Write Faster With This Productivity Checklist for Freelancers

Evan Jensen | 14 Comments
The Productivity Checklist to Write Faster

Want to know how to write faster and get more work done?

You know…so you can have a life and spend time with family and friends.

Maybe take a vacation, carve out some time for hobbies, and actually enjoy the freedom and flexibility of being a freelance writer.

Sure, improving your typing speed can help you write faster.

But that’s really not what keeps you from getting work done, checking projects off your to-do list, and making more money as a freelancer.

Chances are pretty good it’s your environment…

  • A desk or computer cluttered with papers or digital files.
  • A million random projects in the works with notes and ideas scattered all over the place.
  • Your phone and computer buzzing with an endless stream of notifications and reminders.
  • A random always-working schedule mixed with other activities and obligations

When you’re always in Hair-On-Fire mode as a freelance writer, productivity suffers, you miss deadlines, you forget about marketing. Creativity suffers, and it’s hard to write faster.

Sound familiar?

Tired of feeling like an overwhelmed and stressed out freelance writer? Use this checklist to get organized, create a plan for freelance success, and write faster.

1. Stop accumulating stuff you don’t do anything with

Shiny Object Syndrome is a real thing.

If you’re reading this blog, you don’t need anything else to start freelance writing, to pitch a prospect, to write a query letter, to finish an assignment. It’s all right here.

Sure, every writer should be a lifelong learner. But if you keep buying books, courses, software, tools, and stuff you don’t use, you’re wasting TIME and MONEY.

Here’s another way to put this:

“She who buys what she does not need, steals from herself.”

If you want to write faster, start by putting a stop to filling your brain, your computer, and your office with stuff you don’t need and you’re not going to use.

Tip: If you think you actually need training to level up your skills to write faster, the Freelance Writers Den has all the resources you need. That’s it. Put a moratorium on buying anymore stuff, and focus on getting paid to write.

2. Plan your workday…and stick to it

You’ve got it all in your head. Right?

You’ll finish a freelance project for a client. Do some marketing. And respond to emails.

Then you get sucked into social media. Your girlfriend calls to chat, and then you cut out early for brunch.

And before you know it, your well-intentioned workday is gone.

FYI…you can’t write faster this way. In fact, you can’t really write anything if your workdays look like this.

Plan your workday. Write it down. And stick to it.

Here’s an example of one of my recent workdays:

  • 6 a.m. Go for an 8-mile run
  • 7 a.m. Shower, breakfast
  • 8-10 a.m. Drive + in-person meeting with prospect
  • 10-12 p.m. Follow up with prospects, client projects via email + check social media
  • 12-1 p.m. Review notes for client blog post
  • 1 p.m. Break for lunch at food carts + make plans for dinner
  • 2-5 p.m.: Write/schedule client blog post
  • 5-8 p.m. Dinner + playtime with kids
  • 8-10 p.m. Plan tomorrow’s workday, catch the news, bedtime

Pick a system that works for you to plan your workday

Tip: Plan every workday the night before, and write it down. When you try to keep it all in your head, you’re a lot more likely to forget priorities or waste time on things that won’t help you get work done. Prioritize by putting just THREE things on your to-do list.

3. Set boundaries

I work at home with three kids (ages, 7, 11, and 14). It’s been that way since March thanks to the coronavirus. And at first the interruptions were endless.

  • Can I have a snack?
  • Can I watch a show?
  • Can we go on a bike ride?
  • Will you play video games with me?
  • Can you fix this thing that I broke?
  • And the classic wail of a tortured soul…”I’m borrrrrred. There’s nothing to doooooo.”

Oh, I’ll give you something to do. LOL.

At first I was really frustrated, and basically entertained every interruption.

And you know what? My productivity sucked…BIG TIME. It was hard to get ANY work done. Or I’d scrap the whole day, then stay up crazy late.

FYI…Bad clients can derail your productivity, too, with unnecessary meetings, check-ins, emails, after-hours phone calls, rush projects, and more. Don’t let this happen, OK?

Tip: Set boundaries with your family AND your clients. Share your schedule. Let them know when you’ll get back to them. If it’s really urgent, be flexible. Otherwise stick to your plan.

4. Eliminate distractions

At one time, multi-tasking was considered a badge of honor. Flitting from one task to the next and back again like a good little worker bee harvesting pollen.

