You start freelance blogging because you want to be in control of your own schedule. Now you’ll have time to do all the things you never had time for before: Exercise! Hobbies! Playing with your kids! Volunteering! Taking classes!
Then reality gives you a slap in the face.
You discover that freelance blogging consists of more than writing witty posts whenever the inspiration hits, while sipping java in your beautifully appointed home office. You also need to create a content calendar. Pitch guest posts. Market your blogging services to prospects. Build your list. Socialize your posts. Network with influencers. Do invoicing and accounting and taxes. Not to mention develop eyeball-grabbing headlines and source amazing images for your posts.
So it still feels like you’re working 24-7, and you still have no time to actually live the rest of your (non-work) life.
The good news is that you can make the time for full-time blogging and all the other things you want to do, see, experience, and create as well. Here’s how.
1: Get Real
We all have 168 hours in a week. Even if you work 40 hours per week and sleep eight hours a night, that leaves 72 hours per week free and clear for your non-work goals.
Yes: That means you actually do have time to go on an hour-long run every day, volunteer several hours per week, work on your art or your music each day, read great books, and take a class in a topic you’re interested in.
Right now you’re probably saying, “I wish I worked 40 hours per week…it’s more like 80. And childcare and housework duties suck up the rest of my time.”
But time use studies show us that people routinely overestimate how much time they spend at work, overshoot on their guesses of how much housework and childcare they do, and underestimate how much they sleep. No finger-pointing here: We don’t do it on purpose. In a culture where being underslept and working crazy hours is a badge of pride, we tend to unconsciously skew the numbers (by a lot).
The solution: Track your time for one week. You can create a chart yourself, or download one of the many free time-tracking apps like Toggl (for web, desktop, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Linux) or Everhour (web-based only).
Then, tally up how many hours you actually spend working, cleaning the house, running errands, and taking care of your kids. (And if you do indeed spend 16 hours per day at your desk, analyze whether you’re actually working all those hours, or are falling down the Facebook-Twitter-Buzzfeed spiral or getting up every 30 minutes to have a snack.)
Just knowing how many hours of free time are going unnoticed in your week can give you a sense of freedom, expansion, and possibility. And that leads to the next step…
2: Don’t Let Other People Control Your Schedule
I once coached a writer (let’s call her Lisa) who wanted to run a 5k, but she didn’t have enough free time in her schedule to train.
After chatting with Lisa a bit, I noticed that she had phone interviews scattered throughout the day. For example, she’d interview someone at 11 am and then have another call at 12:15.
It ended up she did have the time to train, but it was in 15-minute bits here and 25-minute bits there due to her interview schedule.
I discovered that Lisa’s M.O. was to reach out to an interview subject and ask, “When can you do an interview?” Then she’d accept whatever time they threw out there. We decided that instead of letting her sources suggest times for the calls, from now on Lisa would offer times that worked for her, so she could stack up her interviews early in the day and then have a stretch of free time to train.
The moral of the story: If you let other people control your schedule and try to fit your goals into the time that’s left over, chances are you’ll never get to work on your goals at all.
Here are some other ways to take back control of your calendar:
Schedule your priorities.
Decide what your goals are, schedule them into your calendar, and fit everything else around them. Usually we do the opposite, and it’s amazing how many “urgent-but-not-important” tasks — like breathless emails from clients and babysitting requests from friends– come along to fill up our weeks.
So put your exercise sessions, volunteering hours, coffee dates, trips with your family, and dance classes onto your calendar now…before it fills up. (Right now. I’ll wait.)
Set up standing appointments.
If you wait until you need a service before you schedule it — such as oil changes, HVAC maintenance checks, vet visits, hair cuts, and dentist appointments — you’ll probably have to accept an appointment time that’s not convenient to you, and then you won’t have that time slot open for your more important goals.
Instead, schedule standing appointments where you can; for example, your cat is scheduled for a checkup every first Wednesday in June at 8 am, before the start of your work day. You get your hair cut and colored every eighth Saturday at 5:30 pm, after you’ve come back from a day trip with your family. You get the idea!
Negotiate your deadlines.
If you blog for clients, try to negotiate deadlines so that you don’t have a bunch of posts due in one week and then zilch for the next three weeks, which puts a big cramp in your ability to schedule other goals.
Try saying, “I already have a post due that day, and want to make sure I have the time and focus to do a great job on yours. Could I turn it the following Monday?” When you couch your request in terms of benefits to your client or employer, they’re more likely to agree.
