I’ll never cease to find it hilarious that writers – the ones who produce giant books, keep up with blogs, and/ or draft article after article – get distracted so easily. We start researching for our work and go down a rabbit trail. We get a notification from our writing group and start responding to messages, and before we know it, an hour’s passed. Sometimes it feels like fighting an uphill battle just to stay on schedule.
It’s happened to all of us. Keeping to a schedule is difficult, but necessary. We need some kind of structure to keep us going, even if we don’t always exactly stick to it.
As a freelance writer, I’m my own boss. I have no one telling me when I need to work, which may sound nice, but it also means that I have to decide when I work. I have the freedom to not work if I don’t feel like it, which can be good, but also very dangerous.
So, as a writer and a freelancer, here are a few things I’ve found that help to keep me on track. I’m sure these aren’t brand new ideas, but they may surprise you!
1. Take breaks
This sounds counterintuitive, I know. I actually think this is one of the best ways to stay on schedule, which is why I put it as number one. Most people who plan 3-hour-long chunks of writing with no breaks will not get 3 hours of work done. They’ll get tired halfway through and sit there staring at a screen trying to figure out what to do (which is not a break, by the way). Soon enough, 30 minutes have passed without writing a thing. Maybe they even doze off.
Integrate breaks into your schedule. Breaks should include getting up, walking around, looking into the distance (to give your eyes a rest from close-up screens), maybe even eating a snack and/or getting a drink. How long these breaks are and how often they occur is up to you, and it’s something you’ll have to tweak as you try out your schedule.
As an example, I’ve played around with my schedule quite a bit the past couple of years, but my go-to right now is 15-minute increments separate by brief 30-second breaks to rest my eyes and stretch. After an hour, I take a longer 5-minute break to actually get up. It may seem like a lot of breaks, but it actually helps me stay really focused as I’m working.
How do I keep track of all of this? I use a timer app on my laptop. I can’t give you a link because I don’t know what kind of computer you use, but it’s super simple to just look one up on Google or the App Store. Mine allows me to separate my hours into increments and decide when I want short and long breaks. This way I’m not guessing how long I’m working – I know exactly how long I’ve worked and when I need a break.
2. Put your phone away
Our phones are extremely distracting, whether you’re addicted to yours or not. We can’t control how often people text or call us, not to mention the tons of spam calls everyone’s getting nowadays. While utilising “Do Not Disturb” or the “Work” silencing option is good, just having your phone in view can be a distraction. A simple glance at it can remind you that you need to call so-and-so later, pay that bill tomorrow, answer that text you forgot about, etc. Before you know it, your carefully planned schedule gets chucked out the window.
I keep my phone in a different room entirely while I’m working, but if you don’t have that option, just get it out of sight. Lock it in a drawer, put a book over it, whatever. Just get it out of the way.
Just as important is resisting the urge to be on your phone while on break. I know that many people relax by scrolling through social media or playing app games, but playing around on your phone during your break is likely to be more distracting than relaxing. You may feel like you’re ready to get back to work when your break is over, but chances are you’ll likely be thinking about something you just saw on the news or social media. Plus, it doesn’t give your eyes or brain a break (and I’m not making this up, it’s actual science). Again, I only know about iPhones here, but you can control what shows up in your Notifications Centre. This makes it so that you can glance at your phone quickly in case anything important has come up, and then set it down.
While on your breaks, maybe just sit still and listen to the silence, pray, go outside if you can, journal, draw, stretch… Anything that will rest your brain and eyes and reenergise you for work.
(I will also note that having “Do Not Disturb” on for long periods of time could potentially be dangerous if someone tries to call you in an emergency, which is why iPhones have an option to allow a call to go through if the same person calls you more than once – sorry for my ignorance, Android-users, but I imagine you probably have a similar option too! This may be a good idea if you leave your phone on silent for long periods of time without checking it. Make sure to let your close family members know about it, too, so they know how to reach you.)
3. Turn off email notifications
Emails are a good thing, right? Responding to them instantly helps us stay on top of our schedule!
Nice try, but no.
One of the most difficult things I’ve had to go through as a freelancer is getting clients to understand that I’m not available 24/7. The worst part is that I was bolstering this myth at first by constantly checking my emails and instantly responding to any messages that came my way!
Of course, some things are urgent and you want to respond to them as soon as possible. But likely, if this is the case, you’ll know the email is coming and can be on the lookout for it. On a daily basis, though, there’s no need to instantly know when you get an email. Think about it: you’re in the middle of writing down this incredible idea, you’ve got a great workflow going, then BAM! An email pops up from a client/boss/friend asking to talk to you about something. Instantly, your workflow is gone. Even if you’re not the kind of person who would start worrying about what they want to talk to you about (that’s me, I’m the worrier), just seeing the notification pop up and reading the subject line has already gotten your mind off track.
Choose a time to check your email. Maybe every hour, or maybe more or less often depending on your circumstances. I check mine quickly every hour before I go on break. And if there’s something I need to respond to, I usually don’t do it immediately. I take a break first, then respond. If I know it’s going to be a long reply, I’ll integrate writing that email into my schedule.
To be honest, I could go on and give you at least 20 tips to keep on schedule, but these are the main three that have helped me with both my freelancing work and my book writing. Perhaps I’ll write a Part 2! What do you think? (Let me know in the comments!)
I hope you found something in here that’s helpful to you. The most important thing to remember is that we’re all different, so we all operate differently as we write. My writing routine doesn’t have to be yours. Try things and figure out what works for you; it took me some time to pound out a good schedule that works for me.
Happy writing, and let’s stay on schedule this week!
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