Freelance Journalist

February 27, 2019 (Updated )

As a freelancer, having no set 9-5 can be liberating. But, even for the most organised among us, without clear structure your mind can wander and, before you know it, you’re watching your fourth baby goat video on YouTube. 

However, there are plenty of apps, tools and processes to help you put off procrastination and improve your productivity. And, because we like you, we’ve decided to share a few insider tips on how to motivate yourself to put the goat videos away, despite not having a boss overseeing your output.

Sort Your To Do List Out, No Seriously

We can’t all have stationary like this, but hell we can dream can’t we? (Image Credit: Chimene Gaspar / Unsplash)

Having a well-organised to-list is essential as a freelancer – you need to go beyond just writing everything down in bullet points.

Personally, I can’t rave about Todoist enough. This to-do list app syncs with all your devices and lets you easily tag and view tasks by date, project and priority.

Those of us that like a little pat on the back will also enjoy the “karma points” you receive for successfully completing tasks on time; a virtual nod to the satisfaction of crossing something off your paper to-do list.

Other options include Carrot To Do List for those looking to unlock kittens while being dealt a healthy dose of sarcasm (yes, really), as well as Google’s Keep. You can also, of course, crack out the highlighters and the notepads.

Know What You Want To Achieve

(Image Credit: Jamie Templeton / Unsplash)

How can you hit the bullseye without knowing what your target is? It wouldn’t work for an archer and it won’t work for you.

Whatever you’ve got going on, it’s important to be clear on what you’re aiming for, both short and long term, and make yourself accountable.

Having tangible and realistic goals will also help you know when you need to push on and when you can reward yourself with some guilt-free time off, as well as helping you build up a picture of how long it usually takes to get something done, you can better plan ahead with your time.

Accept Multi-Tasking is Not a Thing

Just one apple at a time, you know (Image Credit: Jose Puma)

It’s scientifically proven that we can’t multitask. So stop it, right this instant. According to Forbes, when we’re working on several things simultaneously, our brain is actually switching quickly between each task, which can make you up to 40 per cent less productive – and more susceptible to distractions.

Try to prioritise your tasks so you can focus on one thing at a time and get more done, more efficiently. Trello is a good way of organising and tracking your projects by creating boards with cards you can edit and move around as you get things done, particularly if you’re a visual person.

Equally, just sticking to one tab open at a time (or one device) can help you to stick to the task at hand, or using a time tracking service like Clockify can help to make you more aware of what you’re actually spending your time on – and when you’re darting around between multiple things.

Turn Off Your Notifications 

The only thing you want to stand out is your work (Image Credit: Joe Ridley & Beth Martin / Unsplash)

It can be hard enough to concentrate with your phone, a cup of tea and a quick Netflix episode just within reach. Don’t make it harder on yourself by having Instagram, Twitter and Facebook notifications pinging all day long.

If you’re going to look at one Instagram though…

We’d appreciate it if you looked at ours! Every day we share bitesized yet beautiful quotes of practical advice and motivation, as well as job opportunities, swipable galleries andmore.

Unless you really (and I mean really) need them, turn your notifications off and only check your emails, phone and social media channels at set times of the day. You might be surprised how much more productive you are when not reaching for your mobile every five minutes.

Most phones also come with screentime monitoring now built in (and you can also download specific apps) meaning you can truly realise just how long you spend staring at Twitter every day. You can also set yourself limits too, so you really can’t go over.

Get Your Head In The Zone 

Getting your head in the game is key. (Image Credit: Andre Hunter / Unsplash)

We’ve all been there – you need to get stuff done, but your head just isn’t quite there yet. Depending on the kind of person you are, the noises and environment you’re in can really help (or not).

If you find it difficult to focus, Noisli is designed to improve concentration and productivity by blocking out unwanted distractions with a mix of ambient sounds.

You can pick pre-set sounds or mix your own using the sliders available to get the perfect mix for you. The background sounds of a cafe near a railway line in a storm (yes, really) is one of my favourites when I need to get my head in the zone and down to work. 

Don’t Put Off the Icky Things 

Srs, we’re not taking your icky stuff (Image Credit: Isaiah Rustad / Unsplash)

As a freelancer, you have to do everything yourself. As well as being a writer, you’re also responsible for your accounts, marketing and admin. Because of this, there are bound to be things that are difficult, daunting or downright tedious – and it’s tempting to put them off until the last possible minute.

