Top 10 Freelance Writing Time Suck Tasks


If you’re a newbie to freelance writing, you’re no doubt looking forward to getting down to the writing. I’m here to tell you most of running a successful freelance writing business has nothing to do with writing. We all spend a huge bulk of our day handling a bunch of time sucking tasks which doesn’t always make freelance writing seem like that attractive a career choice. Still, they’re necessary for success.

Here are my Top 10 Freelance Writing Time Suck Tasks.

1. Email

I’m sure I’m not the only blogger who receives hundreds of pieces of email each day. I enjoy answering questions from readers and nothing makes me happier than to find gig or advertising inquiries in my mailbox each day, but answering each and every piece of mail in a timely manner is next to impossible. It would take several hours at a time to respond to all the questions and comments coming in each day. Freelance writers who don’t blog also have to deal with email from clients, potential clients and others in their community. On Twitter, I asked freelance writers how much time they spend on email each day and most spend an average of an hour. Much of this is due to freelancers not wanting to deal with clients via phone or Skype. However, they would probably save more time with quick phone calls to clients rather than a bunch of back and forth emails.

2. Bookkeeping

Ah, yes. The money. Keeping track of what goes in and what goes out isn’t a favorite task of freelancers but it’s certainly one of the most necessary. Whether we’re invoicing, receiving funds or balancing the books, we’d much rather view the bottom line than take all the steps to get there.

3. Phone Calls

Many freelancers don’t like client phone calls because they’re such a time suck. Sometimes, it seems as if our phones are ringing all day. Phone calls can actually create more time for us as we can ask and receive answers to so many questions at once rather than via several back and forth emails. My clients tell me they trust freelancers more when they can speak to them on the phone. They like hearing voices, they can tell from tone whether or not a freelancer is down with a project, and they can also tell if the freelancer is a true professional or someone just going through the motions. Save time by setting aside a certain hour of each day specifically to respond to client phone calls.. Both you and your clients will find it to be more expeditious than email.

4. Social Media/Social Networking

Social media can be a huge time suck mostly because it’s so much fun chatting with others online. Many freelance writers set aside a certain amount of time each day for social media but end up going over despite good intentions.  Freelancers debate the necessity of social media. Those who use it often swear by its merits, the only down side is that it can be time consuming.  Social media isn’t only tweeting links. It can involve forum conversations, commenting on blogs, friending on Facebook, reaching out via LinkedIn and so much more. Most freelancers don’t spend everyday on all the social networks, but many spend time on at least a couple of these sites each day.

5. Job Search

Whether you search the job boards, cold call clients or use other methods to find freelance writing jobs, chances are you spend more than a few minutes a day at it. Search for jobs involves several different steps including isolating desirable clients, sending queries and cover letters and making appointments to speak. Many freelancers take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours each day to look for work.

6. Organization of Online and Offline Files

Filing. The bane of our existence. Clips, contracts, letters, invoices and more require some sort of organization. Our online files also require everything in its place. Not being able to locate key details or files can cause us to waste even more time. Spending time each week to get all our affairs in order is a time suck, for sure. If you procrastinate about those things like I do and they pile up, it even takes more time. It’s a necessity though. It takes less time to organize both online and offline files than it does to hunt around for stuff later.

7. Customer Service

When clients aren’t happy or they need some extra guidance, we have to get on Skype or the phone and make the situation right. Customer service is an important part of freelance writing. If our clients aren’t happy,  they won’t bring us their business or refer other business our way. Taking time to receive and respond to feedback bodes favorably but takes us away from our writing.

8. Taxes

Quarterly taxes are a quarterly time suck. Estimating and paying take time.  Freelancers who can afford to do so hire accountants in order to save time and headaches. However, not every freelance writer can afford this. Quarterly tax filing can take anywhere from one to three hours to complete. Though it only happens once every few months, we feel it’s a big enough time suck to warrant  a place on this list.

9. Scheduling and Planning

Managing client projects takes time. Many times there’s planning, scheduling the editorial calendar, arranging interviews, research and more. Whether you use a whiteboard, your outlook calendar, or a Filofax, it takes time to plan, schedule and juggle. Freelancers with more than one client generally take a day at the beginning of the week or month to schedule in all projects and tasks. Time suck.

10. Marketing & Promotion

How will clients know about you if you don’t market your business? Today’s freelancers have so many options. However, attending networking events, speaking  at conferences, writing guest blog posts,  and cold calling all take time. Many freelancers allot a portion of each day to marketing tasks because without them there would be no clients. The marketing thing isn’t only a sit down and talk online thing, either. Many marketing and promotion events require freelancers to leave the home to meet with others. Marketing and promotional event can steal an entire day (or more)  from freelancers.

Now that you have my top 10 freelance writing time sucks, what are yours? What are some of the tasks taking up the most time, and what do you do to save time?


10 responses
  1. Greg Minton Avatar

    I agree with all of this except phone calls. While I generally offer a phone call when I begin a project, I try to keep meetings to a minimum. Meetings splice my day into segments, and I need uninterrupted time in order to produce my best, most productive work.

  2. Jenn Hardy Avatar

    Thank you for this! Very true, as your posts always are! Which time suck category does this little response fall under…

  3. John Soares Avatar

    Hello Deb. Many excellent points here.

    One point: quarterly taxes. I pay exactly one-fourth of what I owed for the previous entire year. I think the IRS is cool with this, and expects this.

    When I have had a year that was substantially better than a previous year, I add a bit to the final quarterly payment in mid-January.

    Regardless, it only takes me 5 minutes make a quarterly payment.

    Perhaps we have an accountant who can correct me?
    .-= John Soares´s last blog ..Capturing and Keeping Your Freelance Writing Ideas =-.

    1. Brian Avatar

      That’s exactly what I do. You don’t even need to pay the extra for the 4th installment. Just keep it in the bank and pay it when you file.

      I believe the rules for avoiding a penalty (assuming you’re not a farmer; they get a break IIRC) are:

      100% of last year’s taxes owed
      90% of the current year’s taxes owed

  4. allena Avatar

    I feel that quarterlies are only annoying that first time. Or, if you file jointly with a spouse, you can just up their withholding and estimate your business’ taxes at zero. This is because if you file jointly, the IRS views your “total tax liability.” We’ve been doing that successfully forever, but always check with your own tax person.
    .-= allena´s last blog ..Story of a Successful Pitch =-.

    1. P.S. Jones Avatar

      Thanks, Allena. My husband and I have been married for years but this is the first year we’ll be filing together. I was wondering what we could do to make next year’s taxes easier.

  5. Anne Wayman Avatar

    Okay, yeah. Only one I don’t do/have is the quarterly tax thing. That’s because I know I can’t add and subtract reliably so I pay an accountant each year… and he estimates what I’ll need to pay quarterly and even gives me forms – all I have to do is write a check and mail them, or not as I decide if my income is the same or less or more… but that’s just gut stuff.
    .-= Anne Wayman´s last blog ..Blogger, Pay & Believable Opinions – Ask Anne The Pro Writer =-.

  6. Becky Myers Avatar

    I’m finding the whole networking idea to be totally awful. I’ve joined a local writers group and they are all old fogies who write awful poetry! The blogs I’ve started to follow may or may not even follow my writing. BOOO!! But I know I can’t be succesful if I don’t have network.

  7. Becky Myers Avatar

    I’m finding this whole networking requirement to be totally awful. I’ve joined a local writers group and they are all old fogies who write awful poetry!

    1. Anne Wayman Avatar

      Becky, some groups are like that – you can look for another or start one more to your liking… I wrote about that –

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