Get Stuff Done – A Busy Freelance Writing Ultramarathoner’s Productivity Rules
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Get stuff done. A busy freelance writing ultramarathoner's productivity rules. Makealivingwriting.com

Want to know what a crazy writer schedule looks like? I’ve got three little kids. I have a day job as a health and wellness writer. I’ve got a solid line-up of freelance clients in the same niche and a bunch of looming blog post deadlines. Sometimes, it’s tough to get stuff done.

It’s always busy. There are a million things demanding my attention. And that doesn’t even include TV, movies, hours on social media, video games, hanging out with the guys, or sleeping in. Do people really do that anymore?

The hot 40-something woman I’ve been married to for 18 years is in grad school (future teacher). She volunteers where our kids go to school. She works part-time at a gym. And the kids have dance, Cub Scouts, homework, and probably some other activities going on that she-who-will-not-be-named will be texting me about shortly.

Then there’s my passion (some call it a sickness) for running. And I’m not talking about a 30-minute jog around the block. I ran a 100-mile race at the end of September. When the heck is there time to train for that?

Crazy. Every. Damn. Day.

How do I get it all done, and keep my freelance writing career moving forward? I don’t use any complicated planning tools to get stuff done (maybe I should), but I do follow a few basic rules to stay productive.

Learn to say “no”

You could totally book your schedule with fun activities, family outings, hanging out with friends, housework, or even volunteering. Nothing wrong with any of those things. But if you have client deadlines, or you’re desperate to get better clients, you’ve got to say “no” to some of that stuff at times, and focus on growing your business.

That includes telling yourself “no.” For example, do you give in to the temptation to polish off a container of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream while watching the Gilmore Girls reunion after the kids have gone to bed? Or do you hop on your computer and finish an assignment, send some LOIs, or develop some ideas for a query?

High school economics taught me this is called an opportunity cost. When you say no to one thing, it typically gives you the option to say yes to something else (like growing your freelance business).

Get laser-focused for blocks of time

Look, it’s not realistic for most people to work 24/7. It’s not healthy in a lot of ways. But how the heck can you get stuff done when you always have so many things to do?

Here’s a bright idea: stop multi-tasking. It’s tough for your brain to concentrate when you’re texting, watching TV, and working on your computer, all at the same time.

Instead, carve out blocks of time where you can get laser-focused, eliminate all distractions, and get stuff done. You know, like send out those LOIs or queries you’ve been fussing around with for days, weeks, or months. Even if all you’ve got is an hour, if you really focus, you can get stuff done.

I’ve had some practice at this from my days as a newspaper editor and reporter. I used to cover a late-night City Council meeting twice a month. The meeting typically got out around 10 p.m. Any time it went later than that, it made me nervous.

Why? I had to write a story by midnight, so it could run in the paper the next day. I went to those meetings with laser-like focus and never missed a deadline.

Sacrifice a little sleep once in a while

I’m no stranger to the downside of poor sleep habits. It’s something I write about frequently at my day job and for freelance clients. If you’re not getting 7-8 hours of sleep on average, you run the risk of developing a long list of health problems.

But if you really want to get stuff done, consider sacrificing a little sleep once in a while. I’m not advocating for making all-nighters a regular thing. Your mom probably told you that would eventually catch up with you, and she was right.

However, if you’re hustling a day job, freelance work, and a bunch of other things, sometimes staying up late is the only way to get stuff done that will help you grow your business. I’ve logged plenty of late nights after the kids have gone to bed to tackle freelance projects, and I used the same approach to train for a 100-mile race.

Want to go the distance? There’s a serious time commitment. Just about every 30-plus mile training run I logged during the summer happened between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m.

You can’t do this all the time, but give up a little sleep now and then, and “I don’t have time” becomes a ridiculous excuse not to work on your freelance business. Because you do have time, and the same 24 hours a day as the most successful freelancers.

Note: it’s about 1 a.m. as I write this post. I’ve been thinking about this post for way too long, and had to get it done. Gym workout at 5:30 a.m. is still on.

Keep going

I learned this lesson from being a distance runner for 20 years. I’ve run 30-plus marathons, some 50-mile races, five 100-mile ultras, and thousands of training miles. It’s not always easy.

