Staying organized as a freelance writer can be very challenging! Here are a few tips for improving organizational skills, as well as some apps you might find useful for keeping your writing life on track.
- Remove distractions. A writer may have all the talent in the world, but if they can’t stay focused and meet deadlines and actually complete projects, it skill won’t matter. Silence your phone, put your computer in airplane mode to limit trips to Facebook and other distracting sites, makes notes about what you may need to look up or attend to later.
- Plan your day according to priority and physical needs (and BE REALISTIC). Deadlines come first, but how you reach them can make a big difference in your productivity and stress levels. Make a list of the task (writing and life) you need to complete that day, order them according to priority, and set realistic goals. Be realistic with your schedule and don’t overbook yourself. Then, consider when you work best and will have the least amount of distractions or interruptions. Create a schedule and make others aware of your schedule. Working from home doesn’t mean you’re not “at work.”
- Prepare ahead of time. Before you sit down to your scheduled writing time, make sure you have everything you need. If a story element needed to be researched, that should be taken care of in its own time slot prior to writing time. If Laundry needs to be started because you have to attend an event that evening, take care of it and schedule breaks to switch loads as needed. Reading assignments (with notes) should be scheduled during downtime when it doesn’t interfere or disrupt writing time. If something comes up during writing time that should have been done beforehand, make a note to schedule it for later and don’t switch tasks unless absolutely necessary.
- Wait to edit. Writing time and editing time need to be kept separate. Editing while writing slows down the process and keeps the focus on small details rather than character or story development. Make a note if you need to come back to something, but keep writing in the moment/
- Keep notes and refer back to them. Instead of breaking from a task because you remembered something or had a new idea, keep a notebook or note app on hand and make a note about new tasks or ideas. Review them at the end of your work day or writing session and add the new items to the schedule for the next day or week ahead.
- Keep a consistent schedule. Research has shown that we can train our minds to better focus on specific tasks if we do them at consistent times. Life happens, of course, but the more you can routinize your writing schedule, the easier it will be to get into “writing mode” and the more productive you’ll be.
- Schedule breaks. Don’t forget to give yourself time to clear your mind and breathe. Even if it’s just ten minutes to refresh your coffee or walk to the mailbox and get some fresh air, you need to give your mind and body an occasional rest. The longer your mind focuses on one task without a break, the more tired it gets. The longer your body stays stationary, the more it affects your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Research recommends at least a 10 minutes break every two hours, with longer meal breaks.
Apps to try
- MindNode (iOS) $10: visually map out thoughts/storylines
- The Brainstormer (iOS) $2: exercises to help with writer’s block
- Pomodoro Timer (iOS and Android): time management for writers to boost productivity
- Evernote (iOS and Android) Free with premium features: note keeping app with text, audio, photo, handwriting notes and reminders
- Lists for Writers (iOS and Android) $3: Inspiration for a variety of writing related sticking points (names, settings, jobs, grammar, etc.)
- WordOne (iOS) $2.99 or Writer Tools (Android) Free: track daily writing progress and plan stories
Writers work in a variety of situations: work from home full time, work outside the home and work from home part home, work full time outside the home and fit in writing on lunch breaks and down time, and on and on. Achieving a work-life balance that works is often a challenge.
When talking about work-life balance, there are four “life quadrants” to consider: work, family, friends, and self. Work-life balance doesn’t mean all four of these are in equal balance. Work-life balance also isn’t static, but should be fluid over time to accommodate changing situations. Everyone’s personal work-life balance will be different.
Below are some tips and resources for achieving better work-life balance. Please share any additional tips that have helped you!
- Take care of yourself! If you aren’t caring for yourself, every other area of your life is impacted negatively.
- Schedule one activity per week that is just for you, whether it’s doing something on your own or going out with friends.
- Make others aware of your plans or schedule so they expect it and can adjust accordingly.
- Know when to stop or say no. This includes work commitments and family/friends activities. Simplify your life by prioritizing which activities are important and which are beyond your current capabilities.
