Freelance Writers: Change Your Habits, Change Your Career

We all have goals for our freelance writing careers. And many of us are probably gearing up to make changes in the New Year. But what happens when you feel stuck -- like there's no time left in the day to actually work on growing our businesses? No matter how busy or even overwhelmed you might feel there's always one option open. Change your current work habits.

If you're already using all of the time and resources you have available and you're not completely happy with where your career is going, just use those resources in different ways. Here are a few examples of habits you might consider changing in order to free yourself up to improve your writing career.

1. Try a different work schedule.

If you work in the evenings now, try getting up to work early instead -- or vice versa. You might be surprised at what times you work most productively.

2. Cut back on social media.

It's easy to get addicted to quick social media check-ins. They can become serious time-wasters that ultimately hold you back. Try cutting back overall. Focus on the tools and tactics that are best for your business instead of trying to do too much. And keep personal social networking for after hours. Don't mix it with your business networking, taking time away from other important things during the work day.

3. Track your schedule.

You might have time-wasting habits you don't even realize. Track your work days for a week to find out how you're really spending your time. See where you can cut back or re-prioritize things. Find out if you have a typical slow period and look for ways to get your energy up during those times. For example, a 20 minute walk to rev you back up might waste much less time than your typical 45 minute break to hang out on Facebook and Twitter.

4. Lump similar tasks together.

So what if you currently like to finish one project before moving on to the next? If it's not working for you, change the habit. Try something new. For example, if you have to write three articles you could work on research for all three around the same time, then draft them all together, then tackle editing for each later. This way your brain isn't bouncing from one type of work to another constantly, and you won't need time to re-adjust. Even small breaks in between can add up to a lot of time lost.

5. Try something new.

You might have your favorite marketing tasks, but if your career isn't where you want it to be then something isn't working. You need to maximize the return on every minute you spend promoting your freelance writing services. If you're not attracting enough clients, or not the right kind of clients, lose the old habits and give something new a try. But take the time to research it first of course. You shouldn't take on anything without having a reasonable expectation of results first. Going in blind often wastes more time.

You don't have to settle for low paying gigs because you don't think you have the time to market to a better group of prospects. You don't have to settle for your current income level being "okay" if what you really want is something much more. You don't have to settle for a career without benefits, retirement savings, or any other perks you want. You don't have settle. Period.

No matter where you are right now, you can grow your freelance writing business into exactly the kind of career you want. But sticking to the same old habits won't likely make it happen. Don't be afraid to try something new. It takes a bit of courage to make changes, but then again nothing good comes out of being complacent in business. Find areas where you can improve your freelance writing career, and see how you can optimize how you spend your time and other resources.

What habits would you like to change as a freelance writer? Are there little changes in the works, like scheduling each day or creating to-do lists when you used to work without them? Or are you considering more drastic changes? If you have other ideas for habits writers can change to improve their careers, leave a comment below to tell us about them.

Note: This post was originally published on December 7, 2010.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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17 thoughts on “Freelance Writers: Change Your Habits, Change Your Career”

  1. I changed my homepage. It used to be Yahoo! but there’s so much to look at there. I realized I’d spend ten minutes or so each time I went to Yahoo! to look something up. I moved over to the bare-bones Google. Saved myself oodles of time.

    But now there’s that Facebook habit….

    • Staying away from that awful site is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made (and not just on the time-wasting front). So that’s one I fortunately don’t have to deal with. As for Yahoo!, I can definitely see how portal sites could be a distraction if they’re the first thing you see each time you open your browser. So good call! 🙂 I set mine to open several work-related sites together (like the back-end of this blog), so I’m immediately thrust into work mode when I start up. Exception being Twitter — but I don’t login until I’ve at least finished the book work for the morning. I know I can get hung up there if I visit too early.

  2. Forcing myself to get up earlier helps me to be more productive – I use to be a morning person and I am currently trying to get back into that routine.

    I also am trying to cut back on Facebook time, and on Email. I check email only three times a day now instead of 30. That saves a lot!