Some miles seem to tick by effortlessly. Kind of like sitting down to write and getting that assignment done on deadline. But other times, it turns into a battle of willpower to keep going. You develop a cramp, you’ve got a blister, there’s chafing in the nether-region, or your stomach churns warning vomit is imminent. Do you raise your white flag, give up on a dream, and drop out of the race? Not if you really want it.

Check out what Carol has to say about this:

“Pledge to be an unstoppable force until you have the clients you need to feed your family. Be willing to get creative to solve the obstacles you encounter. Don’t take “no” for an answer. If the rules aren’t working for you, bend or break them, or make up your own.”

That’s how you need to approach freelancing to get stuff done. It’s not always going to be easy. I’ve had plenty of ups and downs as I work on booking enough freelance work to quit my day job. If you really want to make a living writing, you have to keep going despite the challenges, a crazy schedule, or whatever life may throw at you. Get stuff done, OK.

What will you get done before the end of 2016? Let us know how you’ll make it happen in the comments below.

Evan Jensen writes about health and fitness for hospitals, gyms, personal trainers, wellness programs, and health professionals. When he’s not at work or chasing three kids around, he’s training for his next 100-mile ultramarathon.

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27 comments on “Get Stuff Done – A Busy Freelance Writing Ultramarathoner’s Productivity Rules

  1. Mary on

    Really a useful post for me. I usually stress with my schedule. don’t have time to relax and become angry with everything, thanks for your useful post again!

  2. Nathanael Boardman on

    “Just about every 30-plus mile training run I logged during the summer happened between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m”
    Shit man, that’s dedication. Reading that hit me pretty hard if I’m being honest. Great post I think losing occasional sleep hours is good because it requires the mental switch of “I want this more than I want sleep.”

    • Evan Jensen on

      Hi Nathanael,

      Here’s what’s interesting, there’s no great secrets to training and running a 100-mile race, and there’s more than one way to reach the finish line. Some runners train for an ultra by doing CrossFit, some run and lift weights, and others just run a ton of miles. The main ingredients: a training plan, self discipline, and consistent effort.

      Same approach works for freelancing.
      – Have a plan (for example: identify your niche, type of writing you want to do, and your preferred marketing strategies like LOIs, networking, in-person events, etc.)
      – Practice self-discipline (make time to work on your freelance business instead of making excuses)
      – Be consistent (work on your business everyday if you can, market consistently, keep going)

      Evan

      • Evan Jensen on

        And some people prioritize sleeping in as a recreational activity. I just don’t get it when there are a million things that need to get done. The main ones being running and writing. 🙂

          • Katherine Swarts on

            I agree; I feel lazy if I stay in bed past 7.

            While regular “sleeping in” can be a sign that you’re skipping more sleep (or rest breaks) than is good for you, it usually indicates that you’ve developed a negative attitude toward your work (or your life as a whole) and just don’t want to face the real world. You don’t see people staying late in bed when something they’re REALLY eager for starts at 7 a.m.
            Katherine Swarts recently posted…Caring Content, 9/27/16My Profile

  3. Evan Jensen on

    Hi Sean,

    Glad you found some of these ideas helpful. Another strategy that may help get stuff done…Just listened to an interview with Michael Hyatt, and he said he writes a to-do list of three items every night to help shape his plan of action for the next day. It’s a lot easier to tackle a three-item to-do list than a massive list of everything you could/should/need to do.

    Keep going.
    Evan

  4. Sean Carey on

    Hello Evan,

    Inspiring article. For real! I’ve really been wanting to get my freelance writing career kicked up to the next level and these tips are something I needed to hear.

    Right now I’m writing for lower pay, but I’m really just maintaining that to pay the bills while I get to doing more of the stuff I need to do to get myself better paying clients. It’s hard with so many things in the day to get done, but after hearing everything you’ve got going on, I’m inspired to put in some more extra time!

    I’m going to have to check out your blog, as well. Appreciate the motivating article!

    Sean Carey

  5. Evan Jensen on

    Hi Kev,

    I hear ya. Focus takes practice (and I need more). Especially when the online world makes it so easy to jump from one thing to the next.

    One strategy I learned from someone in the Den (can’t remember who, but I think it was on a call), that has helped me with focus is to take on that task you’re dreading and commit to working on it for just 5, 10, or 15 minutes. Usually the resistance will pass, and you’ll be able to move forward.

