How I Found 70 Extra Hours a Month to Boost My Freelance Writing Career

Boost your freelance writing career with these productivity tips. This spring, I set a goal to double my freelance income over the next year.

I immediately ran smack into my first challenge: finding time to market to new clients while still delivering great work for my current clients.

I had to take a hard look at how I spend my time and decide what I could postpone or farm out over the next three to six months, in order to ramp up my marketing and grow my freelance writing career.

It wasn’t going to be easy — I’m a single, self-employed mom to a homeschooled teen and tween. I was doubtful I would find much time to free up. But I did — a whopping 70 hours per month.

Here’s how I got more productive:

 

Did I even have any extra time?

I’d already kept a time log, as recommended by productivity author Laura Vanderkam, and I’d made time-saving tweaks like having groceries delivered rather than burning up 4 hours a week shopping. (Did I mention the teen and the tween? They eat everything.)

And I’d identified my most productive times of day for serious writing, which helped speed up my workflow.

Those changes were big improvements. But they still didn’t give me the marketing time I needed to reach this goal. So I revisited my time log and also considered other time savers:

  • Carpool? Already done. Saves me 12 hours a month.
  • Hire an errand person? Already done for groceries. Saves me another 12 hours a month.
  • Ask a partner to do more child care? My kids are old enough that it’s not an issue.
  • Drop a hobby or class for a while? I thought about it, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger on my favorite long-term fitness and social activity.
  • Watch less TV? I’m not a big TV watcher.
  • Spend less time on social media? Here, I struck gold. I took a closer look and found, to my embarrassment, that I was piddling away more than an hour a day on Facebook – 7 hours a week. Almost a full work day. Good grief.

I also considered hiring out chores. I’m not opposed to paying someone to clean my house or mow my yard, but part of the reason I want to earn more is because kids require a surprising amount of cash as they get older. Still, it was an idea worth considering.

How I made extra time

After looking over my time log and doing a little creative thinking, here’s what I came up with:

  • Limit social media time to 15 minutes a day. Time saved: about an hour a day.
  • Hire housecleaners to do one deep cleaning each month. Time saved: 8 hours a month.
  • Have younger son do two more daily chores, so I don’t have to. Time saved: 1 hour per week.
  • Get teen to drive. I told my 16-year old that this summer, I expect him to either get his driver’s license or help cover cab fare for his rides to his college classes ($30 each way, 4 rides per week). That lit a motivational fire under him and will save me about 4 hours a week.

Will I save all of these hours every month? Probably not. Sometimes kids forget to do chores, cat memes on Facebook are hypnotic, and I don’t want my teen driving to classes that end late at night.

But if I put even half of the potential freed-up time toward my marketing initiative, it’s a huge boost in productivity — almost an extra work week per month.

Where will you find more time?

The steps I’m taking are particular to my situation. But the process can work for any writer who needs more time to work.

Keep a time log. Look for potential time savers.

And remember, changes in how you use your time don’t have to be permanent. They just have to last long enough for you to get your career where you want it to be.

What are your biggest time savers? Tell us in the comments below.

Casey Kelly-Barton writes B2C and B2B copy for companies in the eldercare, higher education, global payments, digital security, investor news, and travel industries.

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41 comments on “How I Found 70 Extra Hours a Month to Boost My Freelance Writing Career
  1. Pinar Tarhan says:

    Hi Casey,

    Congrats on carving that extra time for your career:)
    I mostly do two things to find extra time:

    1. Take advantage of traffic: I live in a huge city with an insane amount of traffic, so I get a lot done on the road.
    2. Find ideas out of my procrastination. I write a lot of blog posts on entertainment or posts with an entertainment angle, so I make sure I get paid for watching so many movies and TV series.:) Besides, I also write fiction so that time also pays off as research. 🙂
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted…This Writer Is Getting Smarter About Money: And How You Can TooMy Profile

  2. I love your decision to get your 16-year-old to drive. I’ll have to wait a few (13) years to implement that, but I’ll be sure to remember it. Oh god yes and a cleaner.
    Angela Alcorn recently posted…Online Jobs Digest From Online Careerist May 31, 2015My Profile

  3. For me, more of a problem than Facebook (not that I’m immune to wasting time there) are articles mailed directly to my inbox: feels more like someone is counting on me to read them! I solved part of that problem by creating a new e-mail folder and saving all articles for the end of each week–now I just have to crack down harder on which ones to delete altogether unread (which can actually be MORE of a problem when I’m definitely going to be doing the reading “later”).
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…12 Reminders That You MatterMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yes — embrace email bankruptcy! Or better yet, unsubscribe altogether, if you find you’re not reading those week after week. Once we *have* them, then we feel obligated to look at them, hm?

