I think we can all agree that time is an indispensable resource for writers.
So why on earth are we not managing it?
I’ve been writing professionally for over six years. And, truth be told, it took me a while to admit that my time management skills absolutely sucked. It took me even longer to adopt the right habits that made professional writing a sustainable routine.
I used to blame the lack of time whenever I failed to hit my daily writing goals.
Understandably, life does get in the way of a writer’s productivity—quite frequently, actually. There were times when I had to take my fur-babies to emergency vet visits. Other times, I had to run errands, like buying something from the store or driving someone somewhere.
I’m sure every writer has put writing aside for something important at one point.
In such situations, it feels like we have no control over whether or not there’s time to write. If you find that relatable, I’m about to blow your mind.
Let me start by dropping this bomb:
“To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying ‘I don’t want to.’” —Lao Tzu
As a writer, only you are responsible for your productivity. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll take back control.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disregarding the challenges everyone faces on a daily basis. Some writers have kids. Others have part-time jobs or schoolwork to attend to.
But, guess what?
I personally know people who deal with a lot more while still busting through their daily writing goals.
Plenty of successful bloggers today funded their careers by working full-time jobs or taking on part-time, freelance gigs. These people managed to squeeze writing into their already-busy schedules. And, just like you and me, they have the same 24 hours per day to work with.
The difference is, they knew exactly how to manage those 24 hours. It’s not about how much time we have, but how we spend it.
Still think that writing slumps are due to the lack of time?
If you answered “no,” you’re welcome.
My wake-up call happened in 2015, when I was assigned to write over 30,000 words in one week. I was a no-name freelance writer at that time. As such, I was willing to be overworked and underpaid.
Here’s what I had to do:
I then got a memo that the product descriptions must be done in one week.
Astounded, I sent a follow-up email:
Take note that the project description stated: “20 words to describe what the product does.”
That’s how I came up with the figure “20,000 words” in my email. In reality, I had to write around 30-40 words for all 1,000 products. That’s because I was also asked to edit the half-baked samples provided by the client.
If we’re being conservative, that translates to at least 30,000 words due in one week. Worst of all, this happened 15 days before Christmas.
Long story short, it was a total nightmare.
I thought to myself:
“Hey, I pulled off writing 5,000 words in one day before. I can do this.”
Thankfully, I was right. But it called for a complete overhaul of my daily writing routine.
This is the part where I talk about the time management strategies and habits that skyrocketed my productivity.
Remember, I’m speaking from experience.
You don’t have to follow everything to the letter to be considered productive. But if you are constantly fighting to have time to write, the strategies below can help turn things around.
You can define your own target daily word count based on your current project’s requirements and deadline.
For example, to write 30,000 words in one week, I must write at least 4,285.7 words per day.
Calculating my target daily word count was the first thing I did when I got that dreadful project in 2015.
Doing so gave me a tangible goal to shoot for every single day. It gave me a sense of urgency and accomplishment whenever I type that final 4,285th word.
Next, I built my official writing schedule around that specific daily word count requirement.
If you have a physical planner, you can use that to plan your schedule. Alternatively, you can use a spreadsheet app to make it more accessible.
My personal recommendation would be Google Sheets, thanks to its collection of free templates.
It even has a template for daily schedules, which is exactly what we need right now.
After loading the template, you need to manually fill in everything you have planned each week.
If you’re a full-time, professional writer, prioritize your daily writing goals in your schedule. You can do this in any fashion that suits you and your routines.
Whatever you do, don’t try to hit your target word count in one sitting.
While it’s definitely possible, I guarantee it’s not a sustainable strategy—and you’re about to learn why.
Studies reveal that the human brain goes through a constant rest-activity cycle called the ultradian rhythm.
In a nutshell, we all experience alternating periods of high and low brain activity.
The highs last for approximately 90 minutes, whereas lows last for about 10-20 minutes.
To maintain maximum productivity, consider resting after every 90 minutes of solid, uninterrupted work. This allows your brain the rest it needs to stay alert, focused, and productive.
With that in mind, here’s how I would structure an average workweek:
Personally, I take 30-minute breaks so I can sneak in a house chore or two before the next 90 minutes.
