Organizing a Hectic Schedule

It’s 1:47 am as I type this… and that’s an early night for me. I’ll probably have my head on my pillow by 2:30 and maybe, just maybe – if I can turn off my ever-twirling brain, I’ll be asleep by 2:45.

Maybe.

Life has been crazy these last few months. It all really took off in July of last year, but now.. Now I’m wondering what I did to get myself where I am. And where is that, you might ask (after all, my veiled comments about a hectic lifestyle could, quite literally, mean anything… except of course that I’m sitting on my butt doing nothing all day. Because that is the opposite of hectic and pretty much what I’d like to do.)

Well, I’m working. My freelance business is keeping me busy and on my toes… well, at the very least awake, until nearly 3am every night. Granted, that’s partially due to my quasi-inadequate time management skills and the procrastination I learned from my mother, but mostly it’s because I’ve just got so much work.

And it’s amazing.

Keeping on top of the projects is proving to be a test of my organization skills. I have a system and it’s working for the time being. It’ll change – evolve if you will – as my project load increases… but for now it is what it is. And I want to share it with you in the hopes that it’ll help you keep on top of all the projects you have in your life.

Keep a list

I have a list of every project for each client that I write out and tape to the front of a folder. I update this list every time I pick up the folder to work for that client. The physical action of writing a project down and then crossing it off when it’s complete is indescribable… I realize that there is a virtual and more environmentally friendly way of doing this, but for me… writing my list by hand and crossing off projects really drives home the progress (or lack thereof) that I’m making.

You might find that your computer folders are adequate for your purposes; if that’s the case, here is how I suggest going about this list-thing:

  1. Create a folder for each of your clients.
  2. Create sub-folders for each project.
  3. Create a “list” file – this can be a word document, excel document or even a note pad file; the key is to ensure it is the only free floating file in your client folder.
  4. Every time you get a new project from the client, open the document and add it to the list, complete with due date and any notes you need to remember.
  5. Every time you do work for that client, open the file and review your list.
  6. Every time you complete a project, cross it off the list by using the strike-through option, adding a “submitted” or “completed” date or just deleting it from the list.

This might seem like a lot of extra work but you might already be doing something like this. It’s just another method of keeping your ducks in a row.

Keep a Calendar

Next step, after you’ve organized all of your projects into neat lists, is to plug everything into a calendar. Again, I’m a hard-copy kinda gal, so I have an agenda I bought at Bureau en Gros (that’s Staples to everyone else in North America). I tried to use an electronic calendar – Google Calendars is actually quite good for this, except you have to enter each project as an “event” rather than a “task”. My problem was that the Google Calendar requires internet access… and for my computer to be open… and for me to have the program up and running while I work. Plus, you can’t scratch things off. And I can being to explain how satisfying I find it to actually scratch things off. The sound. The feeling. The texture. Oh man.

However, oddly enough the Google Calendar system works really well for me at my 9 – 5 job, where I have a ton more projects on the go than I do at home.

Anyway, here’s how I keep my calendar:

  1. At the beginning of every month – create initial schedule
    1. Review previous month’s projects and move forward any outstanding projects
    2. Review the project lists for each client, adding all important due dates and assigning days to work on the projects
  2. On Monday of each week – update schedule and assess project load
    1. Review previous week’s projects and move forward any outstanding projects to early in the current week.
    2. Review the project lists for each client, plugging in any new due dates and adjusting the workload for the week depending on availability and responsibilities.
  3. On the completion of a project – scratch that sucker out… scratch it hard.

So far, this method has aided in keeping me on track… at least for those projects with hard, solid deadlines. It also helps me quote a time frame for new projects because it clearly shows how much work I have in a week. Which brings me to my next tip for staying organized….

Keep deadlines reasonable

If you’re just starting out in the Freelance world, it may take a while for you to accurately quote time-frames to clients… because sometimes you just don’t know how long it will take. The key, I’ve found, is to always give yourself enough time… in fact, give yourself more than enough time to complete a project. Why? Well…

  1. You never know what’s going to come up – family obligations, social engagements, rush projects, the common cold – all of these things come out of the blue and could prevent you from meeting the 48-hour turn over you’d promised that new client. You don’t want to miss the deadline but you also can’t afford to be up for 48 hours straight.
  2. It’s far better to overestimate how long something will take, than to underestimate. If you consistently deliver projects before a deadline you set for yourself, you will impress the client and show them that you’re reliable.

In conjunction with this – learn to ask for more time or to say that you’re not available at the moment. Keep the lines of communication open. If you don’t think you can have something to the client by the time they’re asking, give them a time frame that will work for you. That shows that, though you’re busy, you’re still available and willing to work on the project. Most clients will accept the revised timeline… just be sure to deliver!

There are a few other organizational tools – such as emptying your inbox of all emails except those that apply to incomplete projects and keeping those same emails marked unread on your smartphone – that may help. The trick is to try out different things until you find one that works the best for you, personally.

On that note, if I’m going to meet my 2:30 head-on-pillow deadline, I’ll need to sign off right now!

Do you have any tips you find have helped keep you on track? Share them in the comments!