I had to laugh when Jaime sent me her topic idea for this blog post. “I’ve noticed that you always seem to be on top of your deadlines, even though we know that as writers we tend to procrastinate,” she wrote. Who, me?! I thought. I procrastinate with the best of them. Maybe even the best of the best. That said, I do freelance work through DPM on top of my full-time job and a semi-professional dance schedule, so if it seems like I’m on top of things, maybe I should give myself a little more credit!
As I said about balance in my previous blog post, great time management is a work in progress. Here are a few time-management strategies I’ve learned from experience, plus a few I’m currently beginning to implement.
1) Find an Organizational System that Works for You
Maybe this goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: it’s crucial that you know what is due when, and when you’re going to set aside time to work on each project. How do you keep all of that stuff straight?
What works for me is a system of multiple physical calendars (color-coded!) and daily to-do lists. This is my preference for a few different reasons: I remember things better when I physically write them down; color-coding helps me see the big picture at a glance; and I like the satisfaction of checking off completed tasks. Plus, it’s pretty!
If you go this route, I recommend putting in a little extra effort to find a calendar that makes you smile or that is tailored to a specific aspect of your lifestyle. I’ve been experimenting with the Passion Planner, which is designed to help schedule creative priorities, as my “one calendar to rule them all.” (More on scheduling around priorities later.)
On the other hand, my boyfriend—who is just as busy but much tech-savvier—uses only digital calendars and task reminders. This really amounts to a personal preference, so you’ll need to experiment to figure out your own system.
Ultimately, all that matters is finding a system that helps you consistently get commitments out of your brain and into some sort of record. Not only will you be able to keep all your projects organized, you’ll also minimize that awful feeling of anxiety that you must be forgetting something.
I also have a file alert set to notify me when any changes are made to the DPM spreadsheet of copywriting assignments. That way I know immediately when new projects come in, or if details change. This alert has been a lifesaver when it comes to staying on top of my assignments.
2) Plan Ahead For Your Projects (and Your Process)
You obviously need to plan ahead for each of your projects. Do you know when a project is due and what’s expected of you? Do you have all the resources you need, or at least know where to find them?
I find that it’s often helpful for me to separate research and writing into two separate work sessions, or to use an outline to organize my thoughts after doing research for a piece. Get to know your own writing process and work style, then choose a realistic method that suits your writing personality. Knowing that I’m a natural procrastinator, I have found Rebekah’s “plan to procrastinate” strategy a big help.
I also advocate planning ahead for your individual work process. Personally, I am not what anyone would describe as a “morning person.” Ironically, though, I have found that working on freelance projects in the morning before I head into my office job allows me to relax in the evening—when I’m tired, unmotivated, and distracted anyway. So I try to make the experience of working in the morning (ugh) as pleasant and low-key as possible by planning ahead.
For me, that means making breakfast the night before and setting the timer on the coffee maker so that I can just stumble to the kitchen for sustenance and then right to the desk. Make sure you plan ahead so that your work environment is pleasant and conducive to productivity.
3) Plan Around Your Priorities—and Be Willing to Compromise for Them
A recent priority of mine is establishing a consistent(ish) sleep schedule. This has meant fewer late nights working. That in turn has meant making some compromises—like taking the occasional Uber to the office rather than walking, or working through my lunch break—to keep both my sleep and my responsibilities on track.
Figure out your priorities for your work life and your personal life. What is absolutely sacred in your schedule? Time with your partner or family? Choir rehearsal? Yoga class? Meal planning? Block these priorities into your calendar, then fill in your other commitments around them.
Make sure to include social time and self-care! Then decide where you have wiggle room and where you’re not willing to compromise. This also sometimes means saying no to taking on more commitments when your calendar is filling up—easier said than done!
Time management definitely presents a learning curve, and your approach will likely shift as your day-to-day reality does. I’ve found that it’s most helpful to be realistic about my current situation (and my own work style) when planning out my time. What tips and tricks have you learned about time management as a freelance writer?