8 Time Management Techniques for Successful Writers

by John Soares on February 3, 2014

Time management is absolutely critical to achieving success in freelance writing and in the rest of your life. Time is the great equalizer: we all have 24 hours in a day.

The big question—what do we do with our time?

How you spend your time — what you choose to do and with what intensity and focus — will determine whether you have a fulfilling life or a life of disappointment and regret.

Improve your time management skills and you can easily generate an extra hour per day, more likely 2 or 3. What could you accomplish if you created an extra 10-15 hours per week? More time with the people you love? More exercise? Higher income? Play a musical instrument? Finally write that novel?

Here’s what you need to do…

1. Commit to Excellence at Time Management

Resolve that you will continually improve your time management skills. How well you do this determines what you do in every moment in your life, and more importantly, how you feel in every moment in your life.

2. Create Clear, Realistic, and Important Goals

Being truly successful in life requires that you make the most of every moment you’re alive, that you always pursue your important goals. (See my post on goals for freelance writers and also this post where 19 freelance writers share their 2014 goals.)

I’m not talking about constantly focusing on your freelance writing. You need to be a well-rounded person, and often the best to do will be playing with your kids, eating a healthy meal, socializing with friends and family, or resting in deep and peaceful sleep. Your goals provide the blueprint for making the most of life, both in this moment and in the future.

3. Spend Your Time on the Most Important Things

Focus on getting the most important tasks done. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by minor items and trivial concerns.

Always ask yourself: “What’s the best use of my time right now?”

4. Concentrate on the Task at Hand

Give whatever you do your undivided attention and the full marshaling of your physical and mental resources.

5. Do Only One Thing

In most instances multitasking is inefficient, especially when you are writing.

6. Develop the Drive to Completion

See the end result in mind for everything you do. Make completion of the task a must and get it done.

7. Maintain Your Health

It’s vital that you take care of your health. Eat well, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, and take any necessary steps to maintain a high level of mental health. When you feel good, you get everything done faster and better.

8. Decide What You Will No Longer Do

Which of your habits steal time or detract from your health or quality of life? For many it’s watching several hours of mind-numbing television every evening. Others eat unhealthy foods that drain their energy. Identify these life wasters and stop doing them.

Your Take

How well do you do with these 8 techniques? What can you improve right now and how would it affect your life? What would you add to the list?

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    { 21 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Jennifer Mattern February 3, 2014 at 7:53 AM

    Twitter: @Jenn_Mattern

    Great tips John! Numbers 1 and 7 in particular have been important to me. I’m not great about things on the health front. While I’ve gotten better about making sure I whip up some breakfast before starting work, I still skip lunch frequently. I get so caught up in a project that times gets away from me. Then I’m completely zonked in the later half of the day.

    As for sleep, it’s been a struggle lately. Only this past week have I been able to sleep through the night again. Out of sheer desperation I downloaded a sleep hypnosis / meditation app and decided to let it play. I figured the worst that could happen is that I’d lie there awake as usual. With a 30 minute recording, I haven’t been able to stay up to hear the whole thing. I was shocked to find that I nod off in 10-15 minutes when it’s playing. Normally I could lie awake for an hour or two. Didn’t expect much from it, but it’s fantastic.

    As for your first point, that’s the key for me. My schedule is fairly well optimized. I get more done now than I ever would have dreamed just a few years ago. But no matter well my time is managed, I always look for ways to be even more productive. The challenge of it actually makes work feel more fun. :)
    Jennifer Mattern recently posted…4 More Tips for Freelance Ghostwriters

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    2 John Soares February 3, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    Jenn, you are perhaps the most productive freelance writer I know! (Jenn and I are both members of About Writing Squared, so I see detailed accounts of her activities in the Accountability section.)

