Starting Out

How Does A Freelancer Stay Organized When They’re Too Busy?

As a freelance writer, keeping organized is one of the most important lessons you have to learn.

No one is going to stand over you making sure you do your work. If you miss too many deadlines, your clients will drop you.

How Does A Freelancer Stay Organized When They’re Too Busy?

As a freelance writer, keeping organized is an important lesson you have to learn.

When you just have a little bit of business, it’s easy (although not advisable) to keep all of your due dates in your head. But keeping an editorial calendar/productivity log can help you stay organized, which can in turn help you manage your time better.

All this leads to more time generating more work. Hence, organization breeds money.

An editorial calendar helps you manage and schedule all of your work, from regular paying clients, to that magazine you write for once or twice a year, as well as unpaid writing like guest blogging, and long-term projects like novels.

When you put all of that into the calendar, as well as queries, invoice due dates and their follow-ups, it will increase your productivity.

There are a number of ways to keep an editorial calendar/productivity log. I’ve tried the ones they give you on the blog sites, and I even tried a spiral planner I found at a bookstore. But organization is one of those things that it only works if it works for you. Here’s what I have found to be the best way to do it.

1. Envision What You Need

I started with a rough paper sketch of what I wanted. I drew out a weekly calendar template. It was custom based on my clients, and how much workload I generally expect from them. I divided it into Paid and Unpaid sections. Paid is of course, my regular clients, leaving room for the occasional extra assignment here or there. Unpaid allows me to schedule things like personal or guest blogging, social media, as well as to manage my novel writing, and other platform-building-only assignments.

2. Design It

Once I drew out the information I wanted to manage on a weekly basis, I created an Excel worksheet that matched it. I used one tab per month to create a weekly schedule for each month.

I took advantage of all of the formatting tools to create a user-friendly calendar that is custom built just for my information. I shaded the row separating Paid and Unpaid sections, so that I could visually prioritize them. I played with different formatting tools to give me color on the date line, and thickened the gridlines to give me visual separation of each day. I don’t like to work weekends, so I offset those cells with color to separate the weeks. I added in a Notes row to the end of each week.

3. Fill in Your Paid Assignments

I get assignments by the week, so I quickly put in my current due dates, and made them larger and a different color than the rest. Once I did this, it was easy for me to see the steps it would take to complete each piece. I

scheduled them in as a To-Do list for each day. If I had any specific appointments, I filled that in as well (ie, “Call Client X at 4:00.”)

4. Add in Your Social Media

Social media is important to your success as a freelancer, and mine was scattered and disorganized.

I added it to my calendar as well. I scheduled in my blogging as three times a week, so each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, reads, “Post” in the Blog line. As I think up topics, I change the word “Post” to the subject. Before that, I would just blog when I had a subject.

Now, if it says “Post” on my calendar, I learned to consider it a work task to think up something. I know that power bloggers have a much more complicated schedule. When I would read their advice posts, it would intimidate me. I wanted my blog to be fresh, and an outlet for whatever was on my mind. Not stale posts scheduled a month in advance. Setting a looser schedule allowed me to blog the way I wanted, but still keep a regular pace.

I had also just started a Twitter account and I wasn’t sure how I could keep it up. So, I scheduled “Tweet,” for Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since my blog was connected to my Twitter, blogging three times a week, plus a twice weekly Tweet, ensured that I was active on Twitter at least once a weekday. Beyond that, I could Tweet as or as much or as little as I wanted.

5. Use It

My editorial calendar doubles as a To-Do list.

Each morning, I open my editorial calendar look at my due dates, and type in what steps need to be taken toward that each day. Then, I work from it all day. As I complete a task, I turn it red.

My goal is to have no black items left by the end of the workday. This doesn’t always happen, so any remaining items are transferred to the next day’s to do list. If I do something unplanned, then I add it in as a red item as well. This helps me keep track of my productivity as well as dating my work for future reference.

6. Add in Other Information

I use this to keep track of invoices, phone calls made, and e-mails sent. I also use it to keep track of things with long wait periods, like queries. I will type in when sent a query, and if the response time says, “4-6 weeks,” I will scroll 4 and then 6 weeks away, and type in reminders.

7. Long-Term Projects

While I write for money on a daily basis, like most writers, I have those long-term projects that I hope will make me famous. At the bottom of my list, is a row for Long Term projects, like my novel and poetry book. If my paid projects, and platform building are slow, I can schedule in time to work on those.

8. Contacts Tab

I have a final tab called Contacts.

Here I list each of my frequently contacted clients/colleagues and their contact information. I keep it simple, with just the basic information that I use. I don’t put e-mail addresses, because they will just pop up from my address book. I don’t put company names, or even last names if I know this information. That way, everything I use is just a couple of clicks away, and it’s uncluttered.

Of course, this may seem to be rewriting Microsoft Outlook. Outlook can do a lot of these things, and probably better. Outlook is a very powerful software, designed to manage way more information that I am trying to navigate. As such, I find it bulky for what I need to do.

If you spent a decade as an administrative assistant, and Outlook is your third arm, then by all means, harness the power of Outlook for your freelancing needs. But, if you’re like me, and Outlook confuses you, don’t sweat it. Organization is only as good as it works for you. If you don’t know how to manage your own productivity system, it will be frustrating and confusing and ultimately inefficient.

About The Author

Layla Velasquez is a freelance writer with an address in Texas. But she currently resides on Cloud Nine, in a state of constant euphoria as she gets to write full-time. She has written pieces for CCM Magazine, Woodlands Lifestyle and Homes, and USA Today Online. You can read her blog at The Vagrant Writer.

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Hi Layla, Thanks for sharing the way you organize your freelancing work. Got a quite a few tips to improve my own schedule. I do keep a similar excel sheet the way you mentioned but haven’t really separated the weekdays and weekends. It’s a nice idea to separate them and also have notes to look at the spillover work at the end of the week. PatriciaReply to Patricia