Once upon a time, it took approximately 10 hours for me to do five hours’ worth of work. And man, was I sick of it.
I hated feeling tired and burnt out all the time. I thought I’d left my corporate career behind to become a freelance writer so I could stop living for the weekend—but there I was, doing that exact same thing.
I didn’t know what to do or where to start improving, but I had a slight inkling that it might have something to do with my productivity, so I started devouring every single bit of productivity advice I could find. I started reading more day-in-the-life posts than I care to admit, and I tried almost every piece of advice they offered: I put my alarm clock in the hallway. I woke up before the sun and forced myself awake with fluorescent lights. I sat a glass of lemon water on top of my phone so I’d have to drink it and wake up before I could do anything else. I taped inspiring quotes over my desk and onto my laptop screen.
I was desperate.
Most of these tricks other people swore by didn’t do it for me. (I’m still not the kind of person who wakes up super early—who knows when I’ll finally let myself give up on that dream.) But they got me on the right path, and now I’m happily productive in my business.
On my journey toward greater success, I realized I was not the only freelancer with productivity and sitting-behind-my-desk-for-way-too-many-hours woes. According to this thread on Reddit, most freelancers worked just 5-6 billable hours per day. (Note: billable does not equal marketing, email communications, client pitching, etc.)
So in this article, I’m going to share my daily writing routine with you. Not to tell you that this is the way to be successful, and definitely not to guilt you into trying some sort of cult-like life approach with me, but to help you see that sometimes, the most productive days as a freelance writer are the most unexciting. And hopefully, this will give you some inspiration for restructuring your day if you feel like you’re in a productivity rut.
Yes, I’m one of those people who has a morning ritual. And yes, I’m annoying enough to follow it religiously. Here’s how it goes:
You don’t have to have an established morning routine, but I’ve found that it works for me. And once I’ve completed the tasks that comprise mine, I’m ready to take on my day.
Several writers and businesspeople I respect recommend thinking of your own business as your most important client—which means putting it first, before everything else. For this reason, the first hour every single day is dedicated to work I want to do on my business and only work I want to do on my business.
I don’t let any other deadlines or stress encroach on this time, and because of that, I’ve made a lot more significant advancements in my business than if I’d put off doing my own work in the afternoons, when my brain is less fresh. For example, I’ve redone my own website copy, worked through business coaching programs to take my business to the next level, and started developing my first passive income product. All huge wins in my book.
When that first hour is over, I break for breakfast.
I still spend the bulk of my day as a freelance writer writing web pages and blog posts for my clients. I don’t mind it, but like I mentioned above, I had a tendency to take too many breaks on Facebook and just drag it out past the afternoon into night hours—which wasn’t working for me.
So during the bulk of the day, I use the Pomodoro Technique to help me power through my client work with focus and creativity. The basis of why this technique works so well for me is because I have to stop working after only 25 minutes for a five-minute break, which makes me feel like I have to have something to show for the work I’ve done in that 25 minutes. It helps me get hyper-focused on the tasks at hand without burning out, since I take short breaks so often. As a result, on a typical day, I end up completing around four total hours of good work (with a lunch break in between) before I start winding down.
This is the part of my day where I knock out the vast majority of my to-do list, and instead of being totally burnt out, I always feel great when I reach the end of it.
After I finish all my required client work, I take care of the administrative tasks I need to do to keep my business afloat. This can include things like clearing my email, scheduling, communications with clients, invoicing, and making the next day’s to-do list in this time window. I don’t count this as working on my business, per se—because while I sometimes wind up booking clients during this time, it fundamentally shift my business forward like my first hour of work does.
I save this stuff for the end because it usually requires minimal brain power to read an email, decipher what my client wants, and, if needed, to suggest times for a call or put the work in my calendar for the weeks to come.
Ultimately, the structure of your day will come down to your personal preference and work styles. There’s no single right way to work that is guaranteed to boost your productivity or grow your career. If you’re unhappy with the way your day is unfolding, you don’t have to use a single one of my suggestions. But I do encourage you to start researching. Find writers and other professionals whose work or opinions you admire, and read them like crazy. Try their tips and tactics and figure out what works for you. It’s likely that there’s a combination of things you can try that will help you make the most of your productive hours each day.
And if you have your own daily writing routines and productivity hacks you want to share, let us know in the comments. You’ll help me and your fellow freelancers get the ideas we need to become more productive and happier in our businesses of one.