One of the most significant difficulties I’ve faced since I started freelancing as a writer full-time is learning how to measure my workdays.

The typical Mon-Fri 9–5 offers us so much structure and the ability to measure our output because it’s neatly handed to us. What we should be doing, how we should be doing it, by when — there are multiple constructs in place to guide us. Throw in the benefit of the staff break room for refuge during lunch and colleagues to chat with and help motivate you; it’s easy to see why this is such a comfortable way to work for many.

Discovering how to set-up your day in the way that’s most effective and productive for you is a hard test of self-discipline for every writer I know. I can tell you the truth: it’s an ever-evolving process. I’ve tried to breakdown my days and measure them in countless different ways, including:

  • By financial output — what work deliverables will earn me my daily financial return?
  • By due-dates and priority lists.
  • By designated work streams (for example, Mon-Tues for writing, Wed-Thurs for editing, and Friday for all other admin.)

Then there’s the question of how exactly you set yourself up to work:

  • Do you follow Tim Ferris’ wildly popular ‘four-hour workweek’ method (did not work for me) or do you go all in working four days a week and rewarding yourself with a three day weekend?
  • Do you move your ‘weekend’ to suit you and your clients?
  • Do you start at 5 am and finish early or go with the flow of your body's own biological clock (which for me means sleeping in until at least 9 am usually).
  • Do you work from home or a coffee shop or a co-working space?

Or do you do what I usually end up doing and winging it each week based on what work lands on your lap?

The truth: There’s no perfect formula

No matter how many plans, structures, timetables, or promises I put in place for myself, I can pretty much guarantee that a week or two into any new way of setting up and measuring my freelance workdays will quickly go out the window.

By its very definition, freelance writing is about being a bit freer with how you approach work. Throughout my attempts to find the ‘perfect’ balance in my freelance work-life, I’ve repeatedly come back to the question: When is my output enough?

Grand notions of working to my ‘full capacity’ often plague me, but something I’ve come to realize is that ‘full capacity’ is such a stab-in-the-dark concept when it comes to freelancing. In my contracted roles for companies, I have a set job description that defines what I do, and I can add value with fresh ideas.

With freelancing, I make all the rules. My job description(s) have very few boundaries, and the ones I do have quickly get stretched, bent, and broken when a client sends an intriguing project my way. So, how do I measure my writing days and output if it’s so often up for repeated redefining?

Essentially, I’ve had to make my own metrics for measuring what ‘enough’ looks like to me, within any given week or month. Here are a few ways I do that:

Some projects will demand a full-time schedule from me; others might only ask for a few hours. The kicker is when the projects pay the same but require wildly different time commitments. It makes it hard to feel like I’ve ‘achieved’ success.

This is how I’ve learned to focus on the work. As long as I enjoy and find the project interesting, it’s adding to my professional development and paying what I think I should earn for it — that’s what I focus on.

Instead of a lengthy To-Do list that seems never to end and makes you feel unproductive when you don’t successfully tick everything off by the end of the day, aim for more realistic achievements.

I review all my deadlines for the week on Sunday and plan which ones need to be completed on which days — I set myself no more than three goals per day. Three has been a highly realistic and achievable number for me — as long as I complete my three things, it’s been a successful day. If I manage to do more — that’s a bonus.

I found myself getting into a rut where even when I had plenty of work on my plate, I still felt compelled to be seeking more. Whether it was pitching pieces, applying to freelance gigs via online platforms, or scouring for call-outs and submission openings — I was always looking.

Of course, there needs to be a degree of this factored into your work life as a freelancer. Still, it’s also okay to take a break if you have enough work and focus on delivering consistently good work over continually seeking for more.

Consistency also includes keeping your social media relatively accurate and relevant alongside website updates and a little bit of self-promo/marketing when necessary. Showing up positively and consistently leads to great results as a freelancer.

The golden rule: Stay flexible

As I mentioned, my methods (and madness) around how I measure my freelance writing output and success changes frequently, and that’s because my work changes just as quickly.

There is no ‘perfect’ way of doing things, only the way of doing things that work for you within any given day or week — and that will naturally change as your projects and clients change or evolve. And indeed, as you evolve as a freelancer.

Instead of focusing on the standard measurements for output, success, and professional growth, I’ve learned what’s more important is working with people who make me feel good and appreciate the work I do, I’m challenged in the right ways by the work I take on, and I feel good about the work I’m producing.

Ultimately, these are the ways to measure your day — and output — as a writer.