Writing for Money: Your Path to Success

Writing for Money: Your Path to Success

Last week, I thought it would be fun if we did something as a family. I was thinking that we’d go see a movie or have lunch in a restaurant.

One thing led to another, though, as they do, and in the end, five of us piled into the car at 2:30 in the morning and drove two hours south of our home to hike a mountain and watch the sunrise.

We parked in the dark and found the entrance to the path we wanted to hike, and we started off.

The beginning wasn’t bad — we were all excited. The adrenaline pushed us forward. My kids raced on ahead, ignoring my admonitions not to run, to stay with us. They didn’t look down at their feet, but rather craned their necks to peer at the top of the mountain above.

“We get to go all the way up there?” one of them asked.

Yes. We “get to” go all the way up there.

Adrenaline: Go, Go, Go!

When my students start out in my course, they are super excited to be there, and they can't wait to dive in and start learning.

It's exciting to learn new things.

Learn how to be a freelance writer.


About halfway up the mountain, my kids paused briefly to wait for their elderly parents to catch up. We all had a drink of water, and the kids took off again. I needed another moment to catch my breath.

I looked down at the ground we had covered. I looked up, noting with something akin to dismay that there was still a LOT of mountain left to climb.

“I just wanted to go to a movie,” I thought.

I rested. I felt my heart rate return to normal. I felt my lungs stop screaming for air. I started walking again, and I felt the excitement returning. It carried me through for another little while.

I was most of the way up the mountain when I felt like there was no way I could go on.

I was high enough up to get a decent view. So why not just stop?

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I’m too old for this.

I’m not in shape for this climb.

I can’t do this.

My legs hurt. My heart was pounding.

The First Hurdle

Early on in Writing for Money, my students have to choose a niche. They have to decide what the want to write. And they have to stop THINKING about writing and start DOING the work.

It's hard. It really is. But the beauty of the course is that my students have a community in place to support them. They can share their fears, and then move past them.

Choosing a freelance writing niche is hard.

 

Oh, those voices!! They make my students crazy!


As I stood on the mountain path, struggling to catch my breath, I heard those voices in my own head.

No one would know if my sunrise pictures weren’t taken from the very top of the mountain, right? And really, sunrise is kind of overrated, isn’t it?

I could just stay put and wait for my family to come back down the mountain. I didn’t have to keep going.

On the other hand… I’d come so far. There really wasn’t that much left. I could just keep going, one step at a time.

It would be hard.

My legs would hurt.

My heart would pound.

I’d want to quit a few more times.

But I could do this. One step. Then another. And another.


My students do the same thing. They get to a point where they feel like they can't go on. My job, when they reach that point, is to talk them through. To show them how much they've already accomplished. And to provide them with the encouragement they need to keep going.

How to get started in freelance writing.

I believe in EVERY SINGLE ONE of my students. They ALL matter to me. And I see them do amazing, amazing, AMAZING things.

Student Spotlight: Ariela Schwartz

You can learn everything you need to be a freelance writer.

Ariela enrolled in Writing for Money about 8 months ago with a background in massage therapy — which is quite a bit different from freelance writing! But today — just seven months after getting started in freelance writing — she writes articles and listicles for health, nutrition, and medical websites and blogs.

One of her favorite recent assignments was writing the FAQs for a brand-new nutrition app. She reviewed videos showing the app's functionality, met with the developer to review the app in detail, and then wrote up the FAQs, all before the app had been officially released. Playing with new technology is a lot of fun.

These days, Ariela turns down work when clients don't provide enough information or when the money they're offering doesn't justify the work involved. And lately, she's completely booked with work, so she's able to be super-choosy with the projects she takes on.

Most days, Ariela works around 5-6 hours. She hardly every has to put time in to looking for work, because clients are coming directly to her with projects and offers. “I have far surpassed the income goals I set for myself in Abbi’s course!” she says.

When I asked Ariela what she would tell someone who was looking to break into freelance writing, she told me this:  “I would tell them exactly what I have been telling my friends. TAKE ABBI’S COURSE. Seriously. It changed my life — it might change yours too.”

Back on the mountain, I moved slowly. A short rest. Then another few steps.

Breathe.

Rest.

Go.

And then, I was there. At the top. AT THE TOP OF A MOUNTAIN.

The view was amazing. The colors of the sunrise were fabulous. My kids. Their excitement. My own happiness.

Success comes after a lot of hard work.

I could have missed all of that. I could have given up too soon.

 

Ready to get PAID for your writing?

Watch 5 Steps to YOUR Successful Freelance Writing Business!

After the Adrenaline: The Work

When you decide to start freelance writing, you’re excited. You’ve got the adrenaline to push you through the beginning. It’s fun. It’s new. You wake up and you can’t wait to get started on your work.

But after some time, the adrenaline wears off. You realize that this is actually kind of tough. There’s a lot of work to do.

You had envisioned less work, perhaps. More sitting in coffee shops. Less of the tedious administrative work. Less of the research.

That’s okay, you reason with yourself. I can do this.

You find some motivational quotes and post them on your wall. You read some great writing to get you in the mood. You go back to work.

