. There are a lot of balls in the air at the same time. If you try to focus on mastering just one thing a day, you’ll find you’ve fallen behind elsewhere.
The only way I was going to be able to keep up the juggling act was to employ a method called time blocking. Time blocking is essentially breaking your day down into sections and devoting a set amount of time for each task.
Since each aspect of my business needs attention daily, I had to set aside time for each so I wouldn’t fall behind in any one area. I firmly believe it’s a skill that needs to be in every freelancer’s arsenal.
If you’re new to freelance writing, whether it be part-time or full-time, you’ll need to be realistic about how much time you can devote to your business.
Being eager to make the most out of my full-time commitment, I’m okay with working 9-10 hour days.
If you’re not full-time with your writing business or have other obligations, your time allotment may be less. Someone freelancing part-time may have only 3-4 hours a day to devote to their writing business.
The key takeaway is to be honest about the amount of time you can dedicate to your business each day.
Once I knew what my daily hours would look like, I had to determine what areas needed my focus. I chose the four areas I felt were most important at the time to help my business succeed.
I broke down my to-do list into sections:
- New pitches and follow-ups
- Client work
- Website and blog
- Personal Development
Depending on where you are in your business journey, the time you allow for each section will vary. For me, starting out, I had less client work, so I devoted less time to that section. As time went on and I landed more paying gigs, I had to up that number.
A few months in and with some clients on board, this is what my time blocking looked like.
Client Work – 4 hours
New Pitches and Follow-Ups – 2 hours
Website and Blog – 2 hours
Personal Development – 1-2 hours
Total Hours/Day – 9-10 Hours
By devoting specific times to each section, I’m able to do get more done, more efficiently, each day. Instead of scrambling to rush through a to-do list, I ensure I hit my targets daily and am consistently making progress in each area.
How Time Blocking Saved My Schedule
I used to get an hour of work done before leaving for my job in the morning and then put in a few more hours after dinner. Occasionally, I would even use my lunch breaks to follow-up on emails.
Time blocking becomes that much more important when you only have limited time to devote to your side business. As a part-time freelancer, you’ll need to be as productive as you can with the time you have.
If you’re freelancing part-time, check out the chart below for a what a time blocked day would look like for someone with 3-4 hours a day to dedicate to their business.
Pitching and Follow-Up – 45 minutes-1 hour
Client Work – 45 minutes- 1 hour 30 minutes
Website and Blog – 45 minutes-1 hour
Personal Development – 30-45 minutes
Total Hours/Day – 3-4 hours
The beauty of time blocking is that you can schedule these blocks into any part of your day and quickly make changes when needed. You can also break the blocks down even further.
I like to think of my blocks as mini-workdays in themselves.
Being flexible is yet another essential skill freelancers must have in their wheelhouse. What works one week, may not work the next. This is also true with time blocking.
As time goes on, circumstances change as well.
If client work slows up, I schedule more time for pitching and personal development. A few times a month, I use an extra hour or so on administrative tasks such as bookkeeping and invoicing.
Early birds who feel at their peak early in the morning may choose to get client work and other writing done during the beginning of the day, leaving technical work like website design for later in the afternoon.
Me? I’m a night owl. I tend to start my day a bit later and work longer into the evening, as that’s when I feel most creative. I often do the bulk of my writing at night and edit in the morning with fresh eyes.
The Bottom Line
Some thrive on the thrill off of the ever-changing market and some dread it. One surefire way to be successful while wading through uncertainty? Have a plan.
A freelancer’s work is never done. It’s rare you’ll find your to-do list complete. However, be flexible and have a clear plan on how to allot your time and you’ll be making some serious progress in no time.
I don’t regret making any of these mistakes when I started out. They were all lessons learned that helped me eventually grow and run my business more efficiently.
If you’re just starting out, I strongly suggest implementing a time-blocking plan to make the most out of your days.