How to Make the Most of Your Writing Time
Most writers I know cram drafting between other things, like taking care of kids or another formal job. Even authors who are free as birds typically want ultra-high efficiency so they can churn out more ideas. No matter which camp you fall into, you can make the most of the writing time you’ve got.
11 ways to maximize writing time
1. 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. The search feature of some email providers isn’t always that great, so create a folder for each client. Then toss the communication in the appropriate folder as soon as you’ve finished reading it.
2. 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. But 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. It also can mean that you get delayed waiting for responses. Limit yourself to one or two topics per email if you can. Use bullet points when needed to make the email visually easier to digest, too.
3. Keep everything else organized.
A pen that works? That contract you need 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 workday.
4. 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 a tool like Otter transcription, get your thoughts recorded as you work so you have your data in one location to reference quickly later. Use the notes to guide your outlines, emails, and business calls.
5. 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.
6. Take the break already!
I know, I know. You’re not productive if you’re not working every minute of the workday, 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 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.
7. Compare your tasks with your calendar.
Some tasks you might have are fairly predictable. For example, I know that it usually takes me 1-3 hours to write an article of 500 to 800 words. 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 or chapter. 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.
8. Find the areas where you can multitask.
Normally I like to tackle one thing at once. To be really efficient with my writing time, though, I sometimes have to let more than one thing run at once. For example, I might let files upload while I also send out an email. If it’s around lunch, I might fill out an invoice as something heats on the stove.
9. Create templates and use software when possible to automate.
Probably the biggest time-eater for a freelancer is documenting everything. Try using programs that automatically 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.
10. Use alerts.
As things get more and more hectic, it’s more and more difficult to remember what needs to happen and when. 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. It also keeps you from having to readjust the schedule because you missed something.
11. Get some serious shuteye.
The more tired you are, the harder it is for your brain to work efficiently and come up with good solutions and ideas. Get at least six to seven hours of sleep each night. If you can’t do that at your current workload, you’re probably taking on too many projects at once. Match your writing time 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.