When you work as a freelance writer, you generally have a lot of control over your own schedule. That may sound great, but what it often means is that we're prone to procrastination and distractions - it's too easy to say "Well, I can always just work extra hours later tonight to finish this up."
It doesn't have to be hard to be more productive in freelance writing. Here are five things you can do that will let you get more work, marketing, planning (or anything else) done today:
Make a To-Do List
I love lists. A quick list of everything you need to get done today can help you get through them. The simple act of being able to cross something off your list can give you a sense of accomplishment. I like to write up my daily work lists the night before, so it's in front of me as soon as I sit down at my desk in the morning.
Schedule Your Time
Rigid schedules can really work. I'm not saying you need them all the time, but give it a try - you may be surprised at how effective they can be, and how much more productive you are when you use them. I do the same types of projects regularly, so I have a general idea of how much time I'll need for something. That makes it easier.
I don't do this often, but if I know I'll have a tough time focusing that day, I'll map out every hour or 30-minute block of time during my planned working hours. When I do this, I nearly always get things done faster, because I'm "racing the clock" rather than spending forever mulling things over or getting distracted. I usually end up with an extra hour or two at the end of the day due to getting things done early, which I can then use to get a jump on the following day or as time for my own projects (or even time off). I don't like the rigidness enough to do this every day, but I'm tempted to try it for a week or two soon just to see how much more I get done.
Close the Door
If your family is a big work distraction, it may be time to shut the door (even if only figuratively). Lay down the law - when you're working, you're "at work." You're not at home. If you want fewer distractions, you have to help people respect your work like they would any office job by setting some boundaries.
Turn Off the Ringer
This is one of my biggest productivity helpers as a writer. If I'm writing, I don't take calls. My family and friends know that. My colleagues know that. Even my clients know that (and they appreciate it - they know I'm also not allowing myself to be distracted by calls when I'm working on their writing).
I have a simple rule - if you want me, email me. I check email between every project or at any reasonable break period (such as between articles). This way people can still reach me quickly, and if they need to chat on the phone, they know I'll see the email message long before I'd check the voicemail.
It sounds counter-intuitive, right? It's not. If you simply can't focus on what you're doing, continuing to sit there struggling isn't going to help. You need to understand that it's OK to take a cat nap, go for a short walk, or whatever else will re-energize you.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying you should flop in front of the TV for hours, or ditch on work. I'm talking about taking a break. Remember what those are? You often get them in "real jobs," and as your own boss, you're allowed to grant yourself one here and there as well.
Which is worse? Feeling frustrated and unfocused, where you stare at your computer screen for 20 minutes without getting anything done (where you'll then continue in that pattern until you find a way to break it), or taking a 20 minute walk or nap where you can come back feeling a little refreshed and ready to dive back into the task at hand? I vote for the latter.