One of the biggest complaints that I hear from the small businesses that I work with is that freelance writers fail to meet deadlines. They hire a freelancer, agree on a delivery date, and then nothing happens. The delivery date comes and goes, and the freelancer either stops responding or has a million excuses for why they are late delivering the agreed-upon writing projects. Freelance writing is just like any other business where you work for yourself. Staying organized is crucial for ensuring client projects get completed on time.
I use several methods for staying organized while managing my freelance writing business.
Have a Routine
Establish and stick to a routine. This helps you stay organized and prevents distractions. It could be the same routine every workday or a different routine each day of the week that repeats weekly. If you do freelance work full-time, then you need to treat it like a job or business with the commitment necessary to complete work in a timely manner.
For me, I get up around the same time every day and start working around the same time. I check my email and address any client communications first. Once that is completed, I check for HARO requests. I work with one client who sends them daily, and checking first thing in the morning ensures I have enough time to get them completed by their deadlines. HARO deadlines tend to be short, sometimes just a few hours away.
Once these are completed, I turn to the upcoming article deadlines. I work on those that are due first. I am always working about a week out. So the article I am working on today is due at some point in the next week. Working ahead like this allows me to have free time for last-minute requests. This style of time management reduces my stress and helps me have a work/life balance. Otherwise I would be stressed each day, worried about what is due that day or the next day. If anything unexpected should pop up, I wouldn’t have time to address it, causing more stress and delays.
Declutter Your Workspace
I cannot work in a messy or cluttered home office. I have learned this about myself. If I struggle to focus and be productive, the culprit could be a messy desk or office. I will stop writing, clean and organize my space, and then return to work. This clutter and mess is also a sign of disorganization in your mind. Cleaning your workspace helps to clear your mind so that you can think better and stay focused on your freelance writing.
It also prevents distraction. Working from home means it’s easy to get distracted by important tasks around the house. Doing the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, making dinner, and walking the dog are all important tasks that need to be done around the house. However, you don’t want to lose a work day because you’ve thought about these tasks and not being productive with work.
Sometimes it’s helpful to schedule these tasks into your workday. For example, start time tracking how long it takes you to do these tasks. Then keep a whiteboard somewhere in your home of the tasks that need to be done. Tell yourself that you are going to work for a certain amount of time or complete a particular project. Then you are going to spend a chosen amount of time doing house chores. Then switch back to your freelance writing jobs. As long as you are disciplined enough to go back to writing, this strategy can work. You allow yourself to focus on work because you have created a project management system that addresses both professional and personal needs. I’ve also found that breaking up your writing helps to keep your mind fresh, which reduces burnout and results and better writing.
Plan Out Your Work
Look at the deadlines for when each project is due. Then look at how long it will take you to complete each project. You can then prioritize your work to ensure you leave yourself enough time to get each project done by its deadline.
Sometimes, I work on a big project first because I can get the bulk of the hard work done. Then I can come back later when it’s closer to the deadline and put on the finishing touches. In other situations, I will put the large project to the side and instead focus on getting several smaller projects done first. This helps me knock out the easier and faster projects to have less on my plate. Unlike other writers, I don’t try to force myself into an organizational box. The same approach doesn’t work for all people and situations.
Use a Calendar
Using a calendar can give you a visual tool for staying organized. You can add meetings, events, tasks, and anything else with a deadline. What’s nice about this method is that you can schedule reminders. This gives you a heads up on upcoming deadlines so that you are never caught off guard. I use the Apple calendar for keeping track of my posting schedule because I have a Macbook and iPhone. This lets me keep track of my freelance writing work no matter where I am. I schedule out the blog posts that will appear on this website. That way, I can plan out related posts and have a series that builds on the previous posts.
While I like the Apple calendar for its convenience and syncing ability, the Google calendar is just as useful. There are also countless project management and task tracking apps that you can use. Trello, Asana, ClickUp, and Notion are all apps that I have used because it was a client’s chosen method. They all have their quirks, and I wouldn’t say one is inherently better than the other. It’s more important to find one that makes sense for the way your brain works, the types of projects, and the process you go through.
I have a spreadsheet for each freelance writing client that I work with. On that spreadsheet, I list the articles that I need to write, how many words they should be, the pay rate, article status, the due date, and the Google Docs link to that article. This puts everything that I need in one place. I can click through the tabs at the bottom and easily look through every client to see in one place what articles I have coming due. I also have one spreadsheet that aggregates all of this information into a single spreadsheet. This allows me to see in one place what my monthly earnings and work numbers look like. As I complete articles, I choose the appropriate status from the drop-down menu I created for the article status column. To keep everything looking the same, I have a template that I use to create a new spreadsheet each time I begin working with a new client. Managing my pricing this way helps me manage my gigs as a blogger and copywriter. If demand declines for a client, I can turn to LinkedIn or job boards to look for new opportunities.
In addition to using a spreadsheet and calendar, I also use color-coding. That way, I don’t even have to read to know the status is of my calendar or spreadsheet. For example, I have a calendar for my website’s scheduled blog posts. It’s red so that I can easily see when I have blog posts scheduled. I have colored-coded the drop-down menu for the article status on my client spreadsheets. For example, articles that are coming due are yellow, submitted are pale green, edit requests are red, approved for payment are blue, and paid are dark green. This makes it fast and simple for me to see the status of each article at a glance.
Create templates for yourself. This helps you stay consistent and move through your work faster. I have created templates for each of the article types that I write. When I begin working with a new client, I develop a template for that client. This gives me a baseline starting point to work from. I start writing faster, and I always include all required elements.
Please Note: This does not mean I use templated writing. There is a difference between using a template for the article structure and a template for the actual article content. Having an outlined structure is ok, but having templated content is not.
One Thing at a Time
Stop trying to multi-task. You do a little of everything and get nothing done. What’s worse, your work product quality suffers because you aren’t giving your complete attention to any one task. Instead, do one task at a time. This doesn’t mean you have to complete the project in one sitting. Instead, you can break up larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. Then you can focus on the smaller tasks and move through your projects.
Choose One Tool
I’m going to share an experience about my worst freelance writing client experience. I began working with a residential real estate agent in South Tampa. She fancied herself a boutique real estate agency. It was her, an assistant, and two other real estate agents. I began doing freelance marketing work for her. Looking back, I learned a lot from this client. I learned how to spot red flags early on and what not to do when it comes to running a business.
This woman was the most unorganized woman I have ever met. She was perpetually late. She never had deliverables ready for me by the agreed-upon time. She would constantly reschedule appointments with me or just not show up and not answer her phone. Her biggest hindrance was herself. She used too many tools to stay organized and kept adding to the list of tools. When I decided it was time to part ways, this is the list of tools she insisted on us using to communicate and stay organized.
You have a problem when you have this many different methods for managing deadlines and projects. From personal experience, I can tell you that you spend more time checking each outlet than actually getting any work done. As a result, tasks fell through the cracks and were forgotten because she wouldn’t regularly check each tool.
Don’t be like my old client. It’s ok to try out several methods for staying organized. But when you find the one that works for you, stop using the others. This gives you one place to see all of your work and one place to mark completed tasks.
Staying organized is about knowing how to say no. Don’t overload yourself with work to the point where you can keep track of your deadlines. There’s a balance between taking on work and overloading yourself. It can be tempting to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. However, doing this will cause your freelance writing career to suffer. Instead, know what you can accomplish and say no to opportunities beyond your ability.