Time management isn’t something they teach in school and it’s not something most copy gurus talk about.
So even if you’re the most brilliant copywriter on the planet, you won’t get very far if you’re piddling away all the hours in your workday.
Here are some time management tips specifically for copywriters:
Eliminate distractions. Turn off the radio. Tell friends and family to not call you when you’re working. Turn down the volume on your computer so you can’t hear the *bing bong* chime when email arrives. Even little interruptions can throw you off-track.
Stop goofing around online. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. You turn on your computer and check Facebook, right? Then you visit your favorite news site. Then maybe watch some funny cat videos on YouTube. Before you know it, you’ve burned a couple hours and have nothing to show for it.
Knock it off. Do personal things on personal time and business things on business time.
Whenever people find out I freelance, and have done so since the 1990s, they invariably say, “Oh, I’m not disciplined or organized enough to do that.”
Well, maybe if they had some of these handy smartphone apps, suggested by app guru David Sumner, they’d change their mind.
Everyone knows the score; a freelancer has traded in the confinements and limits of a traditional working life to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of being self-employed.
However, not having a boss there to tell you what to do means you are solely responsible for your work and success, which will only come with some organizational skills.
There are many apps out there perfectly suited to organizing your work and expanding your client base with ease. However, many apps are developed purely for entertainment purposes so you need to know which smartphone apps are the real deal.
When writers start talking about their craft, the conversation inevitably turns to office space and equipment.
No surprise there. Golfers talk about their clubs. Runners talk about their shoes. And photographers talk about their cameras.
For copywriters, the tools of the trade are, basically, an office with a desk, computer, and other stuff. So naturally every writer is a little curious about how other writers set up their workspace.
Here’s a photo of my office. I didn’t clean up or arrange anything. I just walked to the other side of the room and snapped a photo. What you see is how my workspace looks on a typical weekday.
I’ve come to this arrangement after many years of experimenting with various configurations. This “command corner” setup is what I find to be most productive.
Did you see how I mixed a metaphor in that headline?
I’m tired. It’s after 9 p.m. and I’m still working. Frankly, I’m feeling a little burned out and it’s affecting my writing.
I know I’m not alone. You feel it too, don’t you?
Sure, we writers don’t do backbreaking work like moving furniture or digging ditches, but we do brainbreaking work. Reading. Researching. Notetaking. Writing headlines. Turning features into benefits. Proofing and editing. Juggling projects. Meeting deadlines.
It’s tiring. Do this day after day for months, and you’re going to suffer the consequences.
So what can we do? Here are a few ideas.
It’s happened to you. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to all of us.
We take on a copywriting assignment, ask for some background information, then squeal in horror when a truck pulls up to the door with 7 tons of brochures, reports, ads, surveys, and other stuff.
Well, here comes Sally Bagshaw to the rescue. This is Sally’s second guest post and it’s simply brilliant. Ignore it at your own peril.
Warning, this post may contain graphic descriptions of spreadsheets!
There’s a lot of talk about blank pages being a copywriter’s nemesis. Staring at that blinking cursor on your screen, willing yourself to begin writing, wishing that the client had sent more than “make it sizzle.”
It’s the stuff of nightmares, right?
I think having too much information is far harder to manage.
Drowning in background material is overwhelming, time consuming, and if you’re not careful can result in lukewarm copy – no sizzle at all.
Did you ever take notes on an important topic, file them away, then forget about them?
Well, that’s what I did a couple years ago with some productivity tips for writers. I googled some nice links, thinking I’d do a quick blog post, then immediately forgot about them. Until now.
Actually, they aren’t all tips for writers. Some are for designers, bloggers, or small business owners. But they’re all good ideas from a variety of perspectives.
So here are a few of those long-lost productivity and time management tips.
- Productivity Tips for Writers
- Time management for graphic designers
- Productivity Tips for Bloggers
- 30 Productivity Tips for Designers
- Five fast email productivity tips
- Twenty Unique Ways to Use the 80/20 Rule Today
- The Productivity Trifecta, Part 1: The Word ‘No’
- Inbox Zero: Processing to zero
- 10 Productivity Tips for Home-Based Businesses
By the way, here’s a little piece of advice about productivity tips: You don’t have follow every bit of advice you read. Pick two or three that work for you and go for it.
If you spend too much time worrying about time, you end up wasting time!
Isn’t email wonderful?
I’m serious. Everyone complains about email now, but many copywriters just starting out now don’t remember the good old days when there was no email. I remember having to actually pick up the phone to talk to clients. *gasp!* To send copy, design, proposals, invoices, and other documents, I’d use a fax or FedEx.
Sometimes, I would use an ancient data storage device called a “floppy disk” to send files. I still have a small pile of them in my office somewhere, sitting idle and useless since most computers now don’t have a floppy drive.
But today, it’s all done by email. Send a message. Send an invoice. Send copy. The copywriting business today is all about managing a blur of emails all day long.
Which brings me to my point. Isn’t email a pain in the butt?
This is especially important when you work for a busy marketing department or launch a freelance practice. You could have a dozen copy projects running at one time. Without a practical way to track all those projects, you’ll be a nervous wreck. And you’ll start screwing up and missing deadlines.
Does this mean you have to buy an expensive, complex project tracking computer program with a 300-page user manual? Nope. I use a simple low-tech system that you can set up in a few minutes.
If you can find a computer program or online tool that works for you, fine. I use a wide variety of programs and tools for my business.
But for tracking projects, most of the tools I’ve seen are vastly over-complicated. And if a program doesn’t make the job simpler, why bother? With my system, I spend less time wrestling with software and have more time available for writing.
So how does my copy project tracking system work? You’ll need …
Copywriting isn’t just about writing, it’s also about reading. A lot of reading.
If you’re like me, you’ll spend anywhere from 25% to 50% of every project reading background materials, ads, reports, surveys, and notes. And then there are the books, blog posts, articles, and other things you’ll read to stay current.
Obviously, the faster you can read, the more productive you can be. If you can double your reading speed, you can double your productivity.
There are many things you can do to read faster, but I’ve learned one of the most important is to stop subvocalizing. Say what?
Subvocalizing is pronouncing every word you read, either under your breath or in your head. By learning how to read visually, seeing words and grasping their meaning without the sound of the word, you can double your reading speed.
This is easier said than done. So here is a video that demonstrates a weird trick to help you get out of the subvocalizing habit and boost your reading speed. (You may not want to do this when people are around. They might start to worry about your sanity.)
Do you have any other tricks for reading faster?
I was chatting recently with Don Hauptman, one of the legends of copywriting, and he asked me if I had any “secrets” for finding information quickly online.
Well, of course I do. My schedule simply doesn’t permit me to flail around while doing research, so I use some little known Google hacks and tools to speed things along.
There are tons of search hacks, but here are the ones I’ve found most useful.
Type: investment newsletter
Google searches for: the words investment and newsletter
Either / Or Search
Type: investment OR newsletter
Google searches for: either the word investment or the word newsletter
Type: “investment newsletter”
Google searches for: the exact phrase investment newsletter