5 Tweaks This Freelance Writer Made to Double Her Income

Freelance writer and productivityBy Karen Banes

I decided early last year I wanted to double my freelance writing income. The only problem was that I was already using all my available time. Like many other freelance writers, I have a lot of commitments. Unlike some of you, I don’t fit my freelancing around a full-time job, but I do homeschool my two children, which represents a similar time commitment.

There was only one solution. If I wanted to double my income I needed to drastically improve my productivity. Here’s what I did…

1. I revamped my to-do list

My to-do list used to be a big mess that distracted me more than it helped me. There were so many unrelated tasks that pulled me in different directions, and there was no clear sense of priority built into the list.

So what to do? I revamped it into three different lists. Now I have a major project list, a task list (with each task related to a specific project) and a whole other non-work to-do list that I keep in an entirely different place.

My major project list contains all the big projects I want to get done in the next six to twelve months. It includes courses I want to study, books I’m writing and an outline plan of how I want my freelance writing and editing business to grow and develop.

My task list contains the actual actions I need to take to make the big projects happen. Each task is related to something on the project list and linked to it via a code (it’s nothing complicated, just the initials of the project itself, usually). If I find myself putting anything on the task list that isn’t related to the project list, I stop. I usually find it’s something I don’t need to do at all, or it needs to go on my third list.

My third to-do list is things that have nothing to do with work: tasks that relate to family commitments or personal chores and errands. The key here is to keep it somewhere completely different and address the tasks on this list at a completely different time. This ties in to one of my other tweaks…

2. I drew up new boundaries

I put some boundaries between work and home, but more importantly I put some boundaries around technology. The razor-sharp focus I got from this is probably the most vital change I made, and the one that has had the most impact.

The boundaries between work and home simply mean that when I’m working, I’m focused on work and when I’m doing family stuff I’m focused on that. I work quicker when work is all I’m doing, and I’m a better mother when I focus 100% on my children.

The separate to-do list mentioned above helps with this. When I’m homeschooling, doing fun projects with my kids, or running errands, I’m working off my non-work list, so I’m not distracted by work worries and unfinished business.

The boundaries around technology really matter too. The laptop gets turned off at 8pm, unless there’s an urgent deadline. This gives me a surprising surge of productivity between 7pm and 8pm and in addition, an evening that involves relaxing with my family, a better night’s sleep and a more productive morning routine. The knock-on effect surprised even me.

3. I put freelance writing first

I’m a writer. So writing has to come first. Whatever else I have on, the writing gets done first, before I launch my internet browser (or even brush my teeth).

It’s amazing the difference in productivity I’ve achieved by simply getting up and writing, first thing in the morning, before anyone else is up, before I check email or social media, before I even get dressed. I start with some free writing to loosen up, then jump straight in to my first writing task.

I used to think you had to get up at a ridiculously early hour to fit a lot of writing into your morning routine, but I find I can easily write 1000 words in 45 minutes first thing in the morning and, because I’m fresh and focused, the writing needs less editing.

4. I focused on actions, not results

I used to set goals that related to results, and it really messed with my productivity. If I hadn’t reached a goal, I would put a lot of extra time in to try and get there.

If I’d set an income goal, I’d pitch for a freelance job I didn’t want (and that didn’t fit in with my long-term business plans) because it was well-paid. If I’d set a goal of ‘Sell 200 books this month’ and my sales figures were down I’d spend the last week of the month marketing my books instead of writing.

Now I set goals related to actions, and once the actions are complete, I move on.  An action goal is something like ‘Outline and pitch five articles’ rather than ‘Earn $1000 from freelance work’.

5. I learned to say no

I decided to focus on what I actually wanted to do. This led to me becoming incredibly proactive with my freelance writing career. I started to pitch for gigs I wanted instead of bidding for random gigs on job sites just because they were there.

As Warren Buffet says:

"The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything."

