I don’t have a typical day…
That’s part of the appeal of being a freelance copywriter and independent consultant, and doing your own thing.
That said, I DO have times where I’m being maximally-effective. And other times when I’m not. That’s what we’ll dive into today.
It’s Mailbox Monday, which means today’s issue comes from diggin’ in the ol’ mailbox to find and answer YOUR questions.
Every time I find myself wanting to study more copy stuff, I keep reminding myself what I need is to study the market I’m in. This email you wrote is a reminder of that.
Have you written an email or have gone over on video what your typical work day looks like? I’m curious to know what a copywriters day looks like.
I consider myself a copywriter, but I’m more a Akin to a media buyer as I manage many lists, write email copy and choose offers to run.
Wondering how I can fit long form offer creation/client work into my day.
This might be a good case of “do what I say, not what I do…”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty prolific. But I’m also scatterbrained enough to be diagnosed with ADHD. So I’m not always on top of making every day its very best.
Not only that, going freelance came with a decision, for me.
Back in February 2010, when I declared my personal independence, I had a young son who was only nine months old at the time. And I decided that part of being a freelancer would be taking advantage of the time freedom it gave me to work — and not work — when it worked for me. Including being here for my kids while they were young, especially before grade school.
Now my oldest is 9 and my youngest is 4, and I haven’t worked a traditional 40-hour week since then. I’ve occasionally worked more. But my average week during the school year is in the mid-30s, and my average week during the summer is a few hours less.
There have been trade-offs. Sometimes I’m 100% convinced it was the right decision. Other times, I just want more time to work. No matter how many hours I worked, I’m sure I’d feel the same way. So I do what works for me and my family.
All of that should give some context though. Because my wife and I both have flexible schedules, my workdays are each a bit different. While the schedule is consistent on a week-to-week basis, the hours of time per day are quite different.
So it’s more a matter of making my time effective when I’m working, not following a set routine every day. (Which I believe in work terms would make me more productive on a per-hour basis, but would not accomplish all of my goals including but not limited to work.)
All of that said…
When I’m being most effective and productive, here’s what I’m doing…
Again, this isn’t so much about typical as it is about how to best use your time.
And I’ll start focused on the copywriting bit, because that’s where a lot of my readers are, and it’s where the question came from.
Copywriting is deep work, and needs ample blocks of time…
These essays are the exception, because I crank them out in one hour, rain or shine. I just get in a rhythm and make them happen. But for most copywriting work — especially long-form — I need at least two hours at a time to make any real progress.
I believe this is because most creative work requires some “getting in the zone.” There are days and times where it comes faster, but I don’t often really get in the zone until 30-45 minutes in. So if I work in 30-minute or hour-long chunks, my effective time is, at best, 50% of the time. Whereas if I have a 2-hour-plus time-block, at least half the time is productive, and often a lot more.
I often do my best creative work by going somewhere, sitting down, and cranking it out. I like coffee shops, because of the vibe (and, of course, the caffeine). Also, because they are a little noisy, I keep my headphones on and that seems to tether me to my computer and keep me focused.
A really good, productive day for me will have at least three contiguous hours writing. That means I’ll be able to get into a flow, and maintain it for a while. There will be regular breaks during that time, but after three really focused hours, I’ve probably put out a couple thousand words of good copy, and everything else I accomplish in that day is gravy.
Also for me, I tend to work best after a little warm-up in the morning. So I’ll often have an hour of research and reading, perhaps answering emails, and then buckle down and get into that deep work time.
Others find they need that productive time to be their first block of time, or else they don’t get it done.
For you, whether it’s copywriting or some other creative work, you’ll probably find that your most thought-intensive work should be done in large, pre-scheduled and largely uninterrupted blocks.
There’s also a ton of shallow work that should be grouped together to avoid interfering with deep work…
Answering random emails. Buying office supplies. Checking in on social media. Admin tasks, reporting, and regular bookkeeping. And a million other similar smaller tasks.
These are often things you can accomplish with less mental horsepower. Also, when you’re a little more spent.
By allocating blocks of time to knock these smaller items off your to-do list, you still get them done, AND — more importantly — you leave bigger chunks of time to do deep work.
Even though most weeks my schedule can be very flexible for phone calls, I limit my scheduling (using Book Like A Boss) to specific times and days that preserve my deep-work time.
Also, in most cases it’s better to do this AFTER your deep work, simply because the deep work requires a more refreshed brain, and research on decision fatigue and similar phenomenons suggests we do our best thinking in the morning.
There’s also the all-important in-between work…
Some days, research falls under deep work. In fact, a lot of my writing time is spent researching, to back up narratives that are coming out of my fingers as they bang on my keyboard.
Other days, I know I need to do some research, but it’s more passive and simply browsing for ideas.
The former I consider deep work. The latter I do at all hours EXCEPT deep work. And, in fact, my real work hours extend beyond what I track, largely because I do so much reading outside of traditional work hours. And this reading contributes to my total research.
There are other tasks like this — such as phone calls — that can swing both ways. If it’s critically important to the core narrative of a project, I’ll carve out deep work time for a phone call. If it’s a status update or even a contract negotiation, it gets different priority.
My best advice…
Is to experiment with whatever advice resonates with you on the productivity front.
Maybe it’s my ADHD, but I find that my perfect productivity system from last week wanes in effectiveness this week, when I’m a little less excited about it.
But some things do come back, over and over again.
Try things. See what works for you and what doesn’t. Do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t. And don’t be afraid to mix it up.
There is so much more I could share — but the deep work distinction has been THE most critical to getting things done. And the one that leads to the most pain when I forget the lesson.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,