Contest: Share Your Brilliant Productivity Hack for Freelance Writers

Evan Jensen

Brilliant Productivity Hacks for Freelance Writers. Makealivingwriting.comEver wonder how some freelance writers crank out content, market like crazy, meet client deadlines, and break into new niches?

You look at their success from the outside, and try to figure out what they’re doing that you’re not.

You try and reverse engineer it. If you can’t figure it out, you might join the pity-party of thoughts…“those freelance writers get all the breaks, or just got lucky.”

But you know what? That’s usually not the case.

Successful freelance writers usually develop their skills one query letter, one LinkedIn connection, or one letter of introduction at a time.

And it’s not a throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach to see what sticks. It’s a calculated approach. It’s work. It’s consistent effort.

If you want to move up, earn more, and make a living writing, you’ve got to set goals and develop ways of doing things to maximize productivity.

But what does that look like? Every freelance writer has their own way of doing things.

What’s your most brilliant productivity hack for freelance writers? Share your best tip for a chance to win. Here’s more about the contest rules and prizes.

My best productivity hack for freelance writers

If you want to ramp up your freelance writing business fast, send at least 100 LOIs a month.

When I did this, I pitched my writing services to health and fitness businesses. I checked in with freelance writing friend Denise Maloof for accountability, and hustled to hit daily, weekly, and monthly goals for about three months.

The results: I scored a bunch of one-off jobs and new writing samples. I made a lot of connections with potential clients and expanded my referral network. And I scored some long-term clients in the process. That wouldn’t have happened with an inconsistent or lazy approach to pitching.

What freelance writing goals and productivity hacks have helped you?

Some examples:

  • Send LinkedIn connection invites daily to editors or marketing directors in your niche
  • Pitch a new market (magazines/sites) in your niche weekly
  • Plan your day/week to prioritize projects and meet deadlines
  • Track how long it takes you to complete a typical assignment (blog post, article, case study, etc)
  • Establish a process for following up with leads or past clients
  • Attend at least one networking event per month and introduce yourself to new people
  • Use productivity apps to save time, organize research, reduce distractions, or write faster

Track and measure

You can track every one of these process goals and productivity hacks and measure your progress. It’s a powerful way to see what’s working and what’s not to help you move up and earn more.

If you’ve got a productivity hack for freelance writers to share, we want to hear about it.

Contest rules: Share your best productivity hack for freelance writers

What’s your best productivity tip or goal-setting hack for freelance writers? Share your best tips for a chance to win. Here’s how:

  • Post your best productivity hack or goal-setting tips in the comments below. Describe your process and share your results.
  • Only one entry per person.
  • Contest ends: Wednesday, Sept. 4 at midnight Pacific.
  • We’ll review all the submissions and announce the winners here and via email in about a week.

Prizes for the best productivity hack or goal-setting tip include:

Grand prize: A one-year membership in the Freelance Writers Den.

Runner up 1: A one-month membership in the Freelance Writers Den.

Runner up 2: A copy of the book: Start Here: 40 Freelance Writers Share How They Find Clients, Stay Motivated and Earn Well Today.

Forget about waiting for ‘good luck.’ Go make your own luck. It’s up to you!

And the winners are…

Grand prize: Juanita Nieuwoudt
Productivity Hack: Before you go to bed, write down two things you’ll do the next day. When you wake up, do it.

Runner up 1: Lisa Schulz
Productivity Hack: Work first, then play. I only watch TV while doing laundry and only watch YouTube videos or webinars while doing dishes. That way, it’s harder to fall into an everlasting binge

Runner up 2: Derek Thompson
Productivity Hack: Take a 10-minute screen break about every hour (Peppermint tea, bathroom break, etc.) You’ll give your eyes a break, boost productivity, and be able to work longer when needed.

What’s your best productivity hack for freelance writers? Tell us below for a chance to win.

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  1. Neil Pope

    Checking my bank balance motivates me like nothing else.