And then, after a time, you hit a wall. I mean, you run SMACK into the wall. You can actually feel physical pain when you start to work. This isn’t what I wanted to do,” you think. I wanted something different.”

The work, the day to day work, takes effort. You’re building a business. You’re connecting with clients. You have moment where you can glimpse the future you envisioned, but you’re not there yet, and it’s insanely frustrating.

I can’t do this.

I don’t have the skills.

This is too hard.

Remember Ariela, the student I profiled above? Here's a conversation I had with her a few weeks into the course. (This is FB messenger, so there are typos. I'M HUMAN.)

learn how to be a freelance writer.

This is the point where a lot of people give up. This is the point where a lot of people simply decide that the work is too hard.

But here’s the thing: the people who keep going? They’re so close to what they want. They’re so close to the top of the mountain. They’re so close to this view.

The view of success.

Student Spotlight: Nicolle Brokaw

When you push through all the hard stuff, you get to see the amazing view. You get to do amazing things.

If you give up, you miss out on all of that.

Student spotlight Nicolle Brokaw

When Nicolle enrolled in Writing for Money in May 2017, she had no freelance writing experience. Today, she gets paid to write blog posts for parenting websites. 

Nicolle can work anywhere from 15 minutes to 6 or 7 hours a day, depending on her assignments, her energy level (she's pregnant with baby number 2!) and how active her toddler is.

And how's the money? “I am very content with how much I am making,” says Nicolle. “It’s enough for my family to live comfortably, and I am able to continue to stay at home and raise my beautiful daughter.” 

Remember, those results are after just five months. And Nicolle is pregnant. Imagine where she'll be a year from now!

Her favorite assignment so far? An article on exercising with a baby carrier. “Babywearing and exercise are two huge passions of mine!” she says.

Parenting is full of weird stuff, so clients ask for all kinds of work, including pieces on cleaning diaper pails (YUK) and homemade pregnancy tests. “I didn’t even know there was such a thing, until I was assigned the article,” says Nicole.

And now that she's pushed past the hard part, Nicolle has the freedom to turn down work she's not passionate about. “Freelance writing is something I got into so I can actually enjoy my work, not be bored out of my mind,” she says.

The Story of You

So many of you have written to me about your dreams of freelance writing.

“My kids need me at home.”

“I want to show my kids that I can be a parent and contribute financially.”

“I want to do work that helps others and gives me a personal sense of satisfaction.”

“I want to support my children in their studies, because they both have special needs, and build a home built on our religious values.”

We’ve all tried a lot of things that didn’t work. So it’s time to STOP doing those things and START doing the things that will let you build the business — and the life — you really want.

There’s a lot that goes into building a successful freelance writing business from scratch, and unfortunately, a lot of people don’t succeed.

A lot of people get stuck in those early mistakes and never get their business off the ground.

It’s easy to understand why that happens — but it doesn’t have to happen to you.

You really can build a successful freelance writing business. You really can start earning $2000/month in just a few months — and scale your business to $40,000 or even $60,000/year while working 6 hours a day.

Find more freelance writing clients and get more work!

Yes, really. There’s a step-by-step process that can take you from here to there, and you can do it.

It starts with one simple step: enroll in Writing for Money.

Will I see you inside?

 

Ready to get PAID for your writing?

Watch 5 Steps to YOUR Successful Freelance Writing Business!

What Exactly Is a Freelance Writer?

What Exactly Is a Freelance Writer?

If you’ve been kicking around the Interwebs trying to figure out how to make money from writing, you might have come across some information on freelance writing. And you wouldn’t be the first person to ask, What the heck IS a freelance writer, anyway?

A freelance writer is someone who writes for others — companies or individuals — on a per-project basis, for money.

That money bit is super-important, because money is a good thing. With money, you can buy food and shelter and iPads and other things.

Freelance writing is a job — but it’s not a J-O-B where you go to an office and have a boss. A freelance writer isn’t an employee of a company, but rather an an independent contractor. This is a fancy way of saying, “You’re on your own, baby!”

As in, you have to find your own work, find the place to do that work, and get the equipment you need to do that work.

You can probably get by with a laptop, an internet connection, and a comfortable place to sit. (The seat is optional. I actually work on a treadmill desk. Really!)

treadmill desk for writers and productivity

Yep, this is my actual, messy desk. #keepingitreal

Freelancers also have to handle all the administrative work that goes along with being in business — for example, sending invoices to clients, and then following up to be sure the client actually sends the check.

If this is starting to sound like a raw deal, don’t panic. Because the flip side? Well, the flip side is that when you are a freelance writer, you are in control of your own income.

What Does It Mean to Be In Control of Your Own Income?

When you’re an employee at a company, you most likely don’t have access to the whole picture. You don’t know the ins and outs of the company’s finances.

You don’t always know if layoffs are being discussed. You don’t get to decide which projects to take, and which to pass on.

When you’re a freelancer, it’s your business, and you know what the situation is at any given moment. You know if there’s enough work and money.

You know if you need to get out there and hustle, and how much you’re going to see at the end of the month.

