Being a freelance writer is a constant juggling act.
There are stories to write, emails to stay on top of, clients to onboard and dozens of other disparate tasks to take care of over the course of just one day. To say we’re only “writers” would be an understatement.
If freelance writing is your full-time job, you’re also an accountant, a project manager, a secretary and just about every other position you can think of. We do it all, and sometimes, it can get a little stressful.
It’s a feeling I know well…
No matter how many tasks I tick off, that to-do list just keeps growing. By the end of the day, I’m left with 20 more items than I started with, and I start to wonder if I actually got any work done at all.
Fortunately, since I’ve been freelancing for a quite a while now, I’ve picked up some handy tricks that seem to make those mammoth to-do lists a little more manageable.
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the deadlines and due dates looming, just use these tips below:
1. Use the Right Tools
Post-it notes and a simple planner may have worked in college, but when you have as many to-dos as we do, you need to bring in the big guns.
With Todoist (my personal favorite), you can create a daily checklist that keeps you on track. Check something off when it’s done, and watch the list shrink before your eyes.
Schedule recurring tasks, including random ones like “every third Friday of the month,” and access it via your phone or your computer, so you’re never caught off guard.
2. Break it Down
Keeping one exhaustive to-do list is fine, but there needs to be some sort of order to it.
Don’t lump all your projects, clients and tasks in one big document, and expect it to make sense the next time you look at it. Instead, break down all your deliverables for the week, and then work backward.
What progress needs to be done Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. on each of those projects in order to get the job done?
Once you figure this out for every client, outline a specific list for each day. Put the tasks in order too, breaking down what you’ll do in the morning, what you’ll do in the afternoon, and any added tasks, if you happen to have some extra time on your hand.
3. Prepare the Night Before
Preparing the night before is a necessity for me. Every night (or whenever my EOD is), I review tomorrow’s to-do list.
Are all the tasks still accurate?
Has anything changed?
Do I need to move anything over that was unfinished today?
Then I make any necessary changes, and I double-check that I have everything I need to get started on those tasks. If I don’t or I’m still waiting on something, I’ll send a quick note to the client requesting the info. Most of the time, I’ll wake up to the reply I need already sitting in my inbox. That means no delays and my to-do list stands as-is.
4. Keep Editing
Don’t wait until the end of the day to make changes to your to-do list. There’s no better feeling than checking a task off, so give yourself the satisfaction of whittling down the list every time you finish a job.
Also, if a project needs revisions or deadlines, edit that list as soon as you can. For one, you don’t want it to slip your mind (and it very well could if your task list is super overwhelming), and two, you want to have an accurate to-do list for tomorrow, as well as the rest of the week. Often, one small change today will cause a whole waterfall of changes to follow, so work those edits into your schedule ASAP.
5. Take Breaks
I’m a big believer in taking mental breaks.
Just because you have 10 tasks on your list doesn’t mean you need to go, go, go.
In fact, you may actually be more productive if you just take your eyes off it for a bit.
Go for a walk.
Hit the gym.
Have lunch on the patio.
Grab a coffee.
Give your brain a break, and do something different. My break time is often when I think of some of my best ideas!
6. Communicate Often
Communication is crucial when managing a never-ending to-do list. And, I don’t only mean communicating about your work either.
If you’re swamped or sick and not working at your normal pace, it’s important to keep clients in the loop. If you don’t, you could end up with 10 different content requests by the end of the day, and be in even deeper than you were when you woke up!
Keep in regular contact with your clients as much as you can. Let them know about any delays or issues you’re experiencing, and keep them notified as things change.
7. Leave Some Wiggle Room
Don’t overload yourself.
Sometimes, clients will have urgent requests, or you’ll have a high-paying piece come in at the last minute. You want to be able to take these on, as this is where you’ll bring in the big bucks.
Don’t schedule a task for every waking hour of your workday. Instead, allot at least a couple of free hours every other day so you can build these added tasks into your schedule. If you don’t end up using them, you can take a much-needed break or, if you’re the super productive type, start working on tomorrow’s to-do list instead.
8. Always Have Visibility
One of the best (and worst) things about freelancing is that you don’t have set work hours.
On the one hand, this gives you the freedom to create your own work schedule, sleep in and work when you’re most productive.
On the other hand, you may receive requests from clients at times when you’re technically not “at your desk” (ie. couch, bed, kitchen table.)
When that happens, you need full visibility of your projects – regardless of where you are located.
Always make sure your phone has the corresponding apps for any project management programs or client platforms you use on the go, and set up your emails, messengers and calendars to send you push alerts. You never want to be stranded without the info you need in a pinch.
Don’t let that to-do list get you down!
Remember, lots of work is a good thing. It means you’re an in-demand, sought-after writer, and people want to work with you. Just keep your cool, be prepared, and tackling those to-dos will be a breeze. Believe in yourself. You can do it!
Do you have any other helpful tips about managing your to-do list? Let me know in the comments!
Want more help? Check out my other blog posts on how to become a good writer.