Leaving Work Behind

How to Maximize Your Efficiency as a Freelance Writer (in 5 Simple Steps)

Written by Alexander Cordova on November 1, 2016. 5 Comments

A man carrying a number of drinks.Freelance writers can be an odd bunch. Not many other professions get paid by the word, after all. In real-world terms, that means your earning potential is affected by your efficiency in a way most nine-to-five jobs aren’t.

With that in mind, the logical solution as a freelance writer is to maximize your efficiency. You need to figure out what your weaknesses are, find the right tools or techniques to tackle them, then get to work. It requires you to take a long, hard look at yourself and ask, How can I be better?

It’s a lot to ask, for sure, but there’s plenty you can learn from others. Let’s walk through my routine and figure out how to adapt it to help you, in five simple steps (all the while I keep an eye on the word count!).

Step #1: Do Your Research and Write an Outline

The first step to a well-written article is to know what you’re talking about. Ideally, you’d only get hired to write about topics you’re intimately familiar with, but we all know that’s a pipe dream – do let me know about any openings for cuisine and tech blogs, though!

Often, you’ll need to do some research before jumping into the writing process.  An excellent technique I learned at one of my first serious writing gigs is to outline the key points to hit throughout an entire article before jumping into the writing.

You don’t even need to flesh out your ideas for this to be effective. Keep things short, then refer to that outline while you’re writing to make sure you don’t miss anything. For example, here’s a rough example of this section:

  1. Explain why research is important for freelance writers.
  2. Introduce the outline as a way to increase efficiency.
  3. Show an example of an outline.

By working on a cycle of researching, outlining, then writing, your efficiency should soar!

Step #2: Get Your Workspace Ready

We all have our own preferences for workspaces. In my case, I like to do my writing on an old laptop that can barely handle web browsing, but still loads a lightweight text editor like a champ. I keep it alongside my PC so I can load up my outline (and any other references) side by side to cut down on the time I spend checking between tabs:

A laptop and a desktop computer side by side.

As you can see, I’m a terrible photographer, but I do have a comfortable setup. The view could be better, but that’s a little more complicated to fix. I like this setup because it enables me to increase my efficiency by minimizing distractions – I have everything I need side by side, so there’s no motivation for me to open a new tab and take a little five minute break.

This setup works for me, but you may be more comfortable using dual monitors, just a single large one, or even a physical notebook to complement your workspace. You don’t need to open your wallet, just experiment with the tools you have until you find a combination that works. A workspace customized to your needs will make you feel comfortable, and enable you to be more productive.

Step #3: Choose Your Tools

A good productivity tool should enable you to simplify the most difficult areas of your work. For example, I love the process of writing an article, but editing doesn’t come as naturally for me. You’ll likely also have an idea of what your weak spots are.

I use a suite of tools, with two of my favorites geared towards holding my hand through the editing process. One points out obvious mistakes, and the second helps me prevent phrases from becoming unwieldy. Aside from my laptop and PC, I’m a big fan of three tools:

  1. The Hemingway Editor. Great for simplifying your writing. It tells you when your phrases get too complicated, but I find it’s sometimes a bit of a zealot.
  2. Grammarly. Despite having spent a lot of time working as a freelance writer, I still make mistakes from time to time. Grammarly does a decent job of catching stuff I miss.
  3. The Strict Workflow Chrome Extension. This extension is based on the Pomodoro technique. You work in stretches of 25 minutes, then take five minute breaks before jumping back into it. It does wonders for my productivity, and you can even force it to block distracting sites.

When choosing your own tools, focus on finding those that help minimize your negatives, and your productivity should increase as a result.

There are a lot of apps available these days to help you increase your productivity, but you can always go low-tech. Some people process things better when they write by hand, so taking notes while doing your research could help to boost your productivity later on. It’s all a matter of trying new tools until you find the one that’s right for you.

Step #4: Minimize Procrastinations

Procrastination is one of my biggest personal downfalls. If given the opportunity, I will waste valuable hours of my time on funny cat videos. In the immortal words of Shia Labeouf, the best and only method to get your ass in gear is to “Just do it” until it becomes routine.

Your brain is wired to shy away from unpleasant tasks, which is how most of us view our work at one time or another. To fight this, you need to overcome that first impulse to do something more pleasurable.

As I mentioned earlier, I use the Pomodoro technique to combat my own bad habits – over time, it’s gotten to the point where I can’t enjoy breaks unless I’ve earned them with a solid 25 minutes of work beforehand. If that doesn’t work for you, there are always other tricks you can use – one is bound to stick!

Step #5: Know When to Rest

Like a much more boring version of Batman, I often reach peak efficiency at night – and this presents a conundrum. I can write faster, but the later it gets, the less sleep I get – which affects my performance the next day.

Lack of sleep impacts memory, cognitive performance, and my ability to interact with others without being sarcastic. Only two of which are important to my writing – thank God for freelancing!

As a freelance writer, you may have a similar issue. Sometimes you take on too many projects at once, or have to work a bit of overtime now and then – but if sleepless nights are a regular fixture, there’s a serious problem brewing. Depending on your age, the National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep per day.

If you aren’t hitting those numbers on a consistent basis, you may want to consider raising your rates as a freelance writer to compensate. That way, you can focus on working for higher-quality clients, while cutting down on those sleepless nights. If you provide your body with a regular sleep schedule, it’ll reward you with increased energy and focus.


Being able to write thousands of words per day – without losing your mind in the process – is all well and good. However, taking care of yourself is equally as important to your success in the long run. After all, having to drink thirty cups of coffee a day just to get through is not a good lifestyle choice – be more like me, with my modest four cups a day habit!

One way to help is to increase your efficiency, saving you some time and giving you some much needed breathing room to boot. Let’s recap:

  1. Research and outline your topic.
  2. Get your workspace ready.
  3. Choose your tools wisely.
  4. Get started working – now, not in a couple of hours!
  5. Know when to take a break.

Do you have your own personal routine to maximize your efficiency? Share your secrets with us in the comments section below!

Image credit: TP studio.

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5 Responses to “How to Maximize Your Efficiency as a Freelance Writer (in 5 Simple Steps)”

  1. Catherine Heath
    November 2, 2016 at 9:21 am

    This is great, Alex. I also struggle with efficiency and limiting my caffeine intake. It’s definitely about training yourself to do the important stuff first. I think outlining your priorities can really help with efficiency as you’ll subconsciously gravitate towards those tasks, without having to make the conscious decision in the moment of what to work on. 🙂

  2. lukmon
    November 3, 2016 at 7:53 am

    This is a wonderful post as it is concise and practical. In my next post at infotechagent.com, I will implement one or two of these tools.
    “Grammarly” has been a wonderful tool since I started using it, though its trial.

    As I just swung into action after long-term reading, now, I have been working passionately round the clock without even realizing it- perhaps, i need more rest :). I just hope things take the right shape with time.

    A senior colleague recommended your blog. kudos, so far.

  3. Roei av
    January 17, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    I agree with that. I worked as an SEO in the past few years and employees tend to think that freelance is paradise. Well it can be completely the opposite if you do not know to manage your time well, put boundaries to your clients!, and if you do not have self discipline. If you are an article’s reporter, I suppose it is even more challenging because a quality stories are stories that the writers experienced themselves.

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