I thought I’d be totally fine as a full-time freelancer. I was wrong. Here’s what I did to become more productive as a self employed writer.

I never figured I’d ever be self employed, but that’s exactly where I found myself when my temp job ended sooner than expected in December 2016. When that happened, I knew what I had to do. I’d been working part-time as a freelance writer for a year by that point, so I decided to take my side hustle full-time.

I thought I knew everything I needed to know about being productive. After all, I’d been getting up at 4:30 am each morning to get my writing done before “actual” work.

Boy, was I in for a big surprise.

Normal work schedules wouldn’t work

Here’s the deal. I get the afternoon sleepies real bad. Come 2:00, I’ve been known to spontaneously conk out like a drunkard. It’s not just me either; my whole family is that way, all the way to my elderly grandmother and beyond who all took hour-long naps every day (thanks for those genes, Nana).

When I was at work with other people doing active things, it wasn’t so bad. But when I tried doing the “normal” work schedule on my own and sitting in a chair for eight hours straight, things didn’t work out so well. Especially when my bed is literally always within thirty feet of me in my apartment.

This didn’t work out so great in my first few months of being self employed. I’d been regularly making $1,000 per month while freelancing part-time, and when I switched to full-time work, I imagined I’d be rolling in the cash like Scrooge McDuck. Instead, three months out, I was still stuck at about the same level, earning barely above $1,500 per month.

This is when I decided things had to change. I went on an epic quest to fine-tune my work schedule for maximum productivity and earnings.

Finding a routine that worked for me

The first thing I experimented with was my daily workout. I tried working out in the morning and evening. No dice; I still passed out mid-day. Then I tried breaking up my day. Instead of doing an eight-hour computer slog, I took an hour off around lunchtime to work out and shower. Success! I was able to stay awake for the whole day.

I also varied how much I work each day. Most of the time, I won’t work more than six or seven hours a day. I make up for it by working weekends so that when all is said and done, I’ve actually worked more than a standard 40-hour workweek. Even though I’m working longer than most folks, it doesn’t feel like it since I’m staying within the limits of what I can accomplish each day.

Another thing that’s really helped me stay focused is listening to focus music. I use the Focus@Will app to get in the right writing zone. When I turn the music on, I can instantly write and it’s amazing. It’s definitely helped me crank out more articles over time.

Matching tasks to my energy level

Even though I found a way to stay productive in the afternoon, it doesn’t mean that’s when I’m the most productive. In fact, I found I can crank out more writing by doing the bulk of it in the morning, when my energy level and creativity are at their highest.

On the flipside, I reserve the afternoons for more menial tasks, like invoicing, social media for my blog, and accounting. If I’m trying to get ahead on work, I can still usually crank out an article or two (like this one; it’s 4:45 pm as I write this).

Keeping a running to do list

I’ll be straight with you again. I’m probably one of the most forgetful people you’ll ever meet. I have been known to spend hours searching for a cell phone that’s in my back pocket.

That’s why my to do list is my lifesaver. The list of tasks allows me to remember what needs to get done, and because I can order them by priority level, it also helps with time management as well.

I use the free Todoist app to categorize each item into one of three priority levels: red, orange, and yellow. Red items need to get done today. I won’t let myself go to bed at night until all red items are finished. Orange items are nice to get done today, but not necessary, and yellow items are things that have to get done at some point, but whenever I get around to it.

More productivity = more money

This all sounds well and good, but did it actually make any difference where it counts—in the money department? You bet.

Since my major debut flop as a freelancer, these time management and productivity tips have helped me increase my income 10 times over. I’m making more money now than I ever thought I would, even as an end-stage, non-self-employed career professional.

And it’s all thanks to the productivity systems I set up in place. Now, what can you do if you challenge yourself to become more productive?

Lindsay VanSomeren is a personal finance and science writer. Check out more of her writing at Notorious D.E.B.T.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

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