To me, that feels a lot more stable than counting on someone else to come through for you.

It’s really, really important to note that not everyone feels the way I do. My husband, for example, loves having a job with a regular paycheck. You need to carefully consider how YOU feel before you make the decision to be a freelance writer.

If I’m a Freelance Writer, What Exactly Will I Do?

Freelance writers do a lot of different things, depending on their interest and abilities. Some freelance writers write blog posts — for their own blogs, and for other blogs. Some freelance writers specialize in blog posts for businesses.

Some writers focus on articles for print and online magazines, and others write technical manuals and software user guides.

You can find writers in almost any area you can imagine: corporate marketing materials, ebooks, white papers, press releases, and so on.

What’s not on this list? Novels, short stories, poetry, and similar kinds of writing. That’s typically not the kind of writing we’re talking about when we talk about freelance writing.

Basically, you would have to write this many books to make a living as a novelist. #notreallykidding

BUT! You can combine those types of writing with freelance writing so that you can make money and write what you love.

 

Ready to get PAID for your writing?

Watch 5 Steps to YOUR Successful Freelance Writing Business!

Do I Have to Pick Just One Thing To Write?

Here’s a cool secret: you don’t have to do anything! When you’re a freelance writer, you are in charge of your own business, and you get to make all the decisions!

Many years ago, when I started out as a freelance writer, I wrote all kinds of things. This was partly because I placed a really high value on materialistic things like heat and food, and also because it’s really hard to turn down work when you don’t have any.

In the span of a single year, I wrote dozens of articles on parenting toddlers, along with press releases for a semiconductor company, test questions for standardized exams for elementary and high school students, and a brochure for a company selling home delivery of medication for Hepatitis.

Basically, if someone was offering money, I was there, laptop at the ready.

(Except one time. One time, a big formula manufacturer wanted me to write a guide to formula feeding. I turned down the assignment, which very nearly caused my husband to leave me.)

You get to make your own choices, is the point, which means that if the formula company comes to you, you can take the assignment and donate the money to La Leche League. Or you can buy a caseful of formula, and hand it out in the maternity wing of your local hospital – and that’s fine.

You have your comfort level, and I have mine. That’s what makes the world interesting – and gives us super fun comment wars on Facebook.

Facebook. Where you can fight with friends AND total strangers. YAY!

Anyway, I was writing a lot of different things, and while it did give me a lot of experience, it didn’t make me a lot of money.

I like money and I really like the things I can BUY with money, so I knew I needed to figure out a better plan.

I didn't know it at the time, but one of the things I really needed was a niche.

I’ve written about how to choose a niche, I’ve made videos about choosing a niche, and I’ve spoken again and again about the importance of having a niche.

But when I started out as a freelance writer, I didn’t have a niche.

I had never heard of “choosing a niche” — so I didn’t bother to pick one. 

Stop letting your niche hangups get in the way of starting your freelance writing career. If you can’t pick a niche, get started anyway.

Are there advantages to choosing a niche? Of course. Just check out all those links above. But if choosing a niche is preventing you from getting started in freelance writing, that’s just silly.

You can start TODAY, right where you are, with nothing more than the knowledge you have in your head, right now. You don’t have to quit your day job yet. You don’t have to invest money in building a web site. You can just start, and figure out your niche after your first few assignments. You're already ahead of where I was, because I didn't even understand that choosing a niche was a thing.

My instinct was to say YES! to everyone.

I wrote press releases about semiconductors, articles about breastfeeding, and courses about the laws concerning insider trading.

Doing all of those different things meant that I was constantly learning new things. I was always a beginner.

Learn how to be a freelance writer.

If you're always a beginner, you're never a pro.

It took me several years to realize that by always having a learning curve, I was significantly limiting my income. When I started turning down work that didn’t interest me, I took a big step in the right direction, but it was a long time before I finally wised up and niched down.

By turning down the work that didn’t interest me, I opened up time in my schedule — in my life — to find the work that I did like. The work that made me feel excited. The work that earned me real money.

If that's what YOU want, go ahead and check out my free course on how to be a freelance writer. It's a great way to get started today.

Because you can do this.

 

Ready to get PAID for your writing?

Watch 5 Steps to YOUR Successful Freelance Writing Business!

Choose Your Path to Freelance Success

Choose Your Path to Freelance Success

There are questions that people ask me a lot. Sadly, these are rarely questions such as, “Wow, have you lost weight?” or “How can I get my hair to look like yours?”

Rather, these are generally questions like, “What are you making for dinner?” and “Can I have some money?” Or — and I swear to you, this was actually asked recently (like, two weeks ago) by my son’s dentist — “How pregnant are you?”

I AM NOT PREGNANT.

Anyway, the actual questions that people ask me about getting started in freelance writing are things like, “How much money will I make?” “How fast will I make it?” and “What’s the BEST way to get started and make money?”

You can find a LOT of people on the internet who will promise you a LOT of things.

I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep, and I don’t like to mislead people. I don’t like to lie, is what it comes down to. I like to be honest and open, and I am aware that this means I will never make millions of dollars as an “online entrepreneur.” I’m okay with that.