    Adequate sleep is crucial. I give several suggestions in the link in the post, but what’s important for me is not eating for at least two hours before bed and also not watching or reading anything that’s violent or overstimulating for that same time period.
    John Soares recently posted…Beat Writer’s Block and Procrastination With My Kindle Ebook

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    3 Jennifer Mattern February 4, 2014 at 8:01 AM

    Twitter: @Jenn_Mattern

    You know, I never really thought about that, but I bet my husband and I do eat too close to dinner. I wonder if that’s a part of the problem. Hubby’s work influences that a lot. He often has client calls scheduled after his day job, so we hold off on dinner until he’s finished. And the calls can be pretty unpredictable, with him sometimes not getting off the call until around 8pm. So it might even be less about us eating too late, but more the inconsistency. Dinner’s anywhere from 5-8pm depending on when he’s finished with work and when we plan to hit the hay.

    When it comes to sleep, the only thing that seems to hurt me more than getting too little is getting too much. 8 hours is something I only do when I’m sick, or I end up having a lousy day the next day. At 9+, I’m a total disaster. I’m at my best with 5-7 hours, although I usually aim for between 6 and 7. It’s so important to figure out what’s right for each of our bodies individually. It’s too easy to believe the 8-hr rule we’re taught at kids. But what’s right for a growing child is not necessarily what’s right for an adult. I wish I’d learned that a long time ago.
    Jennifer Mattern recently posted…Why I Love Freelancing: Reminders

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    4 John Soares February 4, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    You’re right Jenn: we’re all different in the amount of sleep we need. Studies show that most of us need 7-8 hours. I find I need about 7 to 7.5 hours.
    John Soares recently posted…The Best Google+ Communities for Freelance Writers

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    5 Marysia @ My Travel Affairs February 3, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    Twitter: @mytravelaffairs

    For me I would say 3 and 5 are a challenge. I always do 100 things at once and I can’t stay focus for two long, I hear that the new email arrived and I click email box and get distracted, than I forget and before i get back to my original task it is ages! Thanks for all the great tips! I’m gonna push myself a bit :)
    Marysia @ My Travel Affairs recently posted…Friday Lens Affair #55

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    6 John Soares February 3, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    Marysia, you’ll definitely be more productive if you can focus on one thing at a time. Turn off e-mail alerts and only allow yourself to check e-mail at set intervals, preferably just 2-3 times a day.
    John Soares recently posted…19 Successful Freelance Writers Share Their Top Goals for 2014

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    7 Anne Wayman February 3, 2014 at 10:42 AM

    Twitter: @annewayman

    Good list, John.

    I don’t sleep as well as I once did, but I do go to bed and mostly stay there on the theory my body knows more about what it needs sleep-wise than I do.

    I’m pretty good at focus… until I get bored… then it’s discipline.

    A
    Anne Wayman recently posted…Writers – That or Which? (Now With Bonus Who!) With Handy Chart

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    8 John Soares February 3, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    Self-discipline is crucial to success in just about anything. I find when I’m sleepy that my self-discipline is not as strong; if I’m too sleepy I take a short nap.
    John Soares recently posted…The Best Google+ Communities for Freelance Writers

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    9 Cathy Miller February 3, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    Twitter: @millercathy

    And I’m great on the health part and not as great on some of the others. ;-) My home situation has built-in distractions that I struggle with.

    One thing I found that works for me is if I see my attention/energy level waning on a project, I move away from it and on to another one. If I try to push through something, I am more likely to let other (non-productive) things distract me. By moving on to another project it gives me a break and re-energizes my creativity.

    I’m not multi-tasking at once, but instead focusing on something different. So, my goal may be – spend XX amount of time on Project A and XX on Project B per day. I’ve never missed a deadline.

    Did that make any sense? ;-)
    Cathy Miller recently posted…A Simple Marketing Budget Guide Dispels Myths

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    10 John Soares February 3, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    Makes perfect sense Cathy!

    I also move from project to project. It’s very difficult for me to work all day on the same thing. My mind starts to wander and I’m less efficient.
    John Soares recently posted…The 8 Top Ways to Legally Lower Your 2013 Freelance Writer Tax Bill

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    11 Kaloyan Banev February 3, 2014 at 9:29 PM

    Twitter: @webmaisterpro

    Excellent general tips. Time management is critical. Usually people that leave their full time job, easily understand that after the first few months as self employed.
    Kaloyan Banev recently posted…Ghost Blogging CMS Review

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    12 Adithya Shetty February 4, 2014 at 2:39 AM

    Twitter: @howzthatt

    Hi John,
    Great time management tips for writers!
    setting realistic goals and following it is necessary. . .
    And I also agree, staying healthy is important for writers. .