If you choose to use Google Sheets, you can easily adjust your break times to your preference. I recommend starting with 30-minute breaks first and gradually reducing them to 20 minutes. You can then decide which schedule to keep based on your performance.
Google Sheets will also let you weave planned events into your schedule in seconds. That’s something to consider if you’re still choosing between a physical planner and a spreadsheet app.
In addition, Google Sheets lets me adjust my output every 90 minutes to accommodate my goals.
Generally speaking, 500 words in 90 minutes is more than ideal. But in some situations, you need to step up and be more flexible with your output.
When I had to write 4,286 words every day, there were only two realistic options:
I opted to write 857.2 words every 90 minutes.
This gave me enough time to unwind and de-stress each night. More importantly, it gave me time to catch up in case I failed to hit the 4,286-word mark.
I suggest scheduling time for catching up, regardless of how demanding your current project is. Consider it a fail-safe for family and health emergencies.
This way, you’ll always have enough time to write, no matter what life throws your way.
Rest is a form of productivity, but it depends on your definition of “rest.”
If you spend your breaks reading work-related emails, proofreading, checking analytics, or doing anything mentally draining, you’re not resting. You’re merely spending time working without writing.
My definition of rest is to shut out anything related to work. This allows me to come back with a clear mind and fresh ideas.
To this day, I cycle through the following activities during breaks:
At times, I also check social media and watch YouTube videos. However, they make me feel tired rather than refreshed.
I’d avoid anything that involves staring at a screen if I were you.
Having trouble keeping up with your target daily word count? I almost gave up many times during my 30,000-word week. My excuse was:
“No worries, I’ll just write 500 extra words tomorrow.”
Luckily, I was at a point in my career where I was done with excuses.
Instead of giving in, I flipped my mindset by focusing on the end goal.
I thought about the pros of sticking to the plan:
Almost immediately, the short-term benefits of loafing about felt tiny in comparison.
Of course, the pros of following a plan vary from writer to writer. What’s important is that we all have our reasons to keep writing—giving a whole new meaning to every word. It’s all about managing positive and negative attitudes that tip the scale between productivity and procrastination.
I know, it almost sounds tacky. But it’s a sentiment definitely worth repeating.
Building a sustainable writing schedule is just the first step. Ideally, you only have to look at your schedule for a few days until it becomes routine.
Ready to roll up your sleeves and beat your next deadline with time to spare?
Before you go, don’t forget to track and improve your writing speed over time. It’s not rocket science: the faster you write, the more you’ll be able to maintain a productive writing schedule. You can do this through a mix of strategies that improve your focus, health, and writing habits.
Here are seven things I’ve learned over the years that help me stay focused and write faster:
You’ve made it to the end of this post—great job! What’s the next move?
I advise taking a quick break, fixing your schedule, and making me proud.
Remember, there’s always enough time to write; you just need to get your priorities in order. We all get the same 24 hours every single day—we just need to make those hours matter. Build your schedule around your goals, stay focused, and work on improving your writing speed.
Writing is supposed to be fun and fulfilling. Hopefully, this post will help keep it that way.
Editor’s Note from Elisa : I commissioned this fantastic piece because we all have experienced the false narrative we tell ourselves that “we don’t have enough time” to write, when the harsh truth is that we have chosen to do other things with our time. While that is true, especially in the past year of lockdowns and surviving-not-thriving I fully acknowledge (and want you to acknowledge!) that there are also very real limitations for some on their time and energy. It is a privilege to be able to look at your blocks of colour in a calendar and determine what you want to do with them, a privilege that not everyone is afforded. Some have jobs that will take that time, some have demands of children and family, some have illness or mental health that they must live with, the list goes on. This piece is not to chastise those without as much time, but instead to gently remind all of us to be precious with the choices we make on how to spend the time we have.
Romeo is a full-time freelance writer, fur-parent, and music lover. He also runs a blog called A Million Words Later, which he built to help aspiring freelance writers get the knowledge, inspiration, and resources they need to succeed. You can learn more about Romeo, his fur-babies, and the memes he likes on his Facebook.