Here’s what I can tell you: there are a lot of different ways to earn a good living as a freelance writer. This post details three separate paths you can follow to earn a good living as a freelance writer. These are certainly not the ONLY ways to make money, but I happen to know they work, because I have done all of them, and I have successfully taught students to do them.

You do not have to choose ONE of these paths. You can pick and choose the things that most interest and excite you, and you pick something else entirely.

What I DON’T want is for you to think that freelance writing means writing blog posts about your kids and getting paid thousands of dollars a month to do it, because I don’t know anyone who has that job.

Freelance Success Path: Writing Articles

Many, many writers want to write for magazines. There’s just something so exciting about seeing your name there in print. Also, the idea of getting paid to write articles about topics that interest and excite you — it’s just FUN.

You can write articles for magazines as a freelance writer.

In my early days as a freelance writer, the bulk of my income came from writing articles about pregnancy and parenting for magazines and websites.

Let’s be super clear about this, though: the “bulk of my income” was not a tremendous amount of money.

At the time, I had a toddler, and I was pregnant with my second child. I was working about 25 hours a week and bringing in around $2200/month most months. About $1200 of that came from one steady gig writing for a parenting web site — I wrote their weekly newsletters and at least 2 blog posts a week, plus I edited articles that came in from other writers. That was probably about 15 hours a week.

To make up the rest of my income, I pitched articles to parenting magazines, and I did some basic business writing — brochures for companies, letters that they mailed out, and so on.

Writing Articles for Consumer Magazines

Writing articles for consumer magazines — the kind you see in the stores — is work. It takes time. The process goes something like this:

You think of an idea for an article and write a query letter pitching that idea to a magazine. You wait to hear back, and you pitch different slants on that topic to a bunch of other magazines.

Eventually, you hear back, or you don’t. Sometimes your query is accepted, and then you have to write the article, which means interviewing people, doing research, and writing. Then you submit the article, and the editor comes back and says, “This is great, except that I crossed out most of it, and I need you to rewrite huge parts of it.”

You edit, and perhaps mutter unfavorable things under your breath while you do. You resubmit the work, and it is usually accepted at this point. Eventually, you get paid and the work is published — but sometimes, it’s the other way around.

When you are writing for smaller consumer magazines, the pay is lower — but the process is often easier. Most articles are accepted with very minor edits. Regional magazines will often accept “reprints” — that is, articles you’ve already written and published elsewhere, which require very little work on your part.

Writing Articles for Trade Magazines

When you write for trade magazines, you miss out on some of the wow factor that goes along with getting a piece published in a national magazine. “My article is out in Diversity/Careers in Engineering and Information Technology” is not a sentence that trips off the lips, you know?

But the work can be steady, and the pay can be great. When I started working for trade magazines, my monthly income went up by about $1000 — and I was still working the same hours.

Diversity/Careers was an actual magazine I wrote for A LOT back in the day. I found this magazine listed on some web site and contacted the editor with a general pitch letter.

She assigned me a small article as an initial trial. I interviewed one person, wrote up what he said, and earned around $400. The whole thing took about 4 hours, so I was delighted.

Freelance writing for trade magazines can be a steady source of income.

Then, every six weeks for the next three or four years, the editor would email me with a long-form assignment. I got a list of companies to contact, set up interviews with people matching specific criteria, and wrote up a piece of around 2000-3000 words. I earned $1075 for each one. They usually took about 8-10 hours of work. In addition, the editor often sent me transcripts of recorded interviews that I turned into shorter pieces, for a few hundred dollars each.

The work was constant. It was often interesting — I spoke to amazing people doing very cool jobs. It paid well, and on time. And I didn’t have to looking for it — or to come up with ideas.

 

Ready to get PAID for your writing?

Watch 5 Steps to YOUR Successful Freelance Writing Business!

Writing Articles for Web Sites

Writing for the web is a great way to break into writing articles for money. Payment varies widely — you can find sites that pay nothing (I'm looking at you, Huffington Post), and those that pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but mostly you'll find sites that pay around $100-$300 for articles.

If you decide that being published on a specific site has the potential to drive traffic to your own site and provide name recognition with clients, than you can make the strategic decision to write for free.

Should you write for free if you want to be a freelance writer?

(It hurt my fingers just to type that.)

I am NOT impressed when I see “as featured on The Huffington Post” because I know that they don’t pay, and pretty much anyone can apply for an account and publish articles with them these days.

If you want to use “as featured on The Huffington Post” to impress potential business clients, go for it. If your PRIMARY goal is to publish articles and get paid by magazines, HP isn’t impressing anyone. Everyone in the magazine industry knows that HP doesn’t pay and that it is insanely easy to publish your own articles there.

Be strategic, is the point.

If you have a piece you’ve written that you just want out there in the world, use HP or a site such as Medium to get it out there. That’s okay.

If your goal is earning money, however, grab my resource list and consider pitching one of the 5 sites listed that pay actual money — at least $100 — for your work.