  4. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

    These are great ideas, Casey – thanks! I totally agree on the suggestion to check out RescueTime.com – it is very thorough, you can print reports, and you can even add categories of where you spend your computer time on the free version.I do not have the money to hire out cleaning and chores, but I desperately need to. Not only would it help my writing, it would help my mental health! As a side note, one other thing that helps with my productivity is leaving the house and spending a few hours at the library, where it\’s quiet and peaceful and conducive to getting work done.

  5. Rob S says:

    Facebook could be the world’s NUMBER ONE time waster. After I installed it on my phone, I found I was spending an hour and a half or more at the cafe I go to for my afternoon cappuccino. When I uninstalled it, I went back to a half hour break. I also make it a point not to look at it until I’ve finished my work.
    Rob S recently posted…Does copy editing software work?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Soooo true, Rob. What I hate is that the only way to avoid having it give me a million notices is if I uninstall Messenger, which is the only thing my grown son wants to talk to me on. ;-(

  6. Shauna says:

    I love the idea of keeping a time log. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that myself. I spend far too much time reading blogs and attending webinars that only give enough information to tease.

    That time should be spent on building my business.

    Thank you for this wake-up call, Casey!
    Shauna recently posted…Pileated Woodpecker: Observations of a New FamilyMy Profile

    • Casey says:

      Shauna, I will admit that when I first looked at Laura Vanderkam’s time log template, I thought, “but it’s so simple!” You’re far from the only one of us who needed a nudge to track time. I’m hoping that it will become automatic as I keep doing it.

  7. Vicky Cox says:

    Since I’m just starting out, I needed to save time, but didn’t have much money to pay for others to do my work. Fortunately, I have two teen daughters who like to eat AND shop. I hire them to clean the house weekly and pay them well. But, I don’t but them treats out, makeup, extra (mostly optional) school supplies for those end of the year projects, or the extra clothes they want, so I am saving money and time.

    I also try to make a simple menu weekly and keep the shopping to one store a week.

    • Casey says:

      Vicky, that’s a great approach, especially if your teens are willing to help out and you can pay them enough to keep it appealing. Creativity and cooperation can solve a lot of time-crunch problems.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on — if they need to save up and pay for some things, then they have to work and earn some money. Win-win!

  8. Janet Tilden says:

    Finding time to do more marketing is my biggest challenge. Thank you for the practical advice! My 16-yr-old son could definitely be doing more around the house.

    • Casey says:

      Thanks, Janet. With my kids, I actually sat them down and went over the numbers on how many hours I need to work, how much more income would be available for fun things like trips to the beach, and how much their labor can contribute to our family’s overall financial health. It doesn’t always stick–sometimes teens just have to sleep ’til noon, but it does make help more frequent.

  9. Rachel says:

    For anyone who is interested, you can track time spent on the computer for free (Lite version)with Rescue Time. It will tell you exactly how much time you spent on social media, writing, etc.

    The premium version will send you alerts when you’ve reached your time limit for a particular activity, or block a site altogether.
    Rachel recently posted…Comments Are Like Frequent Player PointsMy Profile

    • Casey says:

      Thanks, Rachel, for the tip. I may give that a try because my one complaint about tracking my time is that I have to make time to write things down or log them.

  10. Cathie says:

    Huge fan of time diaries for the reasons you mentioned.

    I wanted to add that time logs are also a great tool for tracking your most productive clients and figuring out which ones to accept more assignments from. Something with a high $ invoice might end up taking way more time than you had anticipated, dinging your hourly rate.

    I started my career at PR firms, where we billed in .25 increments so tracking time comes naturally to me, from the emails you send to find sources and subsequent phone interviews to the online research — rather than “just” the writing, which honestly is easy after all the above!

    They can be very illuminating.

    I can’t wait to read Laura Vanderkam’s new book out next week! I always use her mantra “It’s not a priority,” Rather than “I don’t have time.” At least that’s what I tell my family about the house ;0

    • Casey says:

      Cathie, this is a great “side effect” of tracking your time. As you mentioned, it can help you identify who your best clients really are by showing you your “hourly” rate. That, in turn, can show you which clients to keep and which to drop or phase out so you can replace them with better paying clients.