But beware: leaving boring or unpleasant tasks to pile up will just make it worse when you get to them – and might even get in the way of an important writing deadline. Break tiresome tasks down into manageable chunks and get into the habit of keeping on top of them as you go along.

For example, I use 1tap to organise and track my expense receipts as I go so I don’t have the panic of trying to find year-old receipts when I’m on deadline for my tax return! Wave is also a good (and free) way to keep on top of your accounts.

Need an invoice template? We’ve got your back.

Set Your Own “Office” Hours 

11.03am is coffee and a book time, obvs (Image Credit: Sanah Suvarna)

Set “office hours” which reflect when you’re most productive (they don’t need to be 9-5) and organise your schedules around them.

Can’t concentrate before 10am? Don’t force it – have a lie in and finish later. Need to shake off the cobwebs with an afternoon run? Do that.

There’s no point sitting staring at a blank page for hours just because it’s 4pm and you “should” be working. In fact, there’s plenty of research to suggest that some of us are actually hard-wired to be night owls, and it is one of the perks of freelancing anyway.

Switch Off 

Yep, we’re pretty sure this one’s off (Image Credit: Nicolas Thomas/Unsplash)

Just as clear working hours are important, regular breaks are vital too. Take time out to relax and do the things you enjoy – it will not only give you renewed energy and help you get over writer’s block but might also give you new things to write about, particularly if you have an unusual hobby.

It will come as no surprise that a change of scene and chatting to new people is usually more inspiring than being stuck in your home office alone!

Reduce Transcription Headaches 

Transcribing. Is. The. Worst. (Image Credit: Vinicius Amano)

Transcribing. Is. The. Worst. Otter is a free app which records and transcribes at the same time. I’m actually making use of otherwise “dead” time right now by dictating this article on my phone while I walk home. It’s not 100 per cent perfect but it’s accurate enough. If you find transcription a real chore, or just want to be able to chat through and note down ideas while away from your computer, check it out.

Equally, if you’re more of a sit-down and transcribe kinda person, oTranscribe is one of the most seamless ways to get things done. You simply upload the file to the webpage and then your transcribing and audio all sits on one page, with varying speed levels.

Eat Well – It’s A Perk Of The Job

All the food plz (Image Credit: Create Her Stock)

Getting into a routine isn’t just important when it comes to work. Make the effort to eat fresh, healthy lunches (if you’re working from home you’ll have the use of your kitchen, after all) – you’ll feel much better and more energised for it which, in turn, will help your productivity.

The BBC has a whole section of recipes that take less than 20 minutes, or if you prefer having everything decided for you, you can try recipe boxes like Hello Fresh.

Show Me The Money!

The chocolate money, that is. (Image Credit: Pexels)

Another big change when becoming a freelancer is that you don’t just get money for going to work anymore. It’s down to you to go out and chase income so there’s no point putting in all that hard work if you’re not organised about your invoices (a simple Excel spreadsheet can help you keep on top of things).

Also, remember you will still have to pay tax on your earnings; it’s hard to be productive when panicking about how to stump up a hefty tax payment at the end of the financial year. Don’t let it happen – put your tax into a separate bank account each time you get paid and your future self will thank you. If you can save a little something for a rainy day too, even better.

Get a Support Network 

Your crew have totally got this (Image Credit: CreateHerStock)

When leaving an office job, you might not think you’ll miss Barbara from accounts. But the truth is, freelancing can be lonely and having a support network is really important.

Freelancer Facebook Groups To Join

Journo Resources: Tips, Advice & Stories
Freelance Journalists UK
UK Journalists and Editors Networking Group
Northern Freelance UK Journalists & Media

Whether it’s a regular coffee catch up with a friend, using a shared workspace, or joining one of the many freelance networks on Facebook, talking to other professionals is a good way to let off steam, get ideas from “hive mind inspiration” and might even lead to new work opportunities.

Melissa is a freelance journalist specialising in travel, conservation and sustainability issues and is also a PR Consultant in the marine conservation sector. Her articles have been published by the likes of Lonely Planet, MTV, AFAR, Sidetracked, Diver magazine and more. Take a look at her work at She’s also on Twitter and Instagram

Featured Image Credit: Monica Valls