Freelance Success Path: Business Writing

Writing for businesses can provide you with a steady income, and the work definitely doesn’t have to be boring.

There are a LOT of businesses in the world, and you can find the ones you care about. When you do, the work is the OPPOSITE of boring — and it doesn’t even feel like work.

Work you love feels more like fun.

For many years, I wrote online training for pharmaceutical companies. The work was always interesting, and I got to learn a lot about healthcare laws that personally affected me and my family.

You might find pharmaceutical training boring. That’s okay — we all have different interests.

I have students who have all kinds of niches: some write usability design documents for companies like Google, and others write press releases for the music industry.

To find business writing work that resonates with you means putting in the time to find your niche. You definitely need to know what you want to write before you can get out there and look for work.

Once you figure out which clients you want to target — which stuff you want to write about — you can start putting together a pitch that speaks to their needs.

Copywriting for Businesses

Copywriting is one type of business writing that is generally designed to convince people to take a specific action — generally, to buy something.

Freelance copywriting pays really well — but you need to have some specialized skills. It’s basically selling via words, so you really have to be okay with selling. It’s all about smart psychology, skilled writing, and honing your technique by writing a lot.

Copywriting can be your path to freelance success.

Earning big bucks as a copywriting is absolutely possible — but you will need to learn those special skills. Don’t rush out to buy a course, though, because you can start by reading a lot of books that can be found in your local library.

If you decide to go the copywriting route and you do want to take a course, choose carefully. Many courses cost thousands of dollars and don’t deliver very much. Your best bet is to find an actual person who does the kind of specific copywriting you want to do and try to find a way to work for that person at first.

Freelance Success Path: Online Writing/Digital Marketing

Writing has been around for at least a few years. And the thing is, since a lot of writing is done by marketers, we enjoy making up new names to talk about what we do.

The terms “digital marketing” and “content marketing” didn’t exist a decade ago — but the concepts those words represent absolutely existed.

Maybe you’re like me, and when people start talking about the sales funnel as a non-linear concept, you stare at them and say, “SPEAK ENGLISH.”

Here’s the thing: “digital marketing” and “content marketing” are NOT difficult. They are NOT specialized skills that you need to study for years. You DON’T need a certification.

Content marketing is creating content — written, video, visual, whatever — about a topic that is informative, educational, and/or entertaining.

This blog post that you are reading is a form of content marketing.

I know, right?

The point of this blog post is to educate you about the paths you can take to become a successful freelance writer. You, reader, are looking for information. This post is NOT selling you anything. It’s GIVING you information. It’s helping you to see me as an authority on freelance writing. (HOW AUTHORITATIVE DO I LOOK???)

Content marketing is a smart path to freelance success.

At some point in the future, you might be interested in learning more about freelance writing, and you might explore my videos. You might check out my Facebook group or follow me on Pinterest.

Heck, you might even sign up for my course, Writing for Money — but that’s later.

Right now, you’re just looking for information. You’re here for education. And that’s what content marketing is.

So yeah, you can do that for companies in all kinds of industries.

Yep, really.

If online writing is your preferred gig, Upwork can be a great place to start. You can find your first few clients, gain experience, get feedback, and use that build your confidence — and your career.

You can choose your very own path to freelance success. Which one appeals to you?

 

Ready to get PAID for your writing?

Watch 5 Steps to YOUR Successful Freelance Writing Business!

Tiny Habits: The Secret to Your Success

Tiny Habits: The Secret to Your Success

What kind of resolutions do you make every year?

I’m going to lose ten pounds.

I’m going to write a novel.

I’m going to declutter my house.

Do any of those sound familiar?

How many times have you made the same resolutions? Two years in a row? Five years? More?

Why do you keep making these resolutions, again and again, when you know you’re never going to be able to keep them?

But. Wait. What if…you could make changes in your life? What if you could make real changes — the kind of changes you’ve been trying to make for years?

When you use tiny habits, it's easy to make your resolutions stick.

That could be kind of amazing.

And that’s what you can do with tiny habits. With tiny habits, you can change your life for the better — and you can do it with very little effort.

That’s kind of a big thing to say, but it’s completely true. In this post, you’ll learn what tiny habits are and exactly how to create tiny habits to improve any part of your life you want.

Understanding Tiny Habits Starts With Understanding Habits

When you think about habits, you might automatically think about good habits, such as exercising regularly — or bad habits, like smoking. Set those aside for a moment, and think of habits as the things we do without thinking about them.

When you get in your car, you put on your seatbelt, without thinking about it.

In the shower, you wash your hair, without thinking about it.

After you use the toilet, you flush, without thinking about it. (Unless you are one of my sons, in which case you leave the evidence of your presence to delight the next bathroom visitor.)

Use tiny habits to make your life better.

You’d have to think pretty hard to remember doing one of those things. You know you did them, but the memory is blurred with the other million times you did them. It’s difficult to identify the specific memory of doing it today.

Those actions are habits. We form them by doing them again and again, until they are drilled into us and require no effort from our thinking minds. It doesn’t take willpower or motivation to flush a toilet (Again, unless you are my sons. This is somewhat of a sore point in my home.) or to buckle up. You just do it.

