Last Updated on June 1, 2018 by Michael Brockbank
As a content mill writer working from home, I don’t have a boss hovering over me or checking up on me every hour of the day or whatever.
That is both a blessing and a curse.
There’s a good reason why companies hire supervisors and managers to oversee groups of workers: to make sure that the work gets done.
But when you work at home — by yourself and for yourself — it’s all on you. You have to hold yourself accountable to get the work done, and I generally suck at this. That’s why I was barely making a part time income after five years of freelance writing.
However, I’ve increased my writing output and freelance earnings by 10x over the past year, and today I want to share one of the most effective productivity hacks that I picked up during that time.
The Secret to My Success? I Bullshit Myself
I make up weird shit and lie to myself in order to push past my roadblocks and get the words flowing onto my Google doc. Okay, maybe it’s not really as dark as it sounds. I actually do it in a playful way — not in a serious, mentally ill way.
But this idea does work when used sparingly. So I’m sharing it here.
If you’re a beginning freelance writer or blogger who struggles to write articles fast every day, then maybe it can help you too.
So here’s what I’m talking about…
Look at Me, Mom! I’m a Professional Writer!
When I’m feeling stuck and having a hard time busting through my [mythical] writer’s block, I pretend that I’m a staff writer at a big-time magazine, newspaper or world-famous blog.
Now, I’ve never actually worked at Buzzfeed or the New York Times or anything like that, but I’ve watched a few YouTube videos about what it’s like to work for those places. So it’s safe to say that I’m basically an expert on it. 😉
When I’m feeling stuck during a writing session, I will literally close my eyes and imagine that I’m sitting at my little cubicle with my clunky Android tablet or at a long desk in a huge office surrounded by other content writers. Suddenly, my editor yells out across the office,
“DESATOFF! I NEEDED THAT ARTICLE 20 MINUTES AGO? WHAT’S THE HOLDUP?!?!”
I look down that long desk at the other staff writers on my left and on my right. Of course, they’ve all turned to stare at me — frozen fingers hovering over their bumper sticker-covered Macbooks — with looks of horror mixed with glee spreading across their young, millennial faces.
“SORRY BOSS! I’LL GET IT TO YOU IN FIVE MINUTES!”
And then I just put my head down and get those fingers flying again until I’m done with it.
I also find that making a work schedule and sticking to it as often as I can — just like I would if this was my “job” — really helps too. Being flexible is great and all, but tracking my work time and sticking to regular office hours helps too. I can’t always do this consistently, but it makes a difference when I manage to pull it off.
I know having a work schedule sounds like it defeats the whole point of working from home as a freelancer, but whatever. If it helps me make more money, then it’s worth doing.
OoOohh…I Have a SALARY!
I also pretend that I’m getting paid a decent salary. This is the part that gets really weird and paradoxical.
Everyone says that writing for content mills is horrible and that the pay is shit. Okay, no argument from me. But honestly, all my “real” jobs throughout my lifetime were low-paying jobs too.
Right now, I currently make anywhere from $6 to $300 a week (yes, seriously) writing for Textbroker clients, but it’s usually in the $150 range. If I could consistently make $400 a week at content mills, that would be just as much as I ever made at any full-time job I’ve ever had. And if I could get it up to $500, that would be a life-changing amount of money for my family.
And I get to do it all by writing short articles on my tablet according to my own schedule.
No punching a time clock.
No begging to have a weekday off to do stuff with my family or take my kid to the doctor.
No tension or conflicting schedules between work life and family life.
No office politics, no commute and no stupid workplace dramas either.
So that’s worth it to me.
Other freelance writers can do what they want and think what they want. They can joke about how sad that is, and I don’t really care. That’s fine.
But as a guy who struggles with anxiety and depression, who has no college degree or professional work experience and who has tried and failed repeatedly to work one-on-one with private clients — I’d be happy to make $400-$500 a week at content mills.
I don’t have to pitch clients or try to woo anybody. I don’t have to do scary phone calls with clients and try to land interviews. And I don’t have tons of pressure to act like Mr. Professional Who Has His Shit Together all the time — because I am totally not that guy.
I am working on changing that, but for now it is what it is.
Anyway, $1,600-$2,000 a month is totally doable at content mills. In fact, several content mill writers make more than that writing full-time.
Now here’s that paradox I mentioned earlier:
Most of the articles I write for content mills pay me about $7-$14 each, depending on the client and on the word count. That’s not a lot of money. But when I’m really productive, I can write like a dozen of those little suckers in an 8-hour period of time and make $100 a day.
So by PRETENDING that my imaginary writing job pays me $50-$100 a day, I often end up actually making $50-$100 a day.
So I pretend that I’m getting paid a monthly salary of like $2,000, and I have a quota of 5,000 words per day. And as a result, I often end up hitting those targets in real life.
BONUS TIP: Tracking My Numbers Really Helps
When I’m falling behind as the day progresses, I imagine that my editor starts yelling again,
“DESATOFF!!! IT’S ALREADY LUNCHTIME AND YOU BARELY HAVE 1,100 WORDS SUBMITTED. MOVE YOUR ASS OR YOU’RE FIRED!!!”
Sounds like a fun job, right? Well, I guess it would suck in real life to be yelled at in front of all your coworkers like that. But this scenario isn’t happening in real life. It’s just in my crazy head, and it actually helps.
I’ve found that tracking my numbers hourly, daily, weekly and monthly really helps me out and keeps me on track.
Here are some of the numbers I track:
- words per hour
- hours per day
- articles per day
- words per day
- earnings per day
- hours per week
- earnings per week
- articles per month
- words per month
- earnings per month
I cannot even count how many times I’ve been feeling really down and frustrated with my freelance writing earnings. I’ve had months where I was sinking into depression because I wasn’t making enough money to pay my bills, and I was SO SURE that I was having my worst month ever.
As you can imagine, when you feel like this, your productivity falls even lower, and your earnings go down as a result. So it’s a self-perpetuating, downward spiral.
But many times, I’ve flipped through my notebook and looked at my numbers to discover that I was actually doing fairly well overall. Sure, I wasn’t making as much money as I wanted to make, but I was actually making progress overall. And the only way I knew that was that I could see it in my numbers that I tracked in my notebook.
So what felt like my “worst month ever” might have actually been my fourth best month ever. That’s a huge difference.
Sometimes our perception is way off from reality.
When you beat yourself up and focus on perfection over progress, you’re just hurting yourself and creating a self-fulfilling, self-defeating prophecy. You feel like a failure, so your productivity drops and your results just reinforce your negative self-image.
To fix that, you just need to break the pattern, break the cycle and focus on making progress over holding yourself to unrealistic standards.
So tracking my writing stats has been a huge boost to my productivity and mood over the past year, and I can see the positive results in my numbers. If you aren’t tracking your numbers and referring back to them regularly, I highly recommend that you start doing that.
Okay, so that’s how I “lie” to myself sometimes to break through a writing plateau and boost my productivity.
What do you think?
Is that the dumbest thing ever?
Is it kinda cool?
Have you tried it before?
Is it worth a shot?
Let’s talk about it down in the comments section or over on Twitter.
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