The world is obsessed with productivity hacks and the desire to get more done in less time. I have fallen victim to this craze many times, and while I do have some helpful hints to have a more productive freelance writing schedule, I never want to promote busyness and stress.
If you have ever listened to the Lazy Genius podcast or read the book, then you know Kendra Adachi’s motto, “Be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t.” There are many elements in a freelance career that don’t need to be sucking up your precious time. So here are a few of my tricks to have a productive freelance writing schedule.
1. Use Cloud-Based Tools
You should be able to connect to your writing tools seamlessly from any device. I am very simple when it comes to writing software. I use Google Docs and have the app on my phone. When I am standing in line or waiting in the car, I can easily connect to an article I’m working on or start a new piece of writing. Everything is saved automatically to the cloud, so that freak computer crash doesn’t derail my hard work (this has happened way too many times to me).
2. Have Purposeful Email Checking Times
It turns out that your kids don’t want you on your phones all day. Who would have thought? I do need to check in frequently throughout the day though, so I allow myself 10 minutes every two hours to check and respond to client emails. Ten minutes is the perfect amount of time to quickly respond to emails. If I receive a client email that will take more time to answer, I will send a quick reply saying when I will answer their question or be able to do the task fully (usually that afternoon during the children’s quiet time). That email then gets placed in a priority to-do file.
3. Dictation and Transcribing Are Also Helpful
Sometimes it is easier just to rely on dictation tech like Dragon Naturally Speaking or a transcriber through Rev to help you get your ideas down faster. I am not a naturally good speaker, so this isn’t always as seamless as I want it to be. However, if you make a quick outline first, that should help keep you on topic.
4. Don’t Start at the Beginning of the Article
Do you ever stare at a blank screen when you have an assignment due? Maybe you procrastinate in other ways like cleaning the whole house or finally get inspired to do that workout video. There are no rules about where you have to start writing and usually, the first paragraph or two require more creativity than the main points. I usually just skip to the meat of the article and by the time I am a few paragraphs in, I am ready to tackle the intro. Other times, I must write my main heading down first to get inspired to keep going.
5. Invoice As You Go
Waiting at the end of the month to invoice is time-consuming because if you write several articles at different price points for one client, you have to track them all down. I have a template in Google Sheets named for each client. I fill it out as I go. Then at the end of the month, I download it as a PDF and send it out. Then I just duplicate that invoice and change the month title, date, invoice number and past articles titles.
6. Brainstorm While You Work of Surf
Have a dedicated idea dump always open for any time you are on the internet. If you are researching a piece for one client, you should keep your eyes out for other story ideas for current clients or potential new clients/pitching sites. Keep this productive brain mode going when you are researching and reading for your own personal stuff.
Here’s an example of what this might look like:
I’m writing an article about the top mistakes first-time homebuyers make. This might lead me to a study I want to quote done by a well-known bank. The study might have other interesting info in it – ie first-time homebuyers are more likely to be college grads. Hmm…interesting. That fact isn’t the perfect match for my current article, but it might make a good pitch: “Do You Need a College Degree to Buy a Home?” Or “Why a College Degree Makes It Easier to Buy a Home.”
7. Devote One Day a Week to Pitching
Sometimes you will land clients who assign you steady work and don’t want you to send in ideas. Other times, you need to keep pitching to stay paid. I find I am more successful and overall productive if I keep my pitching to one day a week and work on assignments the other days. I like to set pitch goals for these days, i.e. 3-5 pitches for my already established clients and 2-3 new pitches to new clients.
8. Track Your Pitches
Shameless plug starting now. In my Productivity Planner for Freelance Writers ($12.99 + free Prime shipping on Amazon), I have several pitching sheets. I quickly (and messily as you can see) jot down what I will pitch that week to different clients/outlets. I check back on my list on my next pitching day. Which ones were accepted, rejected, or need a follow-up on?
For example, two of my pieces for Rewire were rejected with an email to keep pitching from the editor. I can then brainstorm what I will do with these ideas. If I have the time, I will figure out if they will be a good fit for another site and pitch them again. If I don’t have time, I will copy and paste my pitch and the rejected outlet in a Google doc labeled “Pitches to Reshop.” This way I have a list of running ideas if I ever draw a blank.
9. I Streamline Other Tasks I Have
You can’t do it all — no one can. It is very important that you set your priorities early in the game as well as tasks you are going to be fine doing an average job with. For me, spending time with my husband and children and homeschooling the kids comes before work, so I try to set boundaries on my freelance work so that it doesn’t creep into my bigger priorities. However, some tasks I do not love and will either skip or figure out the easiest way possible to do them so that they do not take up more time than needed. Here are a few:
- Cooking is not my favorite, so I use Hello Fresh and 5 Dinners in 1 Hour to save time in the kitchen and shopping.
- I donated a lot of my stuff so I didn’t have to spend as much time cleaning.
- We are only in one activity right now instead of 2-3.
- I do all my shopping through an app for delivery.
- I use an open and go curriculum for homeschool so I can spend less time planning and more time teaching.
10. Pitch Multiple Ideas at Once
Whether I am pitching a new outlet or one I have been published at before, I try to pitch three ideas at one time. This doesn’t work for every site, but if you can send a concise email with three ideas, it will save you and the editor’s time and increase your chances of landing an assignment. If I am pitching an editor I already have worked with before, my email is a little less formal and straight to the punch:
How are you doing? I thought these three story ideas would be a good fit for TK:
- Amazing Headline One: Brief 1-2 sentences explaining main points/who I will interview if applicable
- Amazing Headline Two: Brief 1-2 sentences explaining main points/who I will interview if applicable
- Amazing Headline Three: Brief 1-2 sentences explaining main points/who I will interview if applicable
I can have any or all of these stories ready for you within a week. I look forward to talking with you soon.
Have a great week!
For the above pitch, I would put in the subject line: “3 Personal Finance Pitches” or “Amazing Title + 2 Other Pitches.”
Pitching a new outlet is a little different. Keep in mind that websites and publications get hit by PR individuals all day, every day, so you don’t want to blend in. I would pitch my strongest piece first and then give two other ideas in the email. It might look like this:
Good morning, TK,
How are you doing?
I was wondering if you are accepting freelance pitches for TK.
Briefly, I have been a finance writer for the past 10 years and have worked with companies like Discover, The Hartford, Finance of America, Credit Sesame, and more. I also write college advice for Azusa Pacific University, Northeastern University, and Aspen University’s nursing program.
Here are three pitches I would love to write for TK:
- How Veterans Can Earn College Credits for Free: This piece would point to three ways veterans can earn college credit for free: Vet scholarships, free CLEP tests, and the G.I. Bill.
- Should I Bring My Car to College? This piece would calculate the costs and weigh the pros and cons of keeping your car at college vs leaving it at home.
- What Do I Do If I’m Going to Miss a Student Loan Payment? Missing a student loan payment and going into default is bad. On the other side, life happens. What do you do if you miss a payment or know you are going to miss a payment (i.e. there’s no money in the bank).
I look forward to talking more about the story ideas. Thank you for your time!
I would love to hear your freelance writer productivity hacks if you have found something that works for you!