If you're anything like me, you probably write for several different content sites and/or clients in one day. You might also find yourself working many more hours than you intend. I found myself struggling to make the best use of my time while working on the many projects I have going. I knew that I needed to improve my efficiency, so I decided to take a hard look at all my projects and figure out how much time I could devote to each one per day.
How Elapsed Time Worked for Me
My goal was to work approximately 5 hours per day on 5 different projects. First, I divided my time amongst the five projects, but not evenly. Some projects take less than an hour of attention per day, while others take more. Here's an approximate look at how I divided my time:
- Project A - 1 article in 1 hour
- Project B - 3 articles in 2 hours
- Project C - 2 articles in 1 hour
- Project D - 1 article in 30 minutes
- Project E - 1 article in 30 minutes
I've found that I must plan my day in elapsed time rather than actual time. If I plant to have x amount of articles written by 12:00, I'll never get things done, and I'll always feel like I'm behind - which will lead to my ultimate failure.
Sometimes I stay up until 3:00 am, and sometimes I go to bed at 7:30 pm. I like it this way, and I don't want to sacrifice my freedom to fit some new mold I create for myself. The whole reason I wanted to pursue life as a freelancer is so I can do whatever I please, whenever I please. If I wanted to keep standard hours, I might as well work for someone else. So, I go with elapsed time and it has served me well.
Egg Timer Makes it Stick
Once I made a plan regarding the level of work I was willing to complete each day per project, then I knew I had to find a way to stick to it. This isn't always the easiest part for me, as I am admittedly lazy and have a tendency to procrastinate. However, I am nothing if not determined, particularly when it comes to my writing career.
I found this really cool little program - an old-school (completely free) downloadable egg timer, that even the most inept of computer users could figure out. I wanted something very simple that would keep track of time for me, and tell me when I need to move on. I think I just needed a little self-inflicted discipline to get myself on track again.
So, I set the egg timer for one hour and begin my first project. It displays a message when time's up, or it will also beep at you incessantly if you prefer. Then, I switch gears and move on to the next thing on the list, reset the timer, and go at it again. In five short hours, I'm completely done working for the day and my production rate has never been better.
What Free Time?
I also have other things that need to be done during the day that don't necessarily fit into the category of "project." For example, I answer emails from this and other websites, visit my favorite forums, promotional things, etc. So, I had to figure out a way to incorporate these "extras" into my day without going over the five hours.
I decided the best thing to do would be to use my "free time" to do this. I consider my free time to be any time that I have finished with an article on one project, but my time isn't up yet. If I finish my article for site A in 45 minutes today, instead of an hour, then I can answer a few emails, visit forums, etc, until my timer tells me it's time to move on.
Anything that I haven't done at the end of my five hours, I let it wait until the next day. This was the hardest part for me. I usually have to be dragged away from the computer because there always seems to be one more thing to do. But, once I began to force myself to let things lie until the next day, it seemed I got a little of my life back - you know, the real one, that doesn't involve writing.
I think many of us in this line of work have a hard time sticking to a schedule, and this can blur the lines between life and work to an indistinguishable level. I'd recommend trying to give yourself a specific amount of time to complete a certain project, and then be done with it, rather than restricting yourself to the hours of the day. It's worked for me, and I'm enjoying more time off, no working on the weekends (unless I want), and more time with my family, which is ultimately the best part of this gig.