When you decided to become a freelance travel writer, you probably thought you’d have more freedom than an employee in a traditional job. In many ways, that’s true.
You can wake up without an alarm clock, take time off to exercise, meet a friend for coffee, and take vacations whenever you want. As a freelancer, you have the freedom to design your day to your own specifications.
This freedom is delightful! But there's one big obstacle: WORK.
Too much freedom for many people means they never get around to doing their work.
It’s something we all suffer from to some degree, especially when we’re just starting out. But what is “it” that’s stopping us?
Some call it procrastination. Others call it overwhelm. Sometimes people are waiting for inspiration. There are all sorts of creative excuses.
Steven Pressfield, in his book, The War of Art, says, “There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”
People ask me all the time, “how do you get so much done?” I’ve pitched a lot of stories, and my work has been published more than 1000 times in ten years. And, I can tell you, there’s no magic involved.
To be successful, I have some regular habits to get my job done – things that work well for me and help me increase my productivity. They can work for you, too.
Here are seven habits that will increase your freelance writing productivity and help you get control of your time. The result? You’ll pitch more stories, get published more often, and ultimately earn more money.
Maybe some of these are already part of your daily routine. But if they’re not, you should consider integrating them:
Your work won’t get done unless you build structure into your day. Structure was what made things happen when you worked as an employee. You had to show up at a certain time. You were expected to work for a specific number of hours and accomplish certain tasks. This is structure.
With freelance writing you have a business - and you are both boss and employee. Be a good boss and set expectations. Be a good employee and show up for work every day. Remind yourself that if you had a job, you’d be fired if you didn’t show up.
As a full-time freelancer, that means scheduling at least eight hours a day, five days a week. My first few years, I was so committed that I worked 8-10 hours/day, seven days/week.
The good news is that as a freelancer you can choose the days you work and the hours. But to get your work done and increase your productivity, you must block out the time on your calendar, sit down, and work.
Let your family know your working hours so you won’t be interrupted. Friends also need to know when you're at work. Being "on the job" during specific hours each day will quickly increase your productivity.
What if you only want to write part-time? That’s fine too. Decide what that means - does it mean 20 hours/week? The same thing applies. Block out the number of hours each day when you will sit down and work. Then stick to it.
You will initially feel like you’ve lost your newfound freedom when you have a schedule. But as you begin to get things done and see accomplishments, you'll realize how good it feels to have structure.
And the best part is, you also get to define when you’re finished. Overtime is not required.
What time of the day do you do your best writing?
I tend to write my best early in the morning (5-7:30am) and again in the evening hours (4-7:30pm). That’s when I schedule most of my creative writing time for articles and query letters.
Think about when you're at your best for writing and schedule those writing tasks on your calendar. Save the administrative tasks for times when you’re not in the writing flow.
What do I do in the late morning and early afternoon—my non-creative times? Article research, reading, replying to emails, and phone calls.
Many beginning writers make the mistake of thinking they’re done after sending out one query. That doesn’t work. Assignments come in consistently only if you send out queries every day.
It's important to keep the pot boiling by doing some pitching every day.
Every thriving business has work in progress, work going out the door, and proposals in circulation. Using this business model, you’ll avoid the “feast or famine” of a disorganized business—and you’ll have regular paychecks coming in.
After you decide when you’ll work, you need to decide what to do. And you need to break it into achievable pieces. Without goals you tend to drift and be unproductive. After all, there's no clear path forward without goals to lead you.
For example, did you ever go on vacation without a destination in mind? Probably not. It would be a big waste of time. How would you know if you arrived? You wouldn't.
But if you set a goal of “plan a winter vacation in Hawaii” you have something to work with. Goals don’t have to be difficult – but you need to have them.
Goals help you get focused and they can increase productivity because you have a path to follow for guidance.
Every Sunday night, take a few minutes to list the things you want to accomplish during the coming week. Then prioritize your list—and read the next section.
Now that you have your goals prioritized, it's time to pull out your calendar.
For your top three goals for the week, list the tasks you need to do to accomplish those goals. Schedule those tasks.
Take a few moments to decide when you will accomplish each task throughout the week. Make your best guess about how much you can do each day.
Every day before you stop working, or in the evening after dinner, review your tasks for the next day. What is finished? What needs to spill over into the next day? What got in your way?
Each morning get to work. Stay focused on the things on your list. Check off each task when it’s complete. If you complete your three highest priorities before the week ends, move on down to the next goal on your list and schedule in those tasks. Or take some time off if you're pleased with your progress.
At the end of the week, review what you’ve accomplished by looking at all those "checked" items. Feel good that you worked through your tasks. Pat yourself on the back.
Then repeat these steps for the next week. Your productivity will improve.
A lot of people say they want to be a writer, but then they never get around to doing it. They say they’re too busy. Where did the time go, they wonder.
If this is you, it's time to take back your time. But you won't know what's eating it unless you take a closer look.
Here's your task: for the next week keep track of everything you do. List every activity that you do each day: pitching, writing, selling, cooking, building distribution lists, doing emails, paying bills, watching TV, reading, grocery shopping, researching, running errands, volunteering, hanging out on social media, mowing the lawn, and so on.
As you start every activity each day, make a note of your start time. When you finish it, note the time you stopped. At the end of the week, add up your hours in each category.
Your answers will be enlightening!
Identify the biggest time wasters and cut them out completely. You will increase productivity immediately by eliminating the time-wasters and gaining back your time.
For example, the average person spends three hours a day watching TV. If this is one of your time-wasters, take back that twenty-one hours of wasted time each week!
I have a travel-writing friend who wrote an entire book while her family was watching TV. She created 1,095 extra hours by eliminating TV.
The same goes for social media, Facebook, YouTube, and surfing the Internet, or whatever else is killing your time.
If you can’t completely eliminate your time wasters, find a way to minimize them. For example, watch only your favorite TV show and then turn off the TV instead of channel surfing. Put a time limit on your time wasters – and then stick to it. Use a kitchen timer or the timer on your cell phone to help you keep time wasters in control.
If you want to be a freelance writer, your time is your collateral. Time really is money!
My least favorite writing task is creating new magazine distribution lists. It's time-consuming, requires a great deal of concentration and many details.
When it's time to create another distribution list I do it first thing in the morning. I'm well rested and can easily focus on it until it’s done.
Do the hardest task first thing in the morning. Then you don’t have to stress about it all day. The rest of the day will feel easier.
If you can’t handle your most onerous task, do the opposite. Pick something easy. Big projects come with lots of tasks and often feel daunting. If this describes your day, pick one easy task and do it first.
After you finish the first easy task you'll feel better and you’re likely to be ready to take on the next task. Pick another easy task. Repeat as needed.
Before long you’ll be into the harder stuff without even realizing it. And you will have accomplished a lot.
These seven effective habits will help you to gain back your time and increase your productivity.
I won’t pretend it’s easy being this disciplined, but you'll be thrilled with your progress! Incorporate these habits into your work every day. When you have control of your time, you’ll get published more often and ultimately make more money.
Roy Stevenson is a professional travel writer and the author of www.PitchTravelWrite.com. Over the past ten years, he’s had more than 1000 articles published in 200 magazines, trade and specialty journals, in-flights, on-boards, blogs and websites and has traveled on assignment around the U.S. and to dozens of international destinations.