    Reply

    13 Gene Burnett February 5, 2014 at 12:47 AM

    Really boils down to being clear about your mission and prioritizing. Everything else seems to unfold from this. GB

    Reply

    14 John Soares February 5, 2014 at 5:50 PM

    You’re a very smart guy!
    John Soares recently posted…Beat Writer’s Block and Procrastination With My Kindle Ebook

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    15 Jeevan Jacob John February 5, 2014 at 9:46 AM

    Twitter: @DaringBlogger

    I just need to take care of #4 – all others are good (I think :D).

    I didn’t take any classes last semester, so I had plenty of time to experiment with my schedule and my efficiency – it worked really well.

    The problem was that I got back to college this semester (well, that isn’t the problem..actual problem was nervousness – part of my mind wasn’t sure whether I will be able to do it).

    So…January didn’t go so well, not as well as I had hoped. But, Feb has been great :D I have got back to the game – I am getting things done, I do have some free time for entertainment and other things and in overall, I am enjoying my life :D

    But, I think I can improve ;) There is always more room for growth, right? Tweak my schedule and make it more efficient (so, more free time which I could use for other things).

    Anyways, thank you for the tips, John :D Appreciate it!
    Jeevan Jacob John recently posted…Social Media Strategy, Tips/Quotes and Socializing!

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    16 John Soares February 5, 2014 at 5:47 PM

    Success at college really requires good time management. Sounds like you’re back on track!
    John Soares recently posted…The Best Way to Bid a Freelance Project

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    17 Ken Peffer February 5, 2014 at 12:39 PM

    Twitter: @mainlinetelecom

    Hi John, 3 and 5 definitely toughest for me. I’ve learned the strategies and theories behind it, why is it so hard to put into action?? Have been blogging for a couple of years now, and found your article seeking some ways to make it a little easier – thanks for the good tips!

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    18 Veronica February 6, 2014 at 4:36 AM

    Hey John,
    Excellent list.Extremely helpful and essential for writers.Thanks for sharing and inspiring me.Point 3 and 5 are really important for me to focus,sometimes point 7 also.

    Reply

    19 Irene Enriquez February 8, 2014 at 9:51 PM

    Twitter: @girlygeekph

    I’m currently working on 5 and 8. I try to do one thing at a time. I don’t do anything else until I finish the task. I do it not just with writing, but also in other areas of my life (watching TV series, playing video games). Right now I’m playing a game called Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations. Even though there are so many games that I want to get my hands on, I’m committing to finishing it first. I hope that this level of focus will rub off on my writing and everything else I do.
    Irene Enriquez recently posted…Problem with Editing Facebook’s Look Back Video

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    20 Sagar February 11, 2014 at 5:21 AM

    Twitter: @wisestepp

    Time management one of the important lesson to learn for writers. With proper time management we can easily accomplish our goals, I can tell it confidently as i have experienced it . Use your time in a way where you can manage all your works and can also get enough time to get relaxed. In this busy life people mostly ignore about their health, family and friends and run behind their work.

    Not a very good way of living. As a writer it is very important that we have a calm and resourceful mind. The above article gave me some great ideas with which may be i am gonna make sure success.

    Nice and inspirational post . thank you for sharing such a good post.
    Sagar recently posted…5 Types of People Who Can Never Enjoy Life

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    21 Katrin Brandstetter February 21, 2014 at 4:01 AM

    Twitter: @KonradSanders

    Fantastic post John! I totally agree with you that time management is absolutely crucial for a writer. It’s so true that you should only concentrate on one thing, because then you are faster and can achieve higher quality overall, which is the most important thing.

    How many hours per day do you knuckle down and just write?
    Thanks again! Awesome post!
    Katrin Brandstetter recently posted…How to Make Your Content Pack a Powerful Punch!

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