Schedules? Really? But you became a freelance writer to be free of schedules, right? Free of structure, 8-to-5 clock-punching, commutes, cubicles, and someone else calling the shots. So why am I bringing up the subject of schedules?
Because if you want to be as productive and successful as possible, you need to use your time wisely. You only have so much of it … and you can’t get it back if you waste it.
The idea of working for yourself from home is extremely appealing and has many advantages. But one of the big disadvantages is the number of distractions that often occur regularly.
Becoming an independent writer and being self-employed requires lots of discipline, willpower, and hard work. You have many responsibilities and no one else to assign them to. Now are you starting to see why it is important to have a schedule? How else will you get everything done?
American author, Annie Dillard, put it this way: “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”
What items need to be scheduled?
Because each individual is unique, one schedule won’t fit all. But what we do have in common are the requirements necessary to be successful.
Following are seven key activities you need to do consistently to ensure a prosperous writing career:
Writing: It’s important to write every day to improve your skill. Not sure what to write? Write a blog post for your own website. Write an email message for a prospective client. Or spend 10 minutes writing sales copy for a product you know and use.
Marketing: Promoting yourself is critical to maintain clients in the pipeline for continued revenue. If you don’t stick to a marketing schedule, you’ll find yourself struggling with the feast-or-famine work cycle.
Research: When you have active projects, you need to make time for research. It’s necessary for many of the projects you’ll be working on.
Reading: Making a regular habit of reading will help you be a better writer. But it will do more than that. Reading all types of books, magazines, articles, blogs, newsletters, etc., is essential to allow yourself to expand your horizons and continually discover new ideas.
Education: Continued education is imperative to grow your skill set and your business.
Networking: Interacting with clients and good follow-up habits are the basis for consistent work. Networking with prospects, other writers, and influencers in your industry can help you grow your business in unexpected ways.
Brainstorming: Make time to think about new ideas for your business … about project ideas for clients … about anything and everything that can help you grow your business.
… and these are only the requirements for the business side of your life.
There are still the personal responsibilities: raising children, caring for aging parents, spending time with friends, taking care of pets, performing household chores, taking care of your health, enjoying hobbies, relaxation, and recreation, and the list goes on.
How to take advantage of your human cycles
So what should a schedule look like? It depends, of course, on the individual, but there are some psychological studies that suggest how to take advantage of your most productive time.
In 1993, Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor at Florida State University, and his colleagues developed what they called the 90-minute rule. They studied musicians and determined that the peak amount of practice time in one sitting was 90 minutes followed by 20 to 30 minutes of rest.
It’s not a coincidence that our sleep cycle is also 90 minutes to go from light sleep to deep sleep to dream and then back to light sleep.
Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and author of the book, Be Excellent at Anything, is considered to be the first to apply the 90-minute rule to businesses. He found similar results as far as best practices for higher productivity.
So create your schedule accordingly and set a timer for 90 minutes. When the timer goes off, take a 30-minute break. Take a power nap, do a midday workout, meditate, play with the dog … anything that allows you to relax. Then reset the timer for another 90 minutes and go back to work. See how productivity improves.
How to get organized before developing a schedule
Now that you know how to time your work, let’s take a look at how you can get organized so you can do your best work in those 90-minute blocks of time.
Here are some ideas to help establish the best schedule that works for you.
Plan ahead with an Editorial Calendar so you know when deadlines are. Write in each step required to meet those due dates.
Keep other obligations on the same calendar so you can see everything that is going to require your time. School activities, appointments, hobby time, fun things, social obligations, family responsibilities, client meetings, and anything else that needs attention.
- Determine the best time of the day for certain activities:
- Are you a morning or afternoon person?
- When are you the most creative?
- When do you have the most energy?
- What time of day do you comprehend and remember things best?
When is the best downtime for you?
Don’t check email or answer your phone continually. Set aside a certain time of day to respond and leave it alone the rest of the day until the work is done. Helpful hint: turn off the email indicator or ringer so you won’t be tempted to answer when an email or call comes in.
Same with Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media notifications. Log in at the same time each day and don’t let them interrupt other critical things. These activities can easily kidnap time.
Get enough sleep at night and don’t work into the wee small hours on a regular basis. Sure, you may have to once in a while to meet commitments, but don’t make a habit of it. Schedule enough time to sleep.
Let family members know when you’re going to be working and cannot be disturbed. Stick to it, otherwise distractions will cause the loss of precious time.
Be realistic regarding how much time projects will take. Err on the long side to build in some wiggle room in case of unforeseen complications such as the loss of your Internet connection or a child getting sick. Make sure to have some flexibility.
Don’t overpromise clients and get backed into a corner. Learn to just say no.
If you have more work than you can finish yourself, consider subcontracting some of it to fellow writers rather than working yourself to death.
Schedule personal deadlines for everything. There is only one you and you can only accomplish so much in a day. Even though you’d like to think you’re super-human, there is a limit.
You don’t have the same attention span or energy level throughout the day. Cater your work schedule to the productive times. Allow for breaks and regeneration time.
Another quote that comes to mind is from American businessman, Stephen Covey, who said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
Know what’s important and when it has to be done. Then create your schedule around your personal cycle of energy and creativity.