Freelancers like me sometimes see projects trickle in like a bad toilet leak. Other times, we get caught in a flurry of projects, and the word “outsource” starts to run laps through our heads. Outsourcing work certainly can reduce stress, and it can give other writers great support, but sometimes being able to handle all the work and reap the financial benefits yourself is just a matter of making things more efficient.
To make the most of your writing work day, try these quick tips:
- Keep your email organized. Some clients communicate everything they do with a writer via email, especially if you’re working internationally and have time zone issues to consider. If you have a handful of projects going at the same time, you want all the directions and tools they send you to be in one place. Since the search feature of some email providers isn’t always that great, create a folder for each client and then toss the communication in the appropriate folder as soon as you’ve finished reading it.
- Send more than one email. In a perfect world, we could write treatises to clients the length of Moby Dick and they’d catch every last word. The reality is that clients, like you, are busy. They scan a lot. The more you put in a single email, the more likely it is they’ll miss a point or forget to answer one of your questions. That means you end up taking more time to clarify things later, and that you sometimes can be delayed waiting for responses. Limit yourself to one or two topics per email if you can, and use bullet points when needed to make the email visually easier to digest.
- Keep everything else organized. A pen that works? That contract you needed to sign? Your portfolio clips? All of it takes time to find. Pick methods and locations for storing the items you use or need most in your work, and put things away when you are done. Clear your desk of miscellaneous items at the end of every work day.
- Take notes. Never assume you’ll remember all the brilliant ideas or questions you have that relate to your current writing projects. (Nobody is that awesome.) Whether you use a regular pad and paper or your computer’s word processing program, jot down your thoughts as you work so you have your data in one location to reference quickly later. Use the notes as part of your outlines and as guides when you are writing your emails and making business calls.
- Keep a snack around. I am a firm believer that you should take frequent breaks while you work and that lunch needs to happen away from your desk. BUT you can’t always predict when you’ll get serious hunger pangs that can distract you from what you’re writing. Keep some healthy, energy- and nutrient-rich snacks such as nuts or a protein bar near your desk to tide you over until your real break starts.
- Take the break already! I know, I know. You’re not productive if you’re not working every minute of the work day, right? Wrong. Your brain needs a quick stop every now and then to process information, and your body needs to shift and refuel to prevent fatigue and injury. Plus, a change in scenery literally can give you new perspectives on project problems or concepts. Even if all you do is get up and take a lap around your house, do it.
- Compare your tasks with your calendar. Some tasks you might have as a writer are fairly predictable in terms of the time they take to write. For example, I know that it usually takes me an hour to write an article of 500 to 800 words, and I know that one project I’m doing at the moment requires at least 15 minutes per day. Look at your calendar and try to arrange your project tasks so you don’t have to interrupt your train of thought. For example, if you only have 20 minutes, send an email instead of starting on a new article. Looking at your calendar also shows you the total amount of time you have available per day, which lets you identify whether taking on more work is realistic and how to pace yourself.
- Find the areas where you can multitask. Normally I like to tackle one thing at a time, but to be really efficient, I sometimes have to let more than one thing run at once. For example, I might let a portfolio CD burn while I also send out an email. If it’s around lunch, I might fill out an invoice as something heats on the stove.
- Create templates and use software when possible to automate. Probably the biggest time eater for a freelancer is just documenting everything. Try using programs that automatically can import data to other programs you use to reduce data entry time. Whenever you have a task that repeats or an invoice that’s super similar, create a template on which to fall back. Bonus? You’ll reduce instances of human error in the entries because you only have to do them once.
- Use alerts. As things get more and more hectic, it’s more and more difficult to remember everything that needs to happen and when things need to happen. Use programs like Outlook or even your smartphone’s calendar or task list app to set reminders and alarms for important tasks. It does take some time to add the items to the program, but that pales in comparison to the fancy footwork you’ll have to do to keep a positive review with a client if you forget a deadline, and it keeps you from having to readjust the schedule because you missed something.
- Get some serious shuteye. The more tired you are, the harder it is for your brain to work efficiently and come up with really good solutions and ideas. Get at least six to seven hours of sleep each night. If you can’t at your current work load, you’re probably taking on too many projects at once. Match your work schedule to your body’s natural rhythm if you can–don’t try to force yourself to write at 6:00 a.m. if you’re a zombie who can’t even process breakfast until 10:00 a.m.