  11. Scott Worthington says:

    Good ideas here.

    I hired someone to mow my lawn last summer – best business decision I made all year. Saved me 3 hours of work and countless hours of dread.

    • Editor says:

      I find that the peace of mind that someone else is taking care of tasks you dread is almost more important than the time you save by hiring stuff out.

      I know I waste a lot of time worrying about whether something’s going to get done or how I’m going to find the time to do it. Once I know it’s off my plate, I can focus and be more productive.

    • Casey says:

      Scott, I hadn’t even figured in the dread factor! That’s how I feel about housecleaning. I start moping well before I start mopping. Having that dark cloud hanging over you can affect productivity, too, as Jennifer said. Better to source it out and move on.

  12. lindsey says:

    I’m also guilty of spending way too much time on Facebook. The days I check it in the morning only and then get to work, I get so much more done. Maybe I’ll make that every day to boost my productivity. Thanks for the tips!
    lindsey recently posted…Freelance Writing Opportunity: ScriptedMy Profile

    • Casey says:

      Hi, Lindsey, you’re on the right track by setting short check-in times. The thing about Facebook and other social media is that they literally never end. You can go down rabbit holes for minutes or hours without realizing it–or you can spend that time on the things that you really want to do.

  13. Elke Feuer says:

    Great article, Casey! Mine biggest time waster is TV. I love watching my favorite shows. I limit myself to two shows a season, but perhaps I need to limit it to one or zero. 🙁
    Elke Feuer recently posted…Spreading the PassionMy Profile

    • Casey says:

      Elke, thanks! I’d say if you really need more time, maybe cut down to one show or tell yourself that you’re going to watch them later as a reward, maybe in a few weeks when you’ve got a big goal out of the way. For me, if I tell myself I’m completely cutting out something I enjoy, my “inner toddler” will pitch a fit and then I get grumpy and less productive. 😉

      • Elke Feuer says:

        I usually reward myself with the other shows on my list when I have time to binge. I’m a bit of a movie/tv fanatic. Haha! Love what you said about your “inner toddler”. I fight with mine every night when I tell them I’m working and not turning on the tv. 🙂
        Elke Feuer recently posted…Spreading the PassionMy Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          I’d definitely look at scaling that back if you’re serious about building a freelance business, Elke. I can tell you I didn’t see a TV show for about 2.5 years at one point! But during that time I went from $50K-$100K+ a year.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Or do what I do — wait until they’re over and binge-watch when you have time, instead of getting hooked on a regular weekly TV habit. It’s more fun to be able to watch back to back episodes anyway!

  14. Heidi Thorne says:

    This post was especially motivating. I gotta hire some folks to do the mundane stuff that eats away at my time on this planet… and my career. Thanks!
    Heidi Thorne recently posted…Heidi Thorne Summer 2015 Speaking ScheduleMy Profile

    • Casey says:

      Heidi,

      Glad it sparked your motivation! And your point about our time on the planet is so true — each of us can only do so much with the time we have, so it’s important to find ways to make the things that matter to us possible. I, for one, feel like I’ve already paid my dues cleaning house as a kid and cleaning offices for my dad as a teen. I’m happy to turn that over to professionals so I can focus on my own career and family.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Heidi — I strongly recommend it. You’ll be amazed at how much productive time this will free up!

  15. Cheryl Bryan says:

    Just keeping a time log reminds us of all the ways we waste time.

    A simple timer helps keeps me from getting lost in social media or other nonproductive activities — when I’m smart enough to use it!

    Thanks for these practical tips and for the reminder that “I don’t have time” is sometimes just another excuse.
    Cheryl Bryan recently posted…You might need a brochure if…My Profile

    • Casey says:

      Cheryl, you’re right. We can say we have certain priorities and goals, but unless we use our time on them, it’s just lip service.

  16. John Soares says:

    You share excellent advice, Casey. Making an accurate time log for a few days is a great way to figure out where our time goes. I also have a kitchen timer right beside my computer so I can time all my tasks.

    Facebook is where I perhaps spend too much time. I usually limit myself to 2-3 short visits a day.
    John Soares recently posted…Do You Ask Yourself Why You Have Writer’s Block?My Profile

  17. Gina Horkey says:

    Nice! I love these creative ideas. Good for you:-)

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  1. […] some people really struggle with finding the time they need to make a living out of words. Over at Making a Living Writing, Casey Kelly-Barton shared a guest post on how she found more time, which included grocery delivery […]