    • Same way here. For the longest time I was one of those people who swore they were a night owl. It was my “creative time.” I used the excuse of it being dark and quiet without distractions then. But it was BS. You get the same thing early in the morning. Thing is, no matter how good you think you are in the evenings, there’s something to be said for being fully alert and focused. And you simply don’t focus the same way after a long day as you do when your mind’s fresh first thing. The idea of getting up early turns so many people off — me included early on. But once you give it a serious try, I’d be surprised if most didn’t stick with it. It’s like found time. Instead of a few hours here and there to live your life you get work over with nice and early and you have the rest of the day to enjoy or run errands or do whatever you need to do. It’s liberating really. And hey… can’t beat being free while there’s still daylight, especially in the winter. None of that “dark when you wake up, dark when you finish work” thing here. 🙂

      • I tried to switch my routine, but no way. If I go to sleep at night, I will wake up every hour and I won’t get no sleep at all…. So I am just keeping my routine “go to sleep at 6 am or later” as much as I hate it. Still better then be awake half of night, mostly woken by horrible nightmares:)

        • Wow, and I thought I had an unusual sleep schedule! 🙂 If you have sleep issues during certain times of the day, I can certainly understand why you wouldn’t want to try something else. It sounds like there might be something deeper at play in your case. I hope you’re able to resolve it in time so you can get on a sleep schedule that you don’t hate so much.

  3. I have some serious limitations on my time as I’ve mentioned before. I can’t wake up until the last minute because when I get up, little boys get up. So I sleep until the last minute of the morning so that they sleep, too. Then, of course, I teach and that time is totally dedicated. Then I parent and I’ve learned that overlapping with writing work isn’t a good use of my time and energy.

    SO! I realized this week I’ve gotten into a bad habit of getting boys to bed and then grabbing a quick shower before getting to work. Only the shower wasn’t quick anymore. It was a soak fest with gels and lotions and all the good things in life. My treat was pushing my work an hour further into the evening. So now I get boys to bed, get to work and save the big treat for right before bed. I’m a bit sharper and have something to work towards again.

  4. That’s why we freelance — so we don’t have to settle.

    The challenge then becomes keeping up with continuing to reach, instead of burrowing into a comfort zone. We have to keep reaching, keep challenging ourselves. It’s fine to take a break and coast for a few weeks here and there, but you don’t want to get into the same patterns you had as a 9-5’er, otherwise — why bother?

  5. I resonate with much of what’s said here… As most know from my books, I’m a night-owl, but I’m discovering that when I get up earlier, even if I don’t feel super-creative in the sunrise hours, I can still do some admin, post to a few blogs, even surf the news, and still get busy with “work-work’ at a reasonable hour, instead of doing all that stuff later and starting work even later and then justifying knocking off when most of the rest of the world does so…;)

    Never got on the social-media-time-suck train. I have a presence on several, but the infrequent times I do check, say, FB, I’m always so struck by the largely vacuous dreck filling those airwaves. It’s a habit like any other habit, and one I never got into (ditto with TV, coffee, and a few others; I know, I’m NO fun…). And it’s said that it takes 21 days to build a new habit, which really isn’t all that much time in the big scheme of things…

    Of course (and I’m smiling as I type this), a change in habits could include in change in the kind of work you’re hunting for, and as a commercial freelancer, given that the work pays far better than typical “freelance writing,” that’s not a bad habit to get into, either. Though a few juicy jobs/paychecks could have you slip back into bad habits, but you might be better able to afford the “relapse” … 😉


  6. How about the job search boards? I find myself looking for hours on Elance or Craigslist. But I only apply for 1 or 2 jobs that fit my niche.
    In 2014, I am going to set a timer for a limit of 30 minutes of job searching.

    • They’re okay for new writers early on when they need filler gigs. But beyond that I generally recommend staying away from them. They all have an inherent “race to the bottom” bidding structure which will never favor freelance professionals. Like you mention, limits are key. You just don’t want them dominating your marketing time. A far better option is to identify prospective clients or publications you’d like to write for and pitch them directly. And it’s always good to have a long-term plan in place to build your network and professional platform, both of which will bring clients to you instead of you having to find them. Ideally, bidding sites are something to stay away from completely. But you might be lucky and find an occasional gem. I just wouldn’t count on it, and I’d be careful about their spyware-style software that lets clients monitor what you’re doing (which is something clients don’t have a right to do, unlike employers).


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