Organizing Your Writing Time For Profit and Balance

by Anne Wayman

tracking time for writersI’ve had one of those mornings that simply got away from me. I’ve been at the computer for two hours and I’ve gotten almost nothing done that earns me money.

That’s unsual for me.

Oh I got up early enough, and I did my morning meditation routine. I even got started in the way that usually works for me.

First I go to my account at Toggl and start timing my activities. I began with what I call ‘survey the day.’ I spend a few minutes, and usually it’s less than five, reviewing what’s on my plate for the day.

Then I move to email.

That’s when it all began to break down.

Oh, the two short emails to two clients, updating one on a project and asking a question of another were right on target.

But instead of postponing trying to figure out how to bring TextNOW to my desktop to facilitate communication with my partner in a class I’m taking, I spent maybe 15 minutes trying to figure out how to log in before I realized I was spinning my wheels.


I started an email to her about my schedule. I realized that my Monday afternoons have recently changed and called a business friend to see if she wanted to get together even though we will be meeting with the third member of our team only twice a month now. That resulted in a fairly complex discussion of our mutual schedules.

Do you see what’s happening here?

By the time I got back to work I’d spent about 45 minutes of what I consider prime writing time on important stuff, but stuff I could have done later.

Fortunately I don’t often let email take me that far of track. My usual habit is to scan and see if there’s anything I need to handle right away. Part of my awareness is that I’m on the west coast and my east coast clients are well into their work day even though I usually start at 6 or 6:30.

The Money Shots

Since I know I do my best writing early in the day, the first writing tasks I tackle are those that will bring me money the soonest, or have the closest deadline. I call these my ‘money shots’ and put them in a special color (bright blue) on my calendar.

For instance, if I’ve got a client who needs a press release and has provided the info in this morning’s email, I’ll do that right after I post here.

When I have bigger projects, like ghostwriting a book, I always start that before 10 am, and often sooner. I save the afternoons for marketing and doing things for myself that will bring in income but not right away.


Afternoon is also when I tend to do what might be considered creative writing.

For example, I’ve started a series of gathas. I’m also slowly writing the story of my family at the request of my children. They want to hear about their grandparents and anything else I know. That’s a fun project and I’m writing it with almost no thought of publishing it.

Some Balance

I’ve learned that I can’t sustain much more than four hours of writing a day – not the concentrated kind of writing that gets projects moving and done.  When I try to do more, the next day I can barely write my name.

There’s lots of other stuff I can do for my writing business that are outside those best writing hours. Marketing, bookkeeping, editing, following up phone calls – all the stuff that makes a business run. I also try to schedule any classes I’m taking for the afternoon. Plus I generally get in some exercise several times a week. Finding balance makes life so much easier.

What About You?

Obviously my schedule won’t work for you. That’s not the point. What I’m suggesting is you recognize what time of day you do your best writing and honor that. Figure out how many hours a day you can write and keep up that pace over the week, month and year. Then develop your schedule according to that.

I usually approach this by creating my ideal day. You might find that a helpful technique.

You might also find Time Tracking helpful.

How do you determine your writing schedule?

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Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Valerie Everett

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron Turner February 19, 2012 at 5:48 am

Becoming a freelancer writer get you some quick cash or you can decide to make a profession out of it if you have the patience and a creative mind to produce some excellent written articles.
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annew February 20, 2012 at 7:55 am

Quick cash as a writer can be hard to come by unless you’re happy with a buck or two.

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Greg January 31, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Thanks for sharing this Anne. It’s really cool to see how you (and other writers generally) manage your time.

I take a weird approach, probably because of my family situation (young hyperactive kids). I’ve tried in so many ways to organize my time, but in spite of what everybody advises, I find that just letting go works best. I don’t know how I get stuff done, but I do. I have no ‘sweet spot’ and don’t have the luxury of sticking to one (kids…) and the less attached I am to ‘my time’ or a schedule, the better my writing and overall life is.

I get up at the crack of 7 everyday (it’s painful for me) and take everything as it comes, at some point getting 4-5 hours of writing in.

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annew February 1, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Greg, if you’re getting 4-5 hours of writing in with that approach, it only proves that we’re not all alike… good on you.!

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Anne Woodman January 31, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Anne, Everything you said was true and helpful. But I’ve found that the timing of writing and other things in my life are ever-mutating. I always run first-thing, but not because I want to… because I need to get that out of the way so I can shower and move on to other things. When I run in the afternoon, I have a much better run. But it will then throw off other goals for the day!

Writing is one of those things I do every moment I can fit it in. That may mean mid-morning, lunchtime, late afternoon or even close to bedtime (and there is no accounting for what is written then. ; ) It sounds like you’ve got it down to a science.
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annew February 1, 2012 at 11:54 am

Science? No, not quite Anne. But I do myself pretty well by now.

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Amelia Ramstead January 31, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I’m still trying to find my ideal writing time. Early mornings make me cry, and evenings are my family time. Mid-morning seems to be my sweet spot, but I always have so much I want to do and never quite enough time to do it in. Plus, I have frequent interruptions from my son’s school. We’re addressing this in a meeting this week, so hopefully that particular interruption will be removed. Now if only I could resist the siren call of Facebook and email…
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annew February 1, 2012 at 11:52 am

Amelia, when you’er juggling little ones it’s tough. One of the thing’s I’ve discovered is I never get it all done even now when I live alone.

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John Soares January 31, 2012 at 11:31 am

I really like how you’ve organized your writing Anne, and thanks for discussing it in such detail.

I’m also a morning person. Whenever possible I block out the first 90 minutes to work on my most important project. Then I have breakfast, check e-mail, and hop in Twitter.
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annew January 31, 2012 at 11:58 am

Thanks, John. When it comes down to it what’s important is we have some sort of organizational scheme that works for us… no matter when we work best.

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ella January 31, 2012 at 3:34 am

Time tracking is definitely useful thanks for sharing that links and this post, it really highlighted some things i do “wrong” with my time but also brought ideas for solutions
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annew January 31, 2012 at 10:50 am

Thanks Ella

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Cathy Miller January 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm

These are great tips, Anne. I may try Toggl – at least for a while. I have a natural tendency to resist anything that even hints at a time clock or too much structure – it’s that wide, independent streak that got me into freelancing in the 1st place – and darn stubbornness. :-)

I have very similar needs as you, Anne. Must be our ahem seasoned experience.
:-) My most productive time for writing is in the morning, too. I get up very early. My Mom sleeps later and it reminds me of the quiet I had when I lived alone and was working. Maybe because of so many years of getting up for my corporate life, I am definitely a morning person.

That being said, I did find out something interesting about myself. When I had to change my morning routine to do my 3-Day training, I had more energy and was able to write effectively at a time of day I would not have thought possible. I think that points to that balance thing you were talking about.

Great post, Anne.
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annew January 30, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Cathy, the only reason I started tracking time was to see if I was right about how long stuff took… I was right about much and surprised about some important things.

Interesting about the extra energy… might try walking earlier.. I want to do everything in the morning. ;)

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