Most people will tell you things like goals, self-confidence, a good attitude, and perseverance are the most important parts of a web-writing career.
But I think all those things are secondary. First and most important is time. It’s like oxygen for the successful web writer; without it, nothing else matters.
The time I have to work and write is a quarter of what it used to be, even though my projects and client requests are bigger than ever. To find balance, I’ve come up with six unusual ways to handle it all and still meet my deadlines.
Counterintuitive Secret #1: Get Busier
There’s a quote I love: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”
Back when I was a newlywed who’d quit her full-time job and only had two dogs to care for, I had all the time in the world. Yet I hardly got anything done.
Now, with three small kids, three dogs, multiple volunteer obligations, and a home that’s about to double in size thanks to a major renovation project, I’m often radically productive.
If there’s anything I wish I’d done differently in those early days, it would be that I limited my time more by volunteering regularly or committing to something big, like training for a marathon.
So, if you can’t make sense of why you never get anything done with the time you have, consider that maybe you have too much time to work with. There’s nothing like lighting a fire under your bum via scarcity to get motivated!
Counterintuitive Secret #2: Turn Expert Advice on Its Head
For years, I followed the expert advice to not check email till the afternoon. It’s true that it can help you stay focused and find more time to write in the morning, which is usually when you’re fresher.
But once your writing business grows and you have multiple clients and contracts and projects going, it can make you insane to wait that long. It can make them insane, too. Especially if you’re in a different time zone. Most of my clients are on the east coast; I’m on Mountain Time. Checking email late in the day often finds them about to power down their computers.
My approach is to get a solid hour of writing in first, no matter what. Sometimes I’ve accomplished that by 7:00 a.m.; sometimes it’s closer to 10:30 a.m. Once it’s done, I scan my email for any time-sensitive messages from key clients. That’s all I answer; everything else sits till later.
This requires tuning out all the other non-urgent messages so they don’t distract you as you press forward in your day. But for me, knowing about the non-urgent messages is much less of a distraction than continually wondering if there’s an urgent email that needs a quick response.
Counterintuitive Secret #3: Tackle Key Distractions First, Even If It’s Not Writing
If you’re still learning to sit down and really focus on your writing, this rule may not be for you.
But, if you’re like me and writing projects take precedence over everything outside of key obligations (like caring for kids), then it’s helpful to sometimes pause your writing drive. Otherwise, you face the flip side of time constraints — you’re getting your writing in, but everything else falls through the cracks, from walking the dog to going to doctor’s appointments to feeding your family something besides oatmeal for dinner.
In that case, your first task of the day should quiet your most distracting thought, even if it’s not related to your web-writing career. My approach when I first sit down is to think about what kept me up the night before. Is it the bill I haven’t paid yet? The birthday present I haven’t ordered? The phone call I still need to return?
If it’s something I can do in 15 minutes or less, I’ll often do that before I do any writing at all. That way, I quell those distracting thoughts.
Counterintuitive Secret #4: Try “Chunk Writing”
A challenge I’ve faced recently has been brain burn-out. Three days a week, I have six hours straight that are kid-free and uninterrupted.
Great in theory, but I can’t write for six hours straight. It’s a good day if I can make use of even three of those hours.
So a better approach, I’ve found, is to chunk it out. This required changing around my family’s schedule, but the payoff is significant. Instead of a six-hour block, I work in two-hour chunks wherever I can find them. Sometimes this is early in the morning; sometimes it’s late at night.
Being able to get in six hours of productive work in each day, even if those hours are spread out, is worlds better than losing six hours of my day with only three hours of work to show for it.
Counterintuitive Secret #5: Catnap
You’ve probably heard about the scientific studies that show naps of 20 to 30 minutes benefit us in surprising ways. That includes improving alertness and brain performance without interrupting your nighttime sleep. And in a creative profession like ours, maximizing brain power is essential.
Now, if you work from home and that home is filled with noise — like playing children or contractors banging on stuff — then stealing away to your bedroom isn’t really an option.
I used to have a high-backed desk chair I could doze off in. But a sit-down nap isn’t nearly as refreshing as the horizontal variety. Paul Hollingshead once told me he naps on a couch in his office. Me? I crank up my floor heater and curl up in the extra-large dog bed under my desk. Twenty minutes later, I’m good to go.
Counterintuitive Secret #6: Weave in Some Gratitude
If you’re hell-bent on getting your writing career up and cranking, but you don’t have a lot of time to do it, it’s easy to resent whatever it is that limits your time. But resentment is a huge path-blocker. In contrast, gratitude is a path-paver.
So if it’s a full-time job that demands most of your time, be grateful for that job. It’s probably a key means of financial support, right?
If you’re in a caretaker position like I am, be grateful for the time you have with the person or people you’re caring for. Am I grateful for my growing family and growing house? You bet! Wouldn’t change a thing (except maybe to add a live-in chef, masseuse, and a laundry-doer).
Just remember, there’s a reason gratitude is a huge buzzword these days — it’s because it works.
Don’t Be Afraid to Tailor Your Approach to Time Mastery
I’ve spent years tweaking my schedule and altering habits. Because of that, I’ve learned no single approach to time management is ever best. What works depends entirely on where you are in life and what you’re facing.
Make it your goal to find a system that works for you now, and don’t be afraid to change it up when it feels like it’s just not working anymore. Even if that means doing things that don’t follow top recommendations for time management. If it works for you, that’s all the recommendation you need.