- Exercise and/or meditate. Both are stress reducers and don’t have to take up hours of your day to provide health benefits. Both work to reduce stress by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms everything down in the moment and long term as you develop a consistent routine.
- Develop strong time-management skills.
- Plan your entire week ahead of time.
- Set time limits for chores, writing etc.
- Keep an activity log for a few days, tracking every 15-30 minutes. Review at the end of the day and cut out whatever is unnecessary or time wasting.
- Reevaluate your goals so they are realistic.
- Utilize auto-ship/delivery/pickup services when possible.
- Choose easy-to-make meals and have kids or partners help prepare them when possible.
- Limit time-wasting activities and people. Rank daily activities based on priorities. Trim what wastes time.
- Participate in community engagement activities such a group discussions and book clubs at HGW and local activities and events in your area.
- Create a designated quiet space. This space should be a space where you can take a mental break. Make it uncluttered and free of work materials or reminders. Find a space with lots of light, one that is comfortable, has plants possibly, and is calming.
- Take short breaks throughout the day to get in some steps, go outside, or do something that allows you to clear your head.
- Change your life structure to matches your time to your responsibilities. Delegate or split tasks when possible, enlist help from services or friends, or cut out activities or responsibilities that are not necessary.
- Redistribute responsibilities, focus on what you specialize in, what time commitments make sense, and what you value most.
- Let go of perfectionism, especially on a first draft. Let yourself work free of critique so you can work faster. Save the editing and re-writes for later.
- Limit distractions while working. Turn off your phone, internet, etc. and focus only on your work for a specific amount of time. Then take a break and clear you mind.
- Take pleasure in your work. Keep a list near your computer reminding you why you enjoy writing.
- Overlap instead of multi-tasking. Accept that some family activities do not require your full attention and can double as work time, such as waiting in the lobby for a child’s dance class to end.
- Set boundaries and stick to them. Know how much time you have to devote to different areas and makes others aware of your commitments so they don’t feel ignored and can help you accomplish your goals.
- Have a physical schedule of deadlines and projects that is posted where you and family members can see. It serves as a reminder to you and to family members of why you are busy or can’t spend as much time in other pursuits at the moment.
- Unplug and take time for your family. Tell others about your goal to stay unplugged for a specific amount of time so they can help remind you.
- Choose specific family activities that need you to be fully present for – such as a child’s sporting event or school program, and leave work behind.
- Schedule dedicated time with family each day or week. Don’t allow other distractions. Bonding time makes you more productive and relaxed at work.
- Make time for sit-down breakfast to start the day on a positive note.
- Family dinners are good for kids because they help them have better relationships with parents, which reduces parental stress.
- Get kids involved with necessary chores and have fun doing them together. Turn on some music or make a game of it.
- Involve the kids/family in exercise time or meditation. Children need quiet time or time to work out excess energy just as much as adults do!
- Check in with your kids/family every so often to see how you’re doing and express your needs to them. Work-life balance is often a group effort and works much better when the whole family is invested in improvement.
- Develop rituals to start/stop work and mentally and emotionally prepare yourself to be present in other activities. Set aside 20 minutes before wrapping up work to tie up all loose ends and clear your mind for family time.
- Make time to spend with friends, but set realistic goals based on your current commitments.
- Write out an “ideal” time with friends, such as dinner or a movie, and write out an alternative plan for busy weeks, such as 30 minutes for coffee. Adjust on a weekly basis for what fits best for that week, but don’t skip seeing friends regularly.
- Involve friends in exercise activities, such as walk or fitness class.
- Include friends in work related activities, such as a reading club or trip to the bookstore for a reading or author event.
- Take short breaks during the day to text or chat with friends.
An important thing to remember when working to improve work-life balance is that we all go through different seasons where some things simply must take priority while others are pushed aside. It doesn’t mean you’re failing at one aspect or another. It means you are aware of your limitations and are taking action to manage your responsibilities.