Getting Everything Done Without Going Crazy: Here’s How
Keeping your head straight ain’t easy.
When you’re a freelancer, you have a lot to keep straight. From making breakfast to making payments, the lines between personal and business can blur reeeeal fast, and things can get messy.
Getting overwhelmed is a problem because overwhelmed people tend towards two bad traits: forgetfulness and impulsiveness.
So, here’s some information that will help: why you’re overwhelmed, how to stay organized, and how to take your first steps into an organized workflow.
How You Got Into The Balancing Act
Chances are, up until today, you were doing the right thing.
Hopefully, you have more than one active client, because that’s what makes you a freelancer and not someone being taken advantage of.
When you only have one client, you’re beholden to them (for the $$) but they have no obligation to you. You’re a full-time employee with a lot more paperwork.
So, you have a lot of work to juggle.
You’re busy and you’re grinding, but all of a sudden — it’s too much. Why?
If you don’t have an updated organization structure, it’s easy to get lost in your own thoughts. The best advice I can give, which was given to me by nuSchooler CEO Lior, is: never trust your own brain.
Don’t rely on yourself to remember anything. It’s too easy to blur your thoughts, to mix your morning cereal with your afternoon client meeting and to get lost around the orange juice.
You got into this because you’re doing a lot of different things and, probably, you don’t know how you got stuck in the middle of them.
The solution starts with writing everything down.
The Tools That Will Keep You Sorted Forever
1. Two notebooks you like, one pen that writes
First things first: Write everything down. Literally every single stupid thought.
Start every day with three pages in a journal. This isn’t something I came up with; it’s a trick I learned from Julia Cameron’s creative person staple, The Artist’s Way.
It sounds like a lot, but the impact on your day is tremendous. Writing these pages gives you a space to put all of the junk in your brain, which will help you stay focused and keep that nonsense out of your work.
This activity gets its own journal, because it is sacred and for your eyes only.
The second journal is multipurpose. This is where you can put all of your thoughts throughout the day, from grocery lists to mind maps. Being able to write out ideas as they come will help you brainstorm and figure out what is worth pursuing — and what’s a dead-end.
2. Trello (or some other project management tool)
Deadlines are your friend.
Breaking projects into smaller milestones not only makes them more manageable, but makes you more goal-oriented.
You have a lot of things going on, and you probably have more than one active client. When you can split your projects not only per project, but per ‘big picture’ task.
When you know how everything you’re working on fits into the overall scope of the project, even the most boring, detail-oriented projects are much more interesting. Because it’s a part of something greater.
So, give every task a description and a deadline, with its own to-do list and its own respect. Watching projects come together task-by-task is incredibly satisfying, and only comes with organization.
3. Google Spreadsheet/Excel/a spreadsheet
When it comes to numbers, you need more than a notebook: you need something organized. Painfully so.
Create a spreadsheet for managing clients. Every month gets its own tab; within that tab, mark Client name, contact person, project description, payment amount, payment due, payment status.
This way, not only do you know exactly when and how much you’ve been paid, but you can compare months to each other. Your bank balance doesn’t have to be the sign of a weak or strong period — you can know it from your client load.
The First Steps
When it comes to organization, take baby steps.
You don’t have to do everything at once. My advice is to start with the spreadsheet. Once you know who your clients are, what you’re working on, and how much you’re going to earn this month, the pieces tend to come together much more clearly.
The goal of all of this is to reduce the load on your brain. When you’re not constantly sweating forgotten tasks, or looking for to-do lists scribbled on the back of receipts, you’ll not only be more pleasant to be around, but you’ll be more efficient.
Whether you’re ready to charge more or just getting started, if you’re ready to work hard and stay organized, The Pricing Class is for you.
Learn what you’re worth and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Keep your head straight and your business right — and your bank account will be singing in no time.
Shayna is the Head of Friendship at The nuSchool, doing all things blog/community/biz dev/fun. She's a freelance copywriter working in art and design, and has two dogs named Chuck and Alma.
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