But it’s an epic waste of time.

In this Forbes article, freelance writer and Focuswise founder Curt Steinhorst explains how multi-tasking kills productivity by up to 40 percent.

Your brain can’t handle switching back and forth between tasks efficiently. So, stop doing it.

If you want to write faster and boost productivity, eliminate distractions during your workday like this:

  • Close some tabs on your browser. Seriously, you can’t process info in 20 browsers at once. Close some tabs and focus on one project. Your celebrity gossip news or flash-alert shopping deals can wait.
  • Turn off audio notifications. You know, the dings, buzzes, and sounds from your computer, phone, tablet, and other devices. Set those to silent.
  • Turn off visual notifications. Pop-up ads and push notifications can interrupt your work flow
  • Silent haptic feedback. What the heck is that? “Your phone buzzes when you press stuff,” says freelance writer and professional organizer Jennifer Hoffman. “It’s called haptic feedback. That little buzz gives your nervous system a little tiny jolt. And it just makes your nervous system more excited when it probably doesn’t need to be.”
  • Set blinders to “ignore” or move to another room if your kitchen, living room, bedroom, or whatever you call your workspace is messy. (Carol Tice does this)
  • Work in batches for one client at a time, instead of jumping back and forth. Or focus or focus on marketing, email, or social media in batches, instead of flitting around.

5. Set process goals & keep track

If you’ve set a goal to become a six-figure freelance writer, that’s great.

Just keep in mind that it’s not dollar signs that will help you achieve your goal, it’s the steps you take to get there.

Set process goals (actions you can measure and control), and keep track of your progress. For example:

  • How many pitches or LOIs will you send?
  • How many new contacts will you invite to connect with on LinkedIn?
  • How many hours will you spend working on projects for clients X, Y, Z?
  • How much time will you spend on marketing?
  • How long does it take you to complete specific types of projects?
  • What’s your average hourly rate per project?

Tip: Set a goal per day, per week, or per month. Do the work, and keep track of your progress. Pick a big goal, and break it down into simple actions steps you can complete. It’s a smart way to develop better habits, stay motivated, and measure your success.

6. Audit your clients regularly

Clients come and go. It’s just part of freelancing. But some clients are better than others.

If you’ve spent any time in the content mills, you know what it feels like to crank out copy for soul-sucking rates.

What if you keep crappy clients around?

It’s a time suck that prevents you from marketing and finding better clients. It starts to take a toll on your mental health, happiness and creativity.

Not good, right?

To prevent falling into this classic trap, wasting time, and losing money, create a plan to audit your clients regularly. Once a month, once a quarter, once a year…pick one.

Here’s what you want to know at a glance:

  • How much is this client worth per year?
  • What’s your average hourly rate for this client?
  • How many hours do you spend on projects for this client?
  • How much do you enjoy this client’s projects?
  • How does this client compare to your other clients?

Tip: This exercise makes it easy to find out which client is low on the totem pole, as in the least valuable based on time and money. If a client isn’t paying what you want, but taking up a lot of time, consider negotiating a rate increase of dropping your lowest payer after you find a better client.

7. Carve out some me-time

If you want to write faster and get more work done, work more hours. That might seem like a good idea, but it isn’t.

  • You’ll get tired.
  • You’ll burn out.
  • Your family and friends will get frustrated with you.
  • And you’ll miss out on some of the great benefits of being a freelance writer like owning your schedule and being your own boss.

If you’re serious about writing faster, boosting productivity, and feeling happy about your freelance life, make me-time a regular part of your schedule.

Get a massage. Go for a bike ride. Catch up with friends. Spend time with your family. Take a class. Whatever.

You’ll feel better. And when it’s time to sit down and write, you’ll crush it.

Plan the perfect workday for success

What’s the secret to freelance success? It really starts with developing productivity habits that help you maximize your time, move up and earn more. Now, go plan your workday for tomorrow.

How do you write faster? Share your tips in the comment section below.

Evan Jensen is the blog editor for Make a Living Writing. When he’s not on a writing deadline or catching up on emails, he’s training to run another 100-mile ultra-marathon.

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14 comments on “Write Faster With This Productivity Checklist for Freelancers

  1. Regina Zielinski on

    This reminds me of a 1970’s Bob Newhart episode “Stop it”.
    But don’t check it out until your work hours are over!
    Seriously though, you KNOW what you are doing to fritter away your work time.
    Stop It.