Using Tiny Habits to Establish New Habits

There are seven people who live in my house, and all of them find it necessary to wear clothing and eat on a daily basis. In fact, many of them want to eat multiple times a day, which means that we have a fairly enormous amount of laundry and dishes to handle.

Some years ago, I determined that if we did not handle these chores on a daily basis, they would quickly overwhelm us and we would be living in filth.

Unfortunately, in order to load dirty dishes into the dishwasher, you must first unload the clean dishes and put them away. Perhaps this is a chore that you enjoy, but I find it tedious and annoying, so I would ignore it for many hours, while dishes piled up in my kitchen.

With tiny habits you can keep your home organized easily.

Somewhere around dinnertime, as my children and husband demanded to be fed, I would… what’s the technical term? Oh, right, I would lose my cool and the evening would plummet sharply downhill from there.

As much fun as this routine was, it occurred to me that changing it might benefit our family. I harnessed the power of the tiny habit.

Breaking Down TIny Habits

First, let’s give credit where it’s due. The concept of tiny habits comes from Stanford professor BJ Fogg, who has written an enormous amount on the topic. This is the “in a nutshell” version.

A tiny habit consists of three separate but equally important parts:

  • The Anchor
  • The Action
  • The Victory Dance

Let’s take a closer look at each part.

An anchor is something you know you already do every day, at a set time or in a specific place.

For example, you might know that you:

  • Brush your teeth in the bathroom right after you wake up
  • Turn on the coffeemaker as soon as you enter the kitchen
  • Hang up your coat on a hook when you come through the door
  • Take a shower when you come home from work
  • Have a glass of wine after dinner

Anchor tiny habits to something you already do.

The action of your tiny habit is the actual thing that you’re going to do. It’s important to keep the action tiny. It should be:

  • Something you can do in less than 10 seconds
  • Something that doesn’t require any real motivation or energy

The victory dance is what you do to celebrate that you did the action you set out to do. It’s a critical — but often ignored — part of the tiny habit process.

Many people find the victory dance to be the hardest part of the tiny habit process, but it’s really, really important. Our brains like rewards, so we need to feed them.

The trick is to find a victory dance that feels natural for you. For example, I have a tendency to whisper-shout “Ha!” or do a little finger dance a lot when I do something particularly awesome, like not forget my keys. So those victory dances work for me — they don’t feel forced, they’re not weird for me, and I don’t feel like I’m faking it.

Some of my students have told me that they:

  • Shake their bums
  • Give a thumbs up
  • Dance in place
  • Flash a victory sign

Here's BJ Fogg talking about tiny habits.

 

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Tiny Habits and The Dishwasher

For a long time, unloading the dishwasher felt overwhelming to me. When I applied the tiny habit principle, here’s what happened.

  1. I set up my tiny habit, using an anchor, an action, and a victory dance. Here’s how I stated my tiny habit:

After I turn on the coffeemaker in the morning, I will open the dishwasher, and then I will do a finger dance.

This is the formula for creating a tiny habit.

  1. I didn’t have to do anything else. By opening the dishwasher, I had completed the tiny habit — I had WON.
  2. When the dishwasher was open, and I was waiting for the coffee to be ready, it became natural to perhaps put away a cup or two. Not the first day — let’s not get crazy here — but, you know. Slowly. Over time. It became a thing.
  1. Within about two weeks, it was natural for me to turn on the coffee machine, open the dishwasher, and get at least the top rack unloaded before I drank my coffee.
  1. After another two weeks, I was at the point where I had the whole dishwasher unloaded before the coffee was ready.

Once I had an empty dishwasher first thing in the morning, it was a lot easier to get the breakfast dishes loaded directly in… which meant that the counters were clear and could be wiped down… which meant that the whole kitchen looked better.

When you put tiny habits in place, it's easy to get things done.

And it all started with a tiny habit.

How Not To Build a Tiny Habit

If you are already planning how you will use tiny habits to improve every area of your life, that’s awesome! Here’s the thing: you have to use the power of the tiny habit wisely.

Here’s what NOT to do.

“After I eat breakfast, I will write 1000 words in my novel and then I will send queries to three magazines.”

No. Seriously, no.

When you’re trying to establish any habit, the trick is to go tiny.

Do not set yourself up for failure by jumping straight into 1000 words or ten pages or three queries.

That’s not how you build a writing habit that lasts, and definitely not when you’re at home with kids and your life is completely unpredictable. It just doesn’t work.

Instead, try this:

After I eat breakfast, I will put my journal on the table, and then I will give myself a thumbs-up.

Your victory dance is an important part of your tiny habits.

Anchor, action, victory dance.

The action is tiny, it will take you less than 10 seconds, and you don’t need any motivation to stick your journal on the table.

The first day or two, maybe you never even open the journal after you put it on the table — and that’s totally fine. It’s better than fine — it’s a WIN, and you have to celebrate it with your victory dance.

Within a few days, setting out the journal is automatic. You don’t have to think about it. You don’t remember getting the journal — but hey, there it is, on the table.

