Want to know what a crazy writer schedule looks like? I’ve got three little kids. I have a day job as a health and wellness writer. I’ve got a solid line-up of freelance clients in the same niche and a bunch of looming blog post deadlines. Sometimes, it’s tough to get stuff done.
It’s always busy. There are a million things demanding my attention. And that doesn’t even include TV, movies, hours on social media, video games, hanging out with the guys, or sleeping in. Do people really do that anymore?
The hot 40-something woman I’ve been married to for 18 years is in grad school (future teacher). She volunteers where our kids go to school. She works part-time at a gym. And the kids have dance, Cub Scouts, homework, and probably some other activities going on that she-who-will-not-be-named will be texting me about shortly.
Then there’s my passion (some call it a sickness) for running. And I’m not talking about a 30-minute jog around the block. I ran a 100-mile race at the end of September. When the heck is there time to train for that?
Crazy. Every. Damn. Day.
How do I get it all done, and keep my freelance writing career moving forward? I don’t use any complicated planning tools to get stuff done (maybe I should), but I do follow a few basic rules to stay productive.
Learn to say “no”
You could totally book your schedule with fun activities, family outings, hanging out with friends, housework, or even volunteering. Nothing wrong with any of those things. But if you have client deadlines, or you’re desperate to get better clients, you’ve got to say “no” to some of that stuff at times, and focus on growing your business.
That includes telling yourself “no.” For example, do you give in to the temptation to polish off a container of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream while watching the Gilmore Girls reunion after the kids have gone to bed? Or do you hop on your computer and finish an assignment, send some LOIs, or develop some ideas for a query?
High school economics taught me this is called an opportunity cost. When you say no to one thing, it typically gives you the option to say yes to something else (like growing your freelance business).
Get laser-focused for blocks of time
Look, it’s not realistic for most people to work 24/7. It’s not healthy in a lot of ways. But how the heck can you get stuff done when you always have so many things to do?
Here’s a bright idea: stop multi-tasking. It’s tough for your brain to concentrate when you’re texting, watching TV, and working on your computer, all at the same time.
Instead, carve out blocks of time where you can get laser-focused, eliminate all distractions, and get stuff done. You know, like send out those LOIs or queries you’ve been fussing around with for days, weeks, or months. Even if all you’ve got is an hour, if you really focus, you can get stuff done.
I’ve had some practice at this from my days as a newspaper editor and reporter. I used to cover a late-night City Council meeting twice a month. The meeting typically got out around 10 p.m. Any time it went later than that, it made me nervous.
Why? I had to write a story by midnight, so it could run in the paper the next day. I went to those meetings with laser-like focus and never missed a deadline.
Sacrifice a little sleep once in a while
I’m no stranger to the downside of poor sleep habits. It’s something I write about frequently at my day job and for freelance clients. If you’re not getting 7-8 hours of sleep on average, you run the risk of developing a long list of health problems.
But if you really want to get stuff done, consider sacrificing a little sleep once in a while. I’m not advocating for making all-nighters a regular thing. Your mom probably told you that would eventually catch up with you, and she was right.
However, if you’re hustling a day job, freelance work, and a bunch of other things, sometimes staying up late is the only way to get stuff done that will help you grow your business. I’ve logged plenty of late nights after the kids have gone to bed to tackle freelance projects, and I used the same approach to train for a 100-mile race.
Want to go the distance? There’s a serious time commitment. Just about every 30-plus mile training run I logged during the summer happened between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m.
You can’t do this all the time, but give up a little sleep now and then, and “I don’t have time” becomes a ridiculous excuse not to work on your freelance business. Because you do have time, and the same 24 hours a day as the most successful freelancers.
Note: it’s about 1 a.m. as I write this post. I’ve been thinking about this post for way too long, and had to get it done. Gym workout at 5:30 a.m. is still on.
I learned this lesson from being a distance runner for 20 years. I’ve run 30-plus marathons, some 50-mile races, five 100-mile ultras, and thousands of training miles. It’s not always easy.
Some miles seem to tick by effortlessly. Kind of like sitting down to write and getting that assignment done on deadline. But other times, it turns into a battle of willpower to keep going. You develop a cramp, you’ve got a blister, there’s chafing in the nether-region, or your stomach churns warning vomit is imminent. Do you raise your white flag, give up on a dream, and drop out of the race? Not if you really want it.
“Pledge to be an unstoppable force until you have the clients you need to feed your family. Be willing to get creative to solve the obstacles you encounter. Don’t take “no” for an answer. If the rules aren’t working for you, bend or break them, or make up your own.”
That’s how you need to approach freelancing to get stuff done. It’s not always going to be easy. I’ve had plenty of ups and downs as I work on booking enough freelance work to quit my day job. If you really want to make a living writing, you have to keep going despite the challenges, a crazy schedule, or whatever life may throw at you. Get stuff done, OK.
What will you get done before the end of 2016? Let us know how you’ll make it happen in the comments below.
Evan Jensen writes about health and fitness for hospitals, gyms, personal trainers, wellness programs, and health professionals. When he’s not at work or chasing three kids around, he’s training for his next 100-mile ultramarathon.