    • Jeremy K. Delancy

      I’ve been wanting to tell people that for years!! Thanks for finally saying it.

  2. Mary

    I love the “lazy” LinkedIn strategy!

    My biggest tip is that I use to organize my writing and, well, my entire life! The possibilities felt a bit overwhelming at first, but now it’s basically my second brain. I use it to track projects and deadlines, client info, to-do lists, documents I want to save, and on and on. I love knowing that everything is in one place and easily accessible.

  3. Lisa

    I only watch TV while doing laundry and only watch YouTube videos or webinars while doing dishes. That way, it’s harder to fall into an everlasting binge.

    • Carol Tice

      LOL, love this — I only get to watch TV if I lift weights or do yoga!

  4. Derek Thompson

    My productivity hack is a three-fold process: 1. Know what I’m going to work on. 2 Work for a solid hour. 3. Take a 10 minute breather away from my screen (peppermint tea, bathroom break, whatever). Repeat as needed.

  5. Michelle Kaplan

    Send out interview requests including head’s up questions as soon as you get the contact information …Then I take a blank page, list the interviewee’s name, their contact info and copy all the questions you’ve sent ahead, so you have a notes page ready to go.

  6. Stacey

    In my niche, I have to read a lot of scientific studies. I have a google doc with the links to all the relevant studies along with the key words to identify the study. When I’m working on an article, I use the ‘find’ feature to locate all the studies under a keyword. I add links as new studies come out and delete others when they become irrelevant. It significantly cuts down my research time.

  7. Jaimie Mackie

    I followed the advice to keep a notepad handy for when i feel like I might have a sliver of an idea for a story. Also, I write at certain times of the day, mostly in the evenings, but when I read that I should vary when I write, I found that at about 04:30 is the best time for me. Luckily, I work nights, so it kind of works out.

  8. juaneca harris

    I always have multiple things to work on in order, from 1,2, 3 etc. I give attention to the one which needs the most attention that would allow me to accomplish my goals. Work on it for about 2 hours, take a break and start back or work on something else. If I don’t have anything I can work on, I will work on my main project until I start losing focus.

  9. Ima

    I have ADHD so a big issue for me is getting distracted by great ideas that seem to fly into my head only when I’m working.
    My solution is to have a brain-dump document or sticky note open on my computer. Anything that flies into my brain that’s not related to my current assignment goes there, and then I get back to work without the idea or thought nagging at me, hoping I won’t forget it. Brain dumps can be as simple as ” remember to pick up suit from dry cleaners” to ideas for blog posts I want to write about someday. After my work is done, I go to the brain dump to transfer the info to the appropriate place – to-do list, ideas list, etc. Hope this helps!

  10. Zena Ryder

    For me, a lot of being productive is about being organized. I’ve found Capsule invaluable for this.

    It keeps all my contacts organized so I can search for them by name or organization/business. It keeps a record of all my email correspondence with each contact. And it includes a calendar so I can keep track of when to follow up with editors and potential clients I’ve pitched. (I also put other work-related tasks in the calendar too.)

    Oh, and it can connect with a bunch of other apps via Zapier. So if you’re already using Google calendar, for example, you can link the two.

    Capsule is also free until you have more than 250 contacts — so it’s perfect for beginning freelance writers.

  11. Ffion Llwyd-Jones

    She won’t let me go more than two hours without a break, which means I gotta hustle for 120 minutes.. and then my reward is a mountain/beach walk with my beautiful, time-aware Labrador
    Tip: get an active canine companion.

  12. Wendy Strain

    I’ve always had a chaotic life, making it impossible to plan a schedule from one day to the next, or even to know that most Mondays (for example) are going to look like [fill in the brackets]. Some days start at 6am, others don’t get underway until 3pm. Some nights I’m in bed by 11pm, others, I don’t hit the pillows until the sun is well up the next day.

