What’s the first thing you do when you turn your computer on in the morning? Check email? Scan the news headlines? Log onto Facebook or another social network? Have you ever stopped to actually log the amount of time spent on the above activities or similar activities during the course of your day?

Time management is probably one of the most difficult aspects of a writer’s job, especially freelance writers who work from home. With never-ending deadlines and typically several projects being juggled at once,  having a time-management plan becomes critical.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered that help keep me on track:

1. Log your time. When you first attempt to get a plan together, spend the  first week logging how much time you’re spending on various activities. If you’re like me and you have small children at home, the time you spend with them would get included in your log. Track  actual writing time, family time, marketing time, time spent emailing and Facebooking–everything. Do this for a whole week to get an average of how much time you spend on each activity during a typical work day.

2. Eliminate time wasters. When I worked as a commissioned retail associate, I would sometimes get customers who asked question after question about a product, wanting to know every minute detail. They continued to act very interested, so I appeased them. Then, after  sabotaging my time with other customers, they’d decide they’d have to “think about it.” These people were affectionately called “time wasters.”

So what are time wasters for the writer? Continually checking email or a social networking account while you’re writing, answering your phone and/or texting, and, in general, getting caught up in any nonwriting distraction. This is the main reason for logging your activities. Find out exactly where your time is going and which activities you can eliminate or drastically decrease to free up your time.

3. Block your time. I find it more difficult to write when I only get 15 or 20 minutes here and there, although I’ve learned to capture every possible moment I can.  It’s much more effective to block off hours at a time to do nothing but write. Then have other hours devoted to marketing and promoting your work. Block more time for blog and website maintenance, and additional time for reading and returning emails. You’ll have to test your time blocks for a while to see what’s realistic, but it’s better than grabbing time whenever you get it,  because most likely, you won’t ever get it.

4. Make daily and weekly plans. At the beginning of your week,  plan everything you hope to/need to accomplish during that week. Next, break the plan down into daily chunks, leaving yourself some cushion for life’s inevitable emergencies and distractions. Each evening prioritize the  following day’s list. If you’ve come to the end of your day and your list is not as exhausted as you are, move the remaining items to the next day, making sure they are top priority.

5. Take advantage of downtime. Even though you may feel like you have zero downtime, you can capture more than you know. You just have to be creative! I have learned to use time spent in the carpool line at school, time in the library while my kids are book browsing, time at Chuck E. Cheese–any place where I don’t have to be actively involved in an activity–to get productive.

I’ll typically use this time to catch up on industry reading, jot down ideas for writing pieces I’m working on, organize outlines, etc. I usually need extreme quiet to actually write, so I have to save that  for my office, but there’s a lot of preliminary work I can do from anywhere.

Don’t you just feel more organized already?

For tips on building cushion and rest into your busy schedule, see this week’s Inspirations blog.