So you add the next step. You write ONE sentence. Just one. That’s it. That’s your WHOLE commitment. And then one day, you really like the sentence and you know exactly what comes next, so you wind up writing for a few minutes. And then you stop and you think, Wow, that was great.

Over time, slowly, you will get to the place where you are writing 1000 words — or even more! — every day, and it will be automatic.

Tiny Habits and the Rest of Your Life

Tiny habits can give you control in just about every area of your life.

If you’re trying to drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables, or exercise more consistently, you can create tiny habits that move you towards those goals.

Use tiny habits to get healthy.

After I make the coffee, I will set a water glass out on the counter, and then I will high-five myself.

After I make the kids’ school lunches, I will select an apple from the fruit bowl, and then I will blow my reflection a kiss.

After I eat dinner, I will put my workout clothes on the chair, and then I will dance in place.

Maybe you want your house to be more organized, Think about your end goals: do you want your family room to be clean? Do you want the dining room table to be free of papers? Do you want your closet to be neat and tidy?

For me, closet organization was kind of a problem at one time. I was tired of constantly opening the closet to find a big mess of clothes where I couldn’t see anything.

So the tiny habit I made was this:

After I turn on the closet light, I will put away ONE piece of clothing, and then I will do a literal victory dance.

ONE piece of clothing was a no-brainer. Super easy! Every time I turned on my closet light, I grabbed ONE thing, hung it up or folded it and put it away.

After a few days, the difference in my closet was astounding. And now, it’s so automatic, and I usually wind up putting away all the clean laundry when I walk into my closet in the morning, and if I don’t get it all done right then, I definitely finish the task by the end of the day.

When you’re home with young kids, life can be a little bit… unpredictable.

You can have days where everything goes smoothly, but you can also have days where the baby poops straight through to the mattress and you need to wash everything and haul the mattress outside to dry in the sun and spray the room with bleach and then figure out a way to get the bleach fumes out of the room.

Find multiple anchors in your day to ensure your tiny habits get done.

So you may want to look for several different anchors that you have at different times of your day to help combat that unpredictability.

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7 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Our Time

7 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Our Time

Sometimes, you wake up and you think:

Today, I’m going to write my novel and crush that work project and do all the laundry and cook 28 meals and freeze them.

Basically, you think, I am going to WIN today.

And then, just as you have picked up your sharpened pencil, the washing machine makes a weird nose.

Your kid throws up.

Your boss calls with an emergency.

And suddenly, it’s MIDNIGHT, and you’re not in bed, and you didn’t even do ONE thing that was on your list.

Maybe this never happens to you, in which case, please go read The Blog for Perfect People Who Never Have Problems. Here at Successful Freelance Mom, we are all about reality. And reality is that unless my family makes the conscious decision to go naked, we will never finish the laundry.

Time is tricky. It expands and contracts in the most inconvenient ways, over and over again. But we are tricky, too. We tell ourselves all kinds of stories about time.

Often, we believe the stories we tell ourselves.

This belief is what frequently results in our exhaustion, our chronic lateness, our empty freezers.

Here are seven of the biggest lies we tell ourselves about time — and how we can start to change the story.

I don't have time to do anything.

I don’t have time for [fill in the blank].

The local elementary school recently announced a scheduling change — the youngest two classes are finishing the day an hour earlier than the rest of the students. When parents asked why, they were told, “We have a shortage of hours.”

Okay, obviously they mean that they have budget issues and cannot pay teachers for the hours, but the phrasing is just so… common. And so untrue. NO ONE has a shortage of time. We all have 168 hours every single week, and each week, we get to choose how we spend those hours.

Yes, sometimes, there are outside constraints, but let’s be real — and honest. It’s about choices and priorities, not time. You don’t have time to write the great American novel, or writing fiction is not a priority for you? Yeah, it feels awkward and uncomfortable to say that something isn’t a priority, which is why we so often mask it with, “I don’t have time for that.”

Stop doing that. Be honest. If it’s truly a priority for you, you will find the time.

How can I find more time?

I’m putting in the time and I’m still not getting results.

Do you have a friend who tries every new diet? Or one who has been drowning in debt for years? At some point, these people probably started tracking food or spending, right?

Here’s the thing: tracking — whether it’s your time, your food, or your spending — only works if you’re honest about it. If you only write down the carrots and don’t bother to add the french fries you ate off your husband’s plate, the Cheetos you snuck in the car, or the ice cream you had just because, your food log will look awesome, but the scale will disagree.

Likewise, if you keep telling yourself that you’re putting in hours every day on your project, but what you’re really doing is spending hours every day on Facebook, nothing is going to change.

Change is hard, and often painful. But you can’t expect results to come from magic.

Why can't I ever make my deadlines?

I can definitely make that deadline.

If you’re consistently scrambling to meet deadlines, you’re probably telling yourself this lie frequently — but you’re not alone. Daniel Khaneman and Amos Tversky first coined the phrase “planning fallacy” in 1979 to describe our tendency to underestimate the time we need to complete a task — even when we know that similar work has taken us longer in the past.