    Reply
  2. Kim on

    At first, I thought you were spying on me. I mean, I only have 9 tabs open this time, and I put my phone under my leg to hide it from you. My dogs only interrupted 5 times in the past 4 hours, and it is much later now than I thought. I DID make a schedule and put it somewhere. It was cute because I made it rhyme to help remember what to do when. It is in one of these folders.

    Nevertheless, you make very good points and I feel properly chastised. I DID write an article for a post (even though it is not what I set out to write.) But I get it. No, really. I get it.

    Thank you for the kick in the pants. I needed it.

    Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      LOL love it Kim! For years, I kept my to-do list on a reporter’s notebook, handwritten by my computer.

      Then, I transitioned from ‘list’ to time blocks I schedule into my Mac calendar — and it was life-changing! First off, it can’t get lost. Right? Second, there’s something about that little ‘ding-dong, do this now Carol’ notice that you get that makes you go, ‘Oh yeah — this is the priority.’

      Keep working on your system until it works for you!

      Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      Maria, the answer here depends on many factors.

      Do you have a savings account you can use to tide you over while you find new clients?
      Are you living expenses high, or low?
      Have you built a strong inbound marketing machine and get steady leads coming in?
      Have you been doing volume, proactive marketing that will likely pay off, based on your past experience with what your response rate is?
      Are you in industry niches that are thriving in the current recession?
      Do you have a large network you could ask to refer you additional business?
      How much risk tolerance do you have, for ending client relationships and trusting the universe will bring you better?

      My own M.O. was always to find the better-paying client FIRST, then to drop the loser. But hopefully those questions help you parse your own situation.

      If you’re afraid to drop them because you think there aren’t other clients out there, that would be a misimpression. My coaching students and I are signing up new clients steadily, every since March. The chaos actually creates opportunity, if you know where to look and how to capitailze on it. I’ve seen inbound leads explode for longform pieces like ebooks and books, in the past 2 months.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Maria on

        That does really help, thank you Carol! I’m reading your book “Recession-Proof Freelancer” now. It’s like a cup of tea for my writer’s soul. Thanks for the advice here and in the book!

        Reply
  3. Nahla on

    I always find that locking my phone out of my workspace helps the most. I’m an easily distracted person and having my phone around always tempts me to check it aimlessly.

    Reply
    • Evan Jensen on

      Nice. Read this article some time ago that the average person touches their phone around 2,500 times a day. Some as much as 5,000-plus. That plus all the notifications can totally interfere with getting work done.

      Reply
  4. Vivian on

    I struggled with reviewing three books all of which got rejected after reading and writing down the reviews which costed me a lot of time , I almost lost motivation of being a freelancer.But with this I think I can rise up again.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Evan Jensen on

      Generally speaking. I don’t think book reviews pay well. Sometimes not at all. But could you interview the authors and pitch a story to a relevant magazine or website? Maybe the books sparked some ideas you can develop into an article or blog post. Rise up, keep going.

      Reply
  5. Jeremy on

    It took me six weeks to write one blog post, ironically on the theme of ‘Motivation’ for exactly the reasons mentioned in the post.
    I’d add one other thing to your list, “Accept the suck.” The dream of independence, money, and perhaps even fame is directly tied to overcoming obstacles both real and imagined.
    The pitch sounds crappy, surely, you’ll be more inspired after another round of Animal Crossing. All of these things drain your attention and focus. Strangely enough, I actually feel happier AFTER I have forced myself to sit down and get some work done.
    Mr. Jensen is correct, without boundaries, my entire day drifts by in a haze of excuses.
    The struggle is real.

    Reply
    • Evan Jensen on

      Hi Jeremy. “Accept the suck.” I love it. Writing isn’t always rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes it’s hard, and you have to be OK with that. Then Keep Going. If you don’t, you get stuck, maybe even give up.

      Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      I love it, Jeremy.

      I keep talking to writers who feel bad about how ‘unproductive’ they are right now. As if everyone else is zipping along, and they’re the only one struggling with Covid stress, the political drama, and everything else right now! EVERYONE has seen their productivity take a hit.

      And I say — practice self-forgiveness. I think that we get anything done AT ALL right now is amazing.

      Reply

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