The interesting thing is, even though I wanted to increase my income, I didn’t start saying no to lower paid jobs and yes to higher paid jobs. I started saying no to things I didn’t want to do and yes to things I really wanted to do. In short I started saying no to everything that wasn’t a ‘Hell, yes!”

By doing this I learned something important: I am much more productive when I’m working on projects I love. This is partly practical: We can work quicker when we are writing about a topic we love and understand. Our knowledge is deeper, our vocabulary more appropriate, we need less research time and we know where to turn when we need a quick fact check or quote.

We also sound more authentic because we really do know (and love) what we’re talking about.

It’s also psychological. We get into the flow of working on a topic we love quickly and are more eager to get back to it. We really do tend to write faster on a topic we’re passionate about, just as we tend to talk a little faster (and louder) when we talk about something we feel strongly about.

The results:

It worked! I (more than) doubled my income from freelance writing last year, and am continuing to build on that as I go into 2015.

What tweaks have you made that have had an impact on your productivity or the efficiency of your freelance writing business? Feel free to share in the comments below.

About the Author:

Karen Banes is a freelance writer, indie author and editor. Find out more at her website: KarenBanes.com.

Image courtesy of Matt Gibson via Flickr.

6 Comments

  • Angela Alcorn

    Reply Reply February 11, 2015

    Love the idea of rewording your immediate goals to ‘Outline and pitch five articles’ from ‘Earn $1000 from freelance work’.

    I’ve been focusing on doing what I want instead of what I think I ought to do too. It’s quite liberating. You start to look forward to what you’re doing instead of dreading it.

    One caveat though, I still have a daily monetary goal I keep in my head, just to make sure that I do enough of the tasks that turn into a payment at the end of the month. Otherwise I can sometimes let myself spend a little too much time on things that don’t actually earn money.

    • Karen Banes

      Reply Reply February 11, 2015

      Hi Angela. I know exactly what you mean. I resisted that tweak precisely because I thought without monetary goals I’d spend too much time on the non-money tasks. But I surprised myself in some ways. Deep down you still know you have to earn money, and you know what you have to do to earn money. My action goals may have been worded differently from my income goals but they were all actions that I knew would lead to income.

      I’ve seen another system where you mark each task as ‘money now’ (commissioned piece of writing, perhaps), ‘money later’ (working on a book, maybe) and ‘no money’ (admin tasks, I presume). Then you do the tasks in that order. Maybe that would work for you?

  • Jennifer Markell

    Reply Reply February 13, 2015

    Thanks for sharing your experience and best practices. I struggle with all of these bullet points, but #5 hit home the hardest. I was (am) saying yes to low paying jobs and looking for oftentimes “menial” work, just to continue to build my portfolio. I read once that low balling for more clients was a good way for a new writer to get going…well, I am going (at a snail’s pace, but moving forward nonetheless) and now it’s time to say “NO!”

    I loved your ideas and adjustments and will start to apply them in my routines and daily life. I too have children (3) at home and I seem to always be combating the work/life balance.

    Thanks for sharing and best wishes for an efficient and prosperous year!

    Respectfully,
    Jennifer

    • Karen Banes

      Reply Reply February 13, 2015

      Thanks for stopping by Jennifer and glad you found the post helpful. We all need to take some less-than-perfect gigs to build our portfolio early on, but you’ll be surprised at how much enthusiasm and motivation you’ll feel once you learn to say no to those really unappealing jobs and pitch for the ones you really want to do. Wishing you lots of luck as you move forward with your freelance career.

  • Lorraine Reguly

    Reply Reply February 17, 2015

    Unsubscribing from email lists and writing as soon as I turn on my laptop has really worked well for me, too!

    • Karen Banes

      Reply Reply February 17, 2015

      Hi Lorraine. That was the first tweak I made in 2015. Unsubscribing from a lot of email lists and filtering all remaining newsletters into a folder to be read in batches.

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