In our heads, we’re envisioning the best-case scenario. We’ll sit down to write the report, the words will flow easily, and we won’t be distracted. Information will be readily available, people will answer our calls, and everything will go as planned.

Seriously, when’s the last time everything worked out exactly the way you planned it? And yet, there we are, falling for the planning fallacy again and again. There’s a surprisingly easy fix for this time lie, though: every time you need to estimate the time for a project, add a buffer. Usually an additional 50% is sufficient. So, if you thought writing the report would take 4 hours, plan for 6 hours instead.

I work all the time and have no time for anything.

 

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I work over 80 hours a week.

This is one of the most popular lies about time. We all overestimate the hours we work, because so much of what we do can feel like work — even when it’s not.

You might genuinely be out of your hours 80 hours every week, but it’s really not fair to say that you are putting in focused work for all of those hours. In order to work 80 hours a week, you have to be working — working, not commuting, not eating lunch, not in the bathroom — from 7am until 11pm, 5 days a week.

Seriously, if you’re doing that, what the heck is your job? And how do you have time to read this post?

Even better are the people who claim to work 100 hours a week. These people must have an extremely loose definition of work. 100 hours a week is 20 hours a day, five days a week. That means you’re working from 7 am until 3 am. Do you know anyone who does that consistently?

Related question: Do you know anyone who claims to do that consistently? That person is most likely a liar.

I spend all my time with my kids.

I spend all day with my kids.

This is another one of those time lies that feels true. When you are caring for small children, it definitely seems like that’s the only thing you do, all day.

But here are a few truths: newborns sleep about 18 hours a day. And since very few of those hours seem to happen at night, they must be sleeping during daylight hours. Even toddlers sleep 14-16 hours a day. Yes, many of those hours are at night, but toddlers also need regular naps.

Are there exceptions? Of course. Children with special needs, sleep disorders, or other conditions may need more of your time and attention. But if you are truly spending your entire day with your children — and if that makes you unhappy — then you need to change something.

If you love spending every possible second with your kids and don’t want to do anything for yourself, great! You do you. But you’re reading this presumably because you want to have time to write, time to build your business, time to read novels, whatever. So be real: it’s unlikely that you are spending all day, every day with your kids, even if you are their primary caregiver.

If your kids never nap, institute a daily quiet time for an hour in the afternoon. Trade with another mom so you each get one kid-free afternoon a week. Find a sitter for 4 hours a week.

Or, change nothing, and keep everything exactly the same.

I cook and clean all day and I have no time.

I spend hours cooking and cleaning every day.

Yep, when you’re a mom, it definitely feels like you’re cooking and cleaning all day. I absolutely bought into this lie for a long time. Turns out, I was spending very little time cooking and cleaning… and a lot of time playing Words With Friends on my phone, but that’s a different story.

Listen up: there is no reason for you to be spending 8 hours a day cooking and cleaning. Do you live in Downton Abbey? As I recall, they had staff. A LOT of staff. They had people to DRESS THEM.

Anyway, you’re not in the kitchen as much as you think you are. Track your time if you don’t believe me. You’ll find that you start dinner, but then you have to go change a diaper, and then the fourth grader can’t figure out which is the sign for division, PLUS the Girl Scout cookie order was due LAST WEEK, and, like 57 other things that are NOT cooking dinner happen.

So you FEEL like you spent 4 hours cooking dinner, but really, that macaroni cooked up in 8 minutes.

We can fix this issue, but you have to acknowledge it first.

Why does everything always take so long?

I don’t need more than a minute to do that.

Man. This lie. This is the lie of the chronically late. “The kids will be ready in a minute.” “I’m leaving in ONE MINUTE.” “We’re going RIGHT NOW.”

HA.

As the person who is always early, I have spent HOURS of my life waiting for you late people. Here is the truth: It takes a LOT more than a minute to do most things, especially when children are involved.

If you’re telling yourself, I can be out the door in 10 minutes, are you really thinking about how long it takes to strap your baby — who seems to have seven arms and five legs — into the carseat while simultaneously ensuring that your 6-year-old keeps his pants on? Or are you being, perhaps, a wee bit optimistic in your estimate?

If you are honest with yourself and say, It take 28 minutes from the time I say We’re leaving to the time I pull out of the garage, that’s a game changer! If you KNOW that it takes 28 minutes, you can plan accordingly.

Imagine a world where you get to Mommy and Me on time and you don’t have to sneak in quietly while everybody else is already singing the hello song.

This nirvana can be yours, if you are honest with yourself about time.

If you’re telling yourself that you’re going to work on your freelance writing business every evening from 8 to 10 pm, but you are actually spending that time on Netflix or Hulu, maybe it’s time to cancel those subscriptions so that they aren’t an option anymore.

Maybe getting to bed early is important to you, but you can figure out a way to put in four hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Of course, you can always decide that it’s not possible to make any changes to your life. That’s legitimate — but it’s also a choice. If you can’t change one single thing, then you’re not really trying to find time, you’re trying to find reasons why you can’t do the things you say you want to do.

So, what’s one change you’re going to make?

 

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