Short on time? It can be easy to think you’ve got too many things on your to-do list to start writing.
Whether you’re a stay-at-home freelancer or working a day job and writing on the side, carving out time to start writing or marketing your services can be a challenge.
There’s a long list of reasons (aka excuses): Meetings, kids, email, laundry, phone calls, grocery shopping, writer website updates, etc.
You’re thinking you need an hour or more of time to start writing, finish an assignment or spend time marketing to land more client work. But that hour never seems to materialize. It happens.
Plans change. Someone pukes on the ride to school. Your toddler won’t go down for a nap. Or your designated writing time gets annihilated by some other priority.
If I waited around for a day when I got all the time I planned for writing, I would never get anything done. I had to figure out a better way. Here’s my simple strategy to hack 15-minute blocks of time to start writing:
Start writing: How to hack 15-minute chunks of time
As a writer and educator with two kids under the age of four, there is just no way I can depend on my schedule being my own.
That whole story with the puking and no naps, that is my real life, and it all happened yesterday.
In a perfect world, you could hide away for hours at time to write without distraction. Projects would be completed according to your planned deadlines. You’d maximize every minute of the day, but it doesn’t always work like that. Stuff happens.
Fortunately, I figured out a way to be more productive by making the small, often-wasted parts of my day more useful.
You can get a surprising amount of work done in small chunks of time, even in as little as 15 minutes. It takes a little bit more organizing, but investing in this time can salvage hours of usable work periods that would otherwise disappear.
Here’s how to hack 15-minute chunks of time to start writing:
Know your working style
Does research for an article take you a long time? Or maybe you’re a whiz at getting the information you need, but struggle to get those first words on the page.
Knowing how you work is vital in making use of those small periods of the day. When you know how you work, you can plan for maximizing small chunks of time. This approach can work two ways:
- Keep it simple. If you struggle with a task, like writing or researching, knowing you are going to work on it for just 10-15 minutes may make it feel less daunting. A few work periods like this and your big task could be complete.
- 15-minutes of focus. If you know a part of your writing is easy, jumping into it for 15 minutes will be a breeze, and you can easily churn out work like this with a few sessions per day.
Know your project
If you look at an assignment as one big project, it’s always going to feel like a huge task that seems impossible. (Cue rolling on the floor in agony, doubting your skills as a freelance writer.)
Break it down into baby steps
Instead, break the project down into baby steps. This can be hard if it’s your first time tackling a new project. But it’s worth the effort.
Use your experience to deconstruct your workload until you start to see all the little steps it takes to complete a project (research, outline, writing, editing, etc.).
- The trouble with poor planning. The first time I wrote an online course for one of my best clients, it took me forever to complete. I didn’t fully understand all the pieces and how they came together, and that cost me more time than necessary. Fortunately, I learned from that mistake.
- Do this: Before you start a project, list out all the types of tasks you need to complete. Research, interviews, writing, editing, etc. Then work from the list. Breaking down a project like this makes it a lot easier to start writing and get work done in short chunks of time.
Know what’s next
If you’re not organized or looking ahead, it easy to waste a lot of time figuring out what needs to be done, instead of actually writing. If everything is a priority, then nothing is. Sound familiar?
Plan for success
Creating a plan so you know what to do next helps eliminate the time suck, and maximize even 15-minute chunks of time with tasks like:
- Write an LOI and send it off
- Interview a source for an article or case study
- Complete research for an assignment
- Outline a blog post
- Give an assignment a final edit before submitting
- Write the lede and first couple of paragraphs for an assignment
Creating a list of all the small tasks you have to complete may sound like more work, but think about this time as an investment in your productivity.
Ever hear the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Little things such as researching a single source, and knowing what small tasks that come after, can help you avoid wasting time trying to figure out what to do next.
Stick to a task list, and you’ll also be less likely to sift through content-mill sites looking for work, feeling sorry for yourself, wasting time on Facebook, or watching cat videos on YouTube.
Master the 15-minute work session
Once you have a plan in place, you can turn 15-minutes chunks of time into highly-productive work sessions (you may even want to use a timer) like this:
- 1-2 minutes: Review your task list for a project. Pick up where you left off and get started.
- 10-12 minutes: Focus on one task for this short block of time. Research, write, edit, brainstorm, etc.
- 1-2 minutes: Make a note of your next steps to prepare for your next 15 minutes of productivity.
Make time for writing to move up and earn more
We all have busy lives. There are a million things that can and will interrupt your work day. If you don’t do anything about it, those interruptions can invade your writing time and hurt productivity. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By getting to know your work style, your projects and your tasks, you can reclaim your time and stay productive, even in 15-minute sessions.
Nicole Gironda is a freelance writer, mom, and educator. She specializes in writing about education, home improvement, real estate, and lifestyle.