    The best productivity hack I found to deal with this mess is to schedule my work in blocks of time rather than clock time (though my work blocks are generally anticipated to be two hours each). I know I can get at least 10 work blocks into even the most chaotic of weeks and this knowledge helps me schedule my projects appropriately, ensuring I’m never late with projects and yet keeping me sane in an insane space.

    While I usually fill nine work blocks for the week with client work, I assign one work block to marketing or other ‘on’ my business work (fixing the website, writing a blog post, etc. I call this CEO Work to remind myself I am managing a serious business, not just loving what I do). I generally assume I’ll be using other time during the week for these activities, but assigning one block (usually on Monday) for CEO Work ensures I get something done to help me build no matter how busy or chaotic life becomes the rest of the week.

    Another important note, most weeks I do work more of a full-time schedule even though this only accounts for 20 hours in the week. The remaining 20 is where I do more of the marketing, networking, outreach, administrative, ongoing training, etc. When I tried to schedule for 40 hours of work in a week, I was quickly overwhelmed, overextended, and distraught about maybe being late on projects. If I need more time to work ‘on’ my business, I dedicate a few extra time blocks to it, but I don’t extend the number of blocks reserved in a week.

    Although it places too much emphasis on clock time for my comfort, Google Calendar is really helpful with this hack. I simply block out nine 2-hour chunks of time for Project Work and one 2-hour block for CEO Work every week. As my days go crazy or stay stable, I’m able to move the blocks where they need to be to ensure everything gets done. Some days, I finish four work blocks, so I slide a work block from Friday over to the left and into that day’s (muted) column. That’s gives a little thrill of reward as I watch the end of my week clearing out. I can have a Friday off and/or a Thursday dedicated just to building on my business. Sometimes, a day slips in where I can’t do any work blocks, so I slide those to the right and the time remaining in the week. I never have a week where I can’t get those 10 blocks done at some point in my week, even if I’m sometimes spending a Saturday afternoon at the computer, finishing off that last one.

  13. Pamela B. Larimer

    My practice is to use Alexa/Siri to “jot down an idea, note, reminder”. Then use Dragon (dictation ware) to put ideas, notes to paper for addition to a report, article, etc…

  14. Rhiannon D'Averc

    My best productivity hack is really simple: “five more minutes”.

    Every time I feel bored, tired, stressed, brain-strained, or otherwise unable to carry on working on something, I make myself do five more minutes. Quite often I find that I’m only counting time for the first couple of minutes, and then I get back into the flow of things and before I know it I’ve done another half hour and finished the project.

    And if I don’t get back into the flow, well, at least I did five more minutes. That’s five minutes less I’ll have to catch up on later!

    (It would be great, however, if I could stop also applying this hack to my alarm going off in the morning…)

  15. Jeremy K. Delancy

    “You’ve got to get your reps in” James Clear (Atomic Habits)
    I use a combination of the ‘Seinfeld technique’ and ‘The Checklist Manifesto’. I keep a notebook with a grid. Down the left side are the actions I want to become habits and across the top the days of each month. When I complete an activity for that day, I put an ‘X’ in that box. At the end of each month, I have an idea of how much time I put towards a particular goal. Strangely, just the idea of ‘earning’ the X keeps me motivated.
    A really good day is one in which I read, exercised, meditated, wrote something for myself (diary entry, blog post, course notes, etc) and worked on an LOI or pitch, and yes each one has its own box to be checked.

  16. Laura Seeber

    My tip? Do not make a to-do list, which can lead to what I can “have-to-do-paralysis” Instead, focus on one thing each day until it’s done, then re-evaluate your situation and choose what to tackle next. For example — Monday is my prospecting day. Tuesday is accounting, etc.

