Based in Chicago, Illinois, The Freelance Beat is a blog exploring the triumphs and challenges that freelance journalists encounter in their early and mid-careers.

5 Productivity Hacks I Tried to Stay on Track

5 Productivity Hacks I Tried to Stay on Track

This week, I’ve been working with a new potential client, doing a few paid test days while I work with their team remotely. It’s been quite an experience.

For starters, I’ve had to wake up slightly earlier than usual to send in story ideas to the editors who are on Eastern Time. (I’m in Central Time.) The new schedule meant I had to suspend my morning workouts, but it also forced me to think more about productivity.

For this particular, potential client I needed to aggregate science articles in a way that had some sort of original, sometimes humorous take, a task for which I was supposed to take an hour and a half to complete. That, plus time to pitch the stories and respond to edits, meant that most of my mornings would occupied, leaving the work for my other stories to the afternoon.

One of the most important things about being an independent journalist is to understand how you work best. Now that I’ve had to work more efficiently than usual, here are some productivity quirks that helped me to stay on task:

Pick a timeframe and stick with it.

After leaving it behind for some time, I’ve returned to the Toggl app, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts as an easy-to-use, time-tracking app. The free app allows you to track tasks and sort them based on projects and clients. So this week, I began tracking my time on Toggl so as to analyze it later and pinpoint areas for improvement. Given that I only had an hour and a half to aggregate stories for the site, I tracked my time to make sure I finished accordingly. Having a ticking clock in a nearby browser, I found, discouraged wasteful time on social media or other internet rabbit holes.

Make a playlist or radio station.

I can’t listen to music with words when writing—not rap, R&B, pop, nothing. (I can only listen to rap when I’m doing math, for some reason.) I have a few classical music stations on my Pandora app that keep me calm and focused while I zoom through researching and drafting.

Noise canceling headphones are key.

There’s some construction going on near me, so inevitably I get distracted by cranking and banging as well as honking and talking from the pedestrians and traffic. That’s where my Bose headphones come in. Paired with my favorite classical music, Bose noise-canceling headphones clear out almost all the surrounding background noise.

Put your devices away.

If they need to be close by—maybe if I’m expecting a call—my screens are placed face down when I write. The sporadic buzzing of email, text and social media notifications present endless opportunities for distraction. If I’m not expecting a call, I put my phone on silent and keep it far from my desk.

Take a mental break.

I take about 10 minutes or so to check social media or play games. People aren’t machines. We can blaze through tasks for a while, but it’s okay to take breaks. Once I took a quick break, I was able to return to my work without the urge to check my phone or play games for a while.

What steps do you take to be me more productive? Tell me in the comments or send me a note at (Yes, I’ll get your email!)



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