How do you build success as a freelance writer and make the most of your time?
When you’ve got writing deadlines closing in, freelance marketing work to do, and a long list of emails to read through, and they all seem important, it’s hard to get stuff done.
Have you ever sat in front of your computer for a day, buzzed from one thing to the next, and felt like you didn’t get anything done?
That’s not exactly how you build success as a freelance writer. You have to figure out how to fit all the pieces together, brick by brick, to make it all work.
But freelancing doesn’t exactly come with a perfectly-scripted instruction manual like a Lego set does. Every writer builds success a little bit differently.
So how do you figure out how to meet your writing deadlines, find great clients, get more work done, enjoy the freedom of being of being a freelancer, and ultimately make more money?
Ed Gandia’s solution is the Lego productivity method for writers. He’s a veteran copywriter, author, and founder of High-Income Business Writing. Check out the step-by-step instructions to build success in this Q&A:
Build success as a freelancer brick by brick
In a recent Freelance Writers Den podcast, Ed Gandia shared his Lego-building strategies for finding the state of creative flow that leads to your best work, which includes three pillars for productivity:
- Do more of the work you were meant to do
- Manage yourself better throughout the day
- Give your brain a break
Q: What stops us from being more productive?
A: Our biggest challenge is not a lack of time. You can’t manage time. You can’t bottle it. The only thing you can manage is yourself—how you appropriate your resources, energy, focus, and talents.
Our biggest challenge is developing and maintaining periods of focus. You can’t put out great work if you cannot develop steady periods of flow. That’s the state where you’re so immersed in your work that you lose sense of time.
As freelancers, we have to develop more of those periods. There have never been so many distractions. I believe that’s at the core of our productivity problems.
Q: How do you accomplish the first pillar of productivity—do more of the work you were meant to do?
A: Each of us has unique gifts and talents we’re not fully leveraging. Until we do more of that work, we can’t develop those periods of flow.
You have to do many different things to get a project completed. You’re only good at a handful of those things. How can you spend more time on those and less on others?
It might mean getting help in those other areas. Or taking on projects that don’t have as much of X in them because that’s what you’re bad at, but have a lot of Y, which is your real talent.
Q: How do you decide what to let go of?
A: Start with easy stuff, the one thing you hate. I immediately outsourced my taxes, and later bookkeeping and transcriptions.
This is not usually an overnight shift. But it will set the foundation for developing more periods of flow.
Q: How do you accomplish the second pillar, managing yourself better throughout the day?
A: Schedule your day. Ironically, you can’t develop flow if you’re going with the flow.
Set your schedule the night before, when you’re objective. Add a buffer in case unexpected things come up.
Sometimes I have to carry things over. But that’s a heck of a lot better than my previous approach, which was winging it.
Use capacity planning. If I have five tasks that add up to eleven hours and I can only be in my office nine hours, I’m not matching my work with my time.
I created a spreadsheet to manage this. I break projects down into blocks of time. It’s about allocating your priorities, making sure you’re not exceeding your limits.
Q: How do you decide how much time to devote to specific tasks?
A: I tracked how long each type of project takes. For instance, a white paper takes me 20 to 40 hours. Once I have a specific project, I’ll know where it falls in that range.
Then I reverse engineer it. I say, “If it’s due on this date, how can I spend two to three hours per day on this?”
I take it apart as if it were composed of Lego pieces, and I start allocating Lego pieces throughout my calendar.
Q: How do you make sure ongoing tasks like marketing don’t fall through the cracks?
A: I make a commitment and schedule them. Treat it as a project. Treat the deadline seriously.
Q: How do you implement the third pillar, giving your brain some space?
A: The metaphor I use is a beautiful symphony in a noisy room. You can’t hear the music, so you need to create quiet space to allow your subconscious mind to send its magic over the fence into your conscious mind.
I developed a morning routine that includes keeping a gratitude journal and doing creative work like drawing or poetry. And listen, I’m not great at those things. I’m doing it for fun, like a kid. I’m also experimenting with meditation. I want to get into yoga.
Develop rituals, not just habits. Studies show that when you ritualize your work you’re telling your brain to switch gears and provide you with the right fuel mix to get work done at an optimal performance.
Q: How do you give your brain a break when you’re working on a long project?
A: Turn everything off…social media, e-mail, phone. Close your door. Start a timer for 50 minutes and get to work. It’s going to be painful. You just don’t want to think. But after 10 to 20 minutes you’ll get into the flow. The next thing you know the timer’s going off.
Find a stopping place. Set the timer for 20 minutes and take a break. I’m serious. Get away from your desk. Don’t do e-mail. Walk your dog, get fresh air, stretch, or read.
When the timer goes off, do another 50 minutes on that same project. Set the timer. Again, no distractions.
Do two of those 50-20-50 sessions a day, and that will increase your productivity at least 20 or 30 percent.
Find your flow as a freelance writer
Finding your flow isn’t about nailing yourself into your chair for hours on end. It’s about planning, moving blocks of time around like Lego pieces until you get the best fit — and taking breaks to play along the way.
What strategies do you use to do your best work? Let’s discuss on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Maria Veres is a freelance writer and yogi wannabe based in Oklahoma. She is a regular contributor to Make A Living Writing.