  17. Pranab Ghosh

    I am into creative writing.I also do online editing work. Fixed organisation. That’s the bulk of my writing biz. So I allow nothing to come inbetween that work and other assignments. That work’s in the evenings. So my evenings are blocked. I have one off day and I meet clients on that day. Other days e-mail, tel-con and meeting if it is a must. To keep track of all other opportunities in the creative writing domain I depend on Submittable. I get my leads from there. Then there is the social media, especially FB and messenger that helps me stay connected. I get leads and submission
    invites from these sources too. And then the rest is time management. Getting the assignments done in time. So for me it is good time management plus keeping a tab on the available opportunities and networking. Hope this works.

  18. Sue Chehrenegar

    Reading the newspaper and some local magazines has helped my productivity the most. Right now, I am able to add to the material in my articles and blog posts by inserting information that I gained by reading the Sunday paper.

    Earlier I got an idea for a short story by reading an editorial in the Sunday paper. The editor suggested that not much had happened in 1912, other than the sinking of the Titanic. I knew about a visitor to America in that year, and I incorporated that visit into a fictional story.

  19. Debbie Curtis

    I can crank out articles faster if I type up the first draft immediately after getting off of the phone with who I interviewed. I don’t get on another phone call, get on email, etc. I transcribe my notes and write the article as I recall the conversation as it is fresh in my mind. This method is SO much faster. I have very good recall, not just of what they said, but of what I’m thinking when they said it. For example, most of the time when I’m interviewing, as they enlighten me with what they do and how they do it, I’ll think, “That word goes in my headline. That phrase is a perfect wrap-up sentence, etc.”
    Boom! A few days before the submission deadline, I can look at what I wrote with fresh eyes and polish the article, double check the original assignment to see if I’m supposed to have photos, etc., or see if I forgot to ask something so I can get back in touch. This gives me great peace of mind as well, when I look at my white board of assignments, arranged by due dates, of course. 🙂 I also try to only schedule the interviews in the afternoon if possible, that way I know I always have mornings free for other tasks.

  20. Justin Boyer

    A Google Chrome extension called Session Buddy. It saves the set of websites you’re currently on so you can come back to them later with just a click.

    This helps me in two ways:

    1. I save the tabs I always need for each client in a session buddy session. Then when I work for a client, I open up only their tabs with a couple of clicks to limit distractions.

    2. When doing research for a post, I save all of the sites I’m using for research in a session. When it’s time for the first draft, within two or three clicks all of my research is opened up for me by session buddy.

    It helps me remove distractions and stay organized. That helps my productivity big time.

  21. Agata Antonow

    I read about gamification a few years ago and gave it a try. I use the Habitica app and a rewards system to get me motivated to keep working and hitting mini-goals. For me, it works because Habitica offers virtual prizes for positive reinforcement. Don’t prospect or finish your writing one day? You get docked points, which keeps you honest. On top of that, I reward myself at the end of the week with a small excursion or other treat if I’ve put in the work. This system prevents me from saying “tomorrow” when it comes to my writing goals. I’m pushed to show up in my business ever day and get rewarded for the work, even when I don’t see results right away.

  22. Carrie Wilkey

    When I’m “just not feeling it” and can’t concentrate on a particular task, I set a timer and tell myself, “you can do it for just 30 minutes”. This helps me to stay focused and more often than not, I actually get more done in that short amount of time. I keep my little timer next to my computer at all times! This is a simple, but timesaving hack that works well for me.

  23. Annice Laws

    I carry a notebook with me to jot down thoughts, ideas, turns of phrase, word combinations, etc. as they occur to me wherever I am throughout the day. Then, when I sit down at the computer each morning, the first thing I do is transcribe them into a Word doc. This helps lubricate my writing gears much better than does staring at a blank screen, trying to remember a great thought I’d had the day before (which is usually lost by then, anyway) or straining to come up with that elusive first sentence. Often, just the act of typing anything loosens up the creative juices. It helps me stick to my goal of writing for at least four hours each morning, and makes that time far more productive when I do.