Believe me — having been a freelance writer for the last two decades, I know this works. Clients typically build in a lot of buffer time to fend against flaky freelancers who miss deadlines. Your clients know you’re not flaky (right?) so they should be fine giving you a few extra days.
Batch your tasks.
We talked about doing this with calls, but it’s amazing how many other tasks lend themselves to batching.
For example, run all your errands at the same time every week — you can race around town and pick up your dry cleaning, get your groceries, fill the tank, and hit the post office. Use an app like Buffer to schedule all your social media posts at once. Write all your guest post pitches in one day every week, and do all your following up in one hour a few days later.
If you batch your to-dos wherever you can, you’ll be left with big stretches of free time instead of a few minutes here and there.
Once you have control over your schedule, you’ll find you have plenty of time to go after everything you hope to do in your life — not just your blogging-related goals.
3: Analyze Your Schedule
We humans build up habits because they’re efficient and they make our lives easier. Each day is filled with hundreds of decisions, so our brains streamline the process so we don’t have to stop dead in our tracks to decide whether to have cereal or eggs for breakfast (we always have eggs!) or when to work (we always work from 9 to 5!).
We tend to build our habits around the stats quo, because it’s the easiest route. But as freelance writers, our lives aren’t the status quo, so often these habits don’t work for us as well as they could.
The trick to creating free time for your other goals is to sit down and analyze your days. Take a look at every single thing you do each day, from making your morning cuppa to setting your alarm at night. Ask yourself:
- Is this the best time to do this thing?
- Can I make the process more efficient?
- Does this thing need to take as much time as it normally does?
- Can I outsource it?
- Does this thing need to be done at all?
You may come up with solutions like this:
- Since I’m a freelance blogger who works at home, and not a construction worker who toils in the hot sun all day, I don’t need to shower every day.
- Instead of hitting the supermarket to pick up a few items every day, I can plan our meals and order my groceries online once a week.
- I can exercise in the afternoon when I’m not doing my best work anyway, and save the productive morning hours for writing.
- Just because the non-freelancing world works eight hours a day doesn’t mean I have to. In fact, I can get all my work done in just three hours if I focus!
- Our dinner process is inefficient. I’ll look up slow cooker recipes that I can double so I’m spending less time at the stove every day.
- I feel great on seven hours of sleep, even though my body wants to lounge in bed for nine hours. I’ll start setting my alarm for 15 minutes earlier every day until I’m snoozing just seven hours per night.
Remember, what works for other people doesn’t necessarily work for you. Make sure your habits are serving you, even if that means you have to break away from the status quo schedule your 9-5 friends follow. That way, you can make time for your other important goals.
4: Race Against the Clock
We writers tend to stall, procrastinate, and wait for inspiration to strike before we start writing. Then we wonder why it takes a week to craft a post or a sales pitch, and why we have no time for all those other things we were hoping to accomplish once we finally went freelance.
Guess what? You can will yourself to move faster.
- Set a goal to fill your social media queue for the week in two hours.
- A couple of weeks ago, I designed, wrote, and put up a brand-new website for my new book in under four hours. Yes, it can be done!
- Challenge yourself to answer every email that comes your way in five lines or less.
- I know people who can write a 1,000-word post in an hour. If they can do it, so can you!
- If you cold call prospects to offer your blogging services, see if you can jam through 20 calls in an hour. That’s 3 minutes per call, and since you’ll mostly leave voicemails, it’s a very doable goal. Voila — if you work an eight-hour day, you’ve now freed up seven hours!
The secret is to decide that you’re going to move faster, and then set challenges for yourself. It should not take a week to write a post, or a full day to make 20 cold calls! Break through that mental barrier and you’ll find you have plenty of time for all your other goals.
5: Know That It Gets Easier
Finally, keep in mind that freelance blogging gets easier the more experience you have. Eventually, you’ll have a roster of reliable clients who come to you with work. You’ll enjoy a network of other bloggers who are happy to share your guest posts and spread the word about your blog so you’re not always in pitch mode.
The initial push to get started as a freelance blogger is always intense and time-consuming. Keep at the blogging, learn the ropes, gain experience…and you’ll find you have more time to reach for your other goals, whether they’re to travel more, spend more time with your family, or just relax and enjoy life.
That’s why you started freelancing in the first place…and you can make it happen.