Gaining Control

Checking Off the To-Do ListThe freelance life comes with uncertainties. I can’t always predict how much work I’ll have or when, clients’ needs may change, last-minute projects arise and sources may be hard to line up.

The very nature of this lifestyle means I lack a certain amount of control. I don’t mind the ebbs and flows that come with freelancing, but there are a few things that help me maintain my sanity. Here are four ways to help keep (or gain) control as freelancer.

1. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can get done today. When you have a deadline that is six weeks away, it might be tempting to put off interviews for a few more weeks. But I’ve found that you never know what might happen. A great project with a pressing deadline may come your way or you might come down with the flu. The freelance lifestyle doesn’t come with sick days or anyone else to pick up the slack, so it is important to stay on top of things. That means you should line up those interviews and start researching stories as soon as you get the assignment, even if you have to flip over the calendar to write down the deadline.

The same holds true with family to-dos. Evan’s birthday party is still a few weeks away, but his fully assembled goody bags and paper goods have been sitting in my guest closet for well over a month now. I took care of it when I had some spare time and I am so happy I did because the last few weeks have been crazy for me. In addition to a busy work schedule, I’ve had sick kids that have needed some extra love and care. It is nice to know I have one less thing on my to-do list.

2. Utilize lists. And speaking of to-do lists, I really do use pen and paper to make them. My to-do lists seem less overwhelming when I actually take the time to write them down instead of stressing about them in my mind. More often than not, seeing my to-dos in black and white brings a sense of relief and let’s me focus on the most important items first. Plus I feel oh-so-good when I can start checking things off of those lists.

3. Keep projects front and center. Right now I have a handful of primary clients. To stay organized, I have clipboards for three of my clients that hang above my desk. Each clipboard holds information about my latest assignment, the deadline, sources and the status of those I’ve talked to. I love having an at-a-glance overview of my assignments. For my other clients, I have file folders with key project information. I find a certain amount of comfort in having hard copies of assignments and research at my fingertips.

4. Determine how long you think a project should take and try to stick to the schedule. I try to determine how much time I should spend on a project based on a) how long it will take to produce the results I want and b) what my rate is. Once I get that number, I try to be as efficient as possible to come in on target.  It really helps cut out the amount of time I spend surfing the web or completing other non-work tasks during work time.

That’s what works for me, but I’d love to learn from you. What tips do you have on maintaining control of your life?

Image by Gary Mcinnes courtesy of Stock Exchange. 

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