  24. Juanita Nieuwoudt

    I have two small hacks that keep me on track. At the end of my work day, I write down two things I have to do first the next day. Those two things are often tasks I didnt finish that day and as a result need to be done. Its a good way to continue jobs and complete them. And you dont have to wonder what to do first the next day – you already know and can get straight into it.

    The second hack is to use an online timer – the tomato timer or pomodoro timer is good. Super-easy to find via Google. So you work for 25 minutes, break for 5 and once you completed four 25 minute sessions, you take a 15 minute break. It keeps my butt on my chair with the promise of a break in the not-too-distant future and its fun to see what you can do in 5 minutes – like quickly unpack the dishwasher. That way work and a few mindless tasks around the house get done.

  25. Laura

    It may be unprofessional to state it, but the simplest form of staying grounded on task for productivity is to clear the clutter and stay grounded. Beginning each day with mass is my way of staying grounded in my faith, but for others it may be meditation or time in scripture.
    Seriously, how productive can anyone be if we aren’t grounded first in who we are? You can easily wander aimlessly astray by even the overflow of well-intentioned comments on a thread like this.
    If we are clear on who we are, then we are able to launch forward swiftly by literally sifting through the excess noise that exists online and in real life.
    So yes, my productivity tip is to stay centered in who you are – and for me that is staying grounded in my faith.
    Keep it basic, right.

  26. Jessica Ehlert

    Productivity Hack: Wake up earlier to get administrative tasks out of the way.

    My Process: I have a toddler who wakes up at 7–7:30. So I get up at 6 and answer emails, set up tasks for the day in Trello, catch up on LinkedIn (i.e. reply to messages, post something relevant, and engage with my network).

    My Results: I’ve been doing this (almost) every day for about a month and have increased my network from 800 to nearly 1,000 connections, gotten my first inbound lead via LinkedIn, landed 2 pro-bono gigs in my new niches, and gotten back about 2 hours a day during my most productive writing hours (from about 9am to 2pm) when these administrative tasks used to pull me away.

    I don’t like waking up early at all. But doing it has really showed me how much I can get done before mom duties start. And it helps keep me from working late into the night!

  27. Elisabeth Dowson

    Manage your priorities first and your time second. (And kill the television.)

    In 2010, I had inherited responsibility for the transition to electronic production of our small town’s cut-and-paste newspaper (as ad builder, graphic designer/print press liaison, editor, copywriter, bookkeeper, and distribution coordinator). I had developed a routine, and loved the creative freedom of producing a rural lifestyle publication from design to delivery. One afternoon, I received a reply to an application I had submitted six months earlier for a full-time reporter-photographer position. The editor apologized, saying they had just finished renovations that delayed their expansion, and asked if I was still interested. I jumped on the opportunity to get some real reporting experience, knowing I would be challenged to the highest extent of my ability for three reasons: I was 56; I had rheumatoid arthritis; and had no university degree. My storytelling abilities got me in the door, but my organizational skills kept me afloat.

    Using a year-at-a-glance, I used colour to distinguish between the two newspapers and plotted all key events for the coming year, beginning with my on-duty weekends and coverage for staff vacations. Then I worked with the commercial printer for our rural newspaper to schedule our small tabloid into their light days every month between other weeklies and flyers. We set the print schedule for the full year ahead, around all the stat holidays. Those print days, and each day following for delivery and distribution, were unalterable, so everything else in my work and personal life had to fit around them.

    I used evenings for the work I loved: to write, design, and plan the rural paper’s features and advertising around holidays, seasons and celebrations. The rural paper added about 10 hours a week to my 40 to 56 hours per week for the city paper. The hardest part of this dual life was the one-hour commute to and from the city every day. The rest was simply a matter of rigorously maintaining and updating my planner, rearranging priorities as needed, and respecting the schedule enough to stay well ahead of deadlines.

    I emerged from all that hard work with a keen eye for stories and a quick hand for writing them. By managing priorities, I made the best of two simultaneous and incredible opportunities. With the rural paper, I stretched my editorial and artistic wings, using design, colour and content to elevate our economic region and galvanise its communities.

