Today on Building Blocs, we talk freelance hygiene and the tricky task of time management.

People in the creative industries have plates so full they should probably switch to buckets. Stepping away from the creepy metaphors for a moment, time management can make or break your career. Without a plan that allows you to spend the maximum amount of time on projects you believe in, your valuable hours will be eaten up my emails and mediocre think-pieces. As Victor Hugo said, “He who every morning plans the transactions of that day and follows that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.”

Is it a hell yeah?

Derek Sivers writes in his book Anything You Want that unless you’re saying, ‘Hell YEAH’ about a project, then you should be saying ‘no’. There are only so many passion projects you can dedicate yourself to while doing them justice. If it’s not sending your heart into flutters, or if it’s demanding, unpaid work that doesn’t make your whole body vibrate, then politely turn it down.

Passion projects have a way of sneaking in and taking over our lives. Try to regularly audit your commitments by writing out what you have said ‘Hell Yeah’ to this year and ask yourself the hard questions of whether you still feel this way. Just because it was an amazing opportunity for you two years that doesn’t mean it fits into your life now.

time management

Knowing your worth

Our editor, Elizabeth Flux, spoke about this recently in an interview with Liminal Magazine (you can read it here – it’s great).  She says, ‘if someone is making money from your work, so should you.’ In an industry that preys on unpaid labour, it’s important to define your boundaries clearly and stick to them. Your freelance career will not grow from work that cannot support you. It is a mental and financial strain to work for free. While financial compensation is not the only value you should place on your work, it should be a significant consideration in whether you will write for that publication again.   

While getting paid in real life dollars – not exposure – is important, it’s worth also taking into account if the amount being offered is fair, whether the work will further your career and if the outlet pays you promptly without multiple follow ups being necessary. If you’re chasing up $30 six months down the line, it’s not worth your time and labour.

Track your invoices

Speaking of money, having a system in place which allows you to easily create and keep track of invoices will help financially and emotionally. You’ll be able to look at your income month by month, year by year and see where your income has grown. This will allow writers to home in on what strategies paid off as well as celebrating the year’s successes.

There are lots of fantastic services out there that help freelancers from drowning in a sea of old receipts or poorly constructed invoices. I’d recommend looking at Wave because it’s clean, designed for small businesses and - perhaps most importantly for those of us starting out – it’s free to use.

time management

Dealing with deadlines

A good rule to live by is break deadlines only in case of emergencies. If you don’t think you can get a piece to an editor within a week, don’t tell them you will and hope for the best. Like assembling IKEA furniture, writing always takes longer than you expect it to. Interview subjects take days to reply and topics can be much more complex than you imagined, requiring hours of additional research. Give yourself a couple of days’ wiggle room in case the worst happens: you get the flu or you temporarily forgot about an upcoming house inspection.

It’s also worth saying that if you’re pitching an involved interview or research piece, you can always write a draft before you pitch to ease the pressure. I’ve taken to doing this more and more as I’ve found once I’ve written something in full, the pitch is much sharper and there’s no scramble to meet a deadline.

Have any tips to share on managing your time as a freelancer? Let us know in the comments.


Our next short course is upon us: Freelancing with Benjamin Law is tonight at 8pm. Law will share his secrets on getting started, producing ideas and getting paid to write. The course is free and you can register here.


Katerina Bryant's picture

Katerina Bryant

Katerina Bryant is a writer based in Adelaide and Writers Bloc's Writing Development Manager. Her work has appeared in the Griffith Review, Kill Your Darlings and The Lifted Brow, amongst others. She tweets at @katerina_bry.