How Can You Calculate the Best Time to Write?

By Kelly Clay June 4th, 2015

Even though I tend to wake up around 6 a.m, when it comes to getting writing done, I work best in the late afternoon and evenings. I use my mornings for administrative work, email, social media, and any other trivial task that doesn’t require too much brain power. But when it comes to the heavy lifting, I don’t even think about writing until after I’ve exercised and had a decent lunch.

This type of schedule brings up the freelancer’s dilemma: You have to be fairly active during typical work hours to communicate with clients regardless of whether you are most productive before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m., but you also need to step away from the keyboard and stop working so you don’t burn out.

Finding the best time to write isn’t easy—it’s something you have to figure out for yourself. Many blogs have gotten many a click analyzing the routines of famous artists, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s interesting to see how the people we respect complete their work. For the most part, the data shows that a lot of writers, such as Maya Angelou and Kurt Vonnegut, liked to start early in the morning. However, others completely break this mold, such as Sigmund Freud, who worked around the clock.

Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone — especially if your schedule is built around spouses, kids, or a separate job. Getting kids ready for school and preparing for work isn’t really conducive to getting all of your work done by 11 a.m. If anything, that’s conducive for a nap.

When I coach aspiring freelance writers, one of the first things we talk about is whatever is blocking them from getting work done. For example, for parents, this typically means getting away from the kids. I’ve actually found that the best tactic for anyone looking to start writing more is to allot time beyond your normal schedule. Some common questions I ask are:

1. Is there a typical day of the week you have the least amount of meetings?

2. Is there an evening during the week you usually don’t have plans?

3. What do your weekends look like? Is there a 2-hour chunk of time you can go to a local coffee shop to sit down and write?

These might seem basic, but if you can schedule time during the week and commit to it, you’re much more likely to actually get that work done since you’ll be prepared physically and mentally. I find my clients who schedule a regular time to write every week are exceptionally motivated and eager for that chunk of time—so much so that they eventually negotiate for more time.

If you’re already a full-time freelancer and still don’t know when is your best time to write, there’s likely something amiss in your routine and productivity. Whatever you’re doing now isn’t working, so stop and think about what your day looks like. When are you currently writing and why is that not working for you? Are you exhausted? Sleep is a big component of having enough time to work, and it’s probably the easiest factor for freelancers to shove to the side.

And that all pools into the one big question: Are you striking the right balance in your life?

Admittedly, that last question has caused me to procrastinate too often in my career. As freelancers, we can push around our work to grab lunch with a friend, go for a walk when it’s unusually nice outside or enjoy a day “off” if a spouse is home from work unexpectedly. Moving around work allows us to enjoy the freedom of our chosen field—but it can also affect our quality of work as deadlines pile up.

I’ve learned to be stricter about my afternoons, especially since my husband is currently on sabbatical. It’s too easy to go run errands or sit in the park or enjoy a long walk. I already know I can’t write well in the morning—I’ve tried. I’ve also learned the importance of going to bed at a reasonable hour to keep myself from working late. Through trial and error, it didn’t take long for me to see that blocking off the afternoon has helped my writing improve.

And remember, you don’t need to work in an eight-hour block. Researcher Nathaniel Kleitman found that when awake, our bodies go through cycles of alertness that last about 90 minutes, similar to the ultradian rhythms we experience while sleeping. So when starting to reorder your schedule, try to set aside at least one of those 90-minute chunks for your most important writing.

Because once you figure out the best time for you to write, then comes the fun part: actually changing your habits.

Image by Jose Angel Astor Rocha/Shutterstock
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