  6. Carol J Alexander on

    Great post, Evan. I have a particularly hard time saying no to my family because I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 29 years. It’s also hard for family members to respect that mom has to work and isn’t always available. Unfortunately, I see women having a harder time with this than men. But, as your final tip says, I will keep on going.
    Carol J Alexander recently posted…How to Give an Editor What He WantsMy Profile

    • Evan Jensen on

      Hi Carol,

      My wife and I have a similar challenge. When is there time for her to work on grad school homework, and time for freelancing? We have lively conversations about this on an almost daily basis. And who’s going to take care of the kids?

      Early bedtime (like by 8 p.m.) for the kids helps a lot. Another option outside of dayjob hours that we’ll discuss and agree on is: “I’m going to the library or Starbucks for X hours.”

      Love this quote from the cartoon movie Surf’s Up (yeah, I have little kids). “You know, kid, never give up. Find a way, ’cause that’s what winners do.”

      Keep going.

    • Evan Jensen on

      Hi Katherine,

      I agree. Everybody should take an inventory of how they’re using their time. Always insightful. Just saw a news story about a study that says the average adult spends 9 hours a day on electronic devices for entertainment purposes. In other words, you’ve got time for freelancing. 🙂

  7. Michelle Chalkey on

    This is especially helpful for me after the weekend I had. I realize how much I busy myself with tasks that I really don’t need to do because I think I should be taking a break from work things over the weekend, but when I think about how much more I could have gotten done instead of busying myself, I can’t believe I spent 8 hours baking instead! I’m stuck in my mindset that I need to give myself time away from business things, and struggle to realize that it’s okay to work, and probably necessary to work, more on the weekends! Thanks for the helpful insight, and I love that you touched on how important it is to get regular sleep, but that it’s okay every once in a while for those late nights.
    Michelle Chalkey recently posted…Want to be More Creative? Try ColoringMy Profile

    • Evan Jensen on

      Hi Michelle,

      There’s nothing wrong with taking a break. Realistically, if baking is something you really enjoy, you might unlock some creativity by doing it and get ideas for a query, prospect to reach out to, or some other action you can take to move your business forward.

      But you’re right, get totally honest about how you’re using your time, and you can probably find an hour or more a day to work on your business, even if it’s a side hustle. It’s a matter of making it a priority.

  8. Evan Jensen on

    Totally agree. I’m just not myself if I don’t fit in an early-morning run or gym workout. Grumpy, not as creative, not as motivated to tackle the to-do list and projects for the day. Keep-going mindset of running has helped me a lot with freelancing too.

  9. Matt on

    Hey thanks for the post. I know carving out blocks of time works but seem to always forget to apply it.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Evan Jensen on

      Hi Matt,

      It works for me. I’ve got certain day job and family commitments that have to happen, no matter what. So I have to be smart about how I use the time I do have for freelancing.

      I’m not perfect at it, but anytime I start to feel like I’m not getting anything done I make a course correction to get back on track. Bad mojo if a whole day goes by and you feel like you didn’t get anything done.

  10. Evan Jensen on

    Hi Perdita,

    Thanks. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I’m too busy,” to grow your freelancing business when you have a lot going on.

    But in most cases, it’s just not true. It’s a matter of making it a priority, and taking action every day.

    Evan

  11. Perdita B. Spriggs on

    Awesome post Evan! No more excuses!! Just the inspiration I needed on this rainy, cold Sunday afternoon. Maybe you can share a Den success story soon. You’re balancing life and fulfilling your dreams. That’s what we all want!!!

    Thanks so much!

    Perdita

  12. Evan Jensen on

    Hi Felix,

    That’s awesome. A video to market your business can be a great tool to generate leads and send along in LOIs. Hope you’ve gained some traction from doing this.

    Great example of learning something new and carving out some time to take action to get it done.

    Keep going.

  13. Felix Abur on

    Thanks Evan. I have been following your blog for quite a while and when I was creating my own blog I copied some stuff from you. In particular, I got the idea to use PowToon for my videos from you, and thanks for that. It’s awesome knowing you are also a fan of Carol Tice. Both you guys are just awesome. Thanks for the productivity tips.

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