    The city weekly was at times merciless (floods and train wrecks, bitter -40°C winters and city council) and thrilling (Dance Cuba, Vintage Wings, and Longriders). I wish I had been younger, with less medical baggage, but I used my diversity and productivity to bring two kinds of editorial excellence to southwest Saskatchewan.

  28. Heather Langley

    What works best for me is to write first thing in the morning. Whether that be 5 am or 6 am or whatever my waking time is that day. Many times in that groggy state before complete wakefulness takes hold, my first thought is a remembrance of a dream which sparks a great idea. So I keep a notepad and pen on my nightstand to jot down whatever random thoughts I have before I even set foot on the floor. If I wait till I’ve gotten out of bed, washed my face, brushed my teeth, etc., I’ve lost so much of the dream or message that I wonder what I thought was so important! Write it down when you hear it. Write it down when you feel it.

  29. Kevin J. Duncan

    Hey Evan and Carol,

    I’m not sure this is a productivity hack as much as it’s a grownup version of “you can’t have dessert until you finish your dinner,” but I deny myself a morning cup of coffee until after I’ve finished the first thing on my to-do list that day.

    On the one hand, it’s good motivation to complete a task I might have otherwise procastinated over. But on the other hand, I’m pretty sure I have 1/10 my normal mental capacity sans coffee. 🙂

  30. Florie Barry

    4 To-Do Productivity List

    My Writing career is divided into 4 areas. Currently, I’m remodeling my house, visiting kids/grandkids in different cities, traveling to the tropics during winter, and spending the hot summer months in cooler climates.

    1. Writing – a priority, but not always in the best writing environment, or in the proper frame of mind.

    2. Reading – I volunteer as Judge for non-profit writing contests and speech contests. This helps me improve as Editor and Writer, while helping organizations help others.

    3. Learning – keeping up with technology that help writers expand their skills.

    4. Research – write articles I love, then find the appropriate magazine/newspapers that’s a good fit. Or pick the magazines/newspapers I want, then create the article. Either way, it takes research.

    I focus on at least one area per day to be productive, and always moving forward.

  31. Francine Gargano

    The way I keep myself motivated and productive has to do with environment. My creative juices and energy come from my surroundings. Dull, drab, low key environments will make me tired and my brain slow. Bright, fun, energetic environments keeps me hustling. So for example in the summer months I move myself outside. I enjoy everything my house has to offer, front porch, garden bench and backyard by the pool. Fall will find me wandering around side-of-the-road fruit stands and picking pumpkins then jumping in my car and jotting down notes to remember for my writing.I keep writing needs with me all the time. Winter is for sitting in my window seat with a steamy cup of hot chocolate and blanket writing like mad. When in the office I need nice colors, music or television, flowers and flavored teas!

  32. Janet Herring-Sherman

    Having all my reference materials near at hand really helps me save time. Plus, by just knowing that they’re there, helps me to feel more focused when I sit down to write. For instance, I just took the J-School class where good tips and links were shared in abundance. Fearing I wouldn’t be able to track them down again, I went through all of the transcripts, handouts, homework reviews audios and gleaned all I could find. Now I have a handy alphabetized tool with nearly 100 of these gems. The document will live on my computer desktop for easy access. And since I’m a bit old school, I have a hard copy on my desk as well. Loving it and so glad I invested the time to create this make-my-writing-life-easier tool.

    • Carol Tice

      Love that you have a boil-down, Janet — but also remember you can download all the J-School materials as a current Den member (for just a few more days, so do it soon!).

      • Janet Herring-Sherman

        Carol — Thanks for the reminder about the downloads from J School. I have downloaded everything I could find. It was a good exercise for me to read through it all again in order to find the nuggets to pull out for my cheat sheet. Fingers crossed — I just submitted my query for my J School-inspired article. Janet

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