Scheduling That Busy Life

Or, at least, how I do it.

As a freelancer, I usually find myself dancing a fine line between not busy enough (the lean times) and far too busy (when projects pile up and the due dates are coming faster than I can meet them). Some freelancers make the mistake of taking on far more than they can handle early on and just not managing the time quite right.

When I first started out, I used post-it notes on my computer screen. I still do, but ONLY for critical and very short posted assignments - the ones that you have one day and that's it, they're done. These types of projects are ones that would take too long to input into my CRM (usually longer to input than it would to actually do them) but the client is there.

Side note: What kind of projects use the Post-Its?

Very short ones, usually news stories for papers and TV. Things that you have to be lightning-fast on delivering between being told you're going out to cover it and actually submitting. The timeline on these is usually hours versus days or weeks, which is why I use re-usable colour-coded post-its and Google calendar for these.

...But you can't use Post-Its for everything.

However, using only Post-Its, even if colour-coded, is a terrible way to keep track of everything.

First, there's the issue that the glue - by its very design - it's that great and they eventually fall off. For longer projects, that means losing information that could (and often is) critical. Secondly, your computer then looks like this:

Yes, I know those are blank tags. I haven't used this system of "organization" in a while as my projects have moved from on the minute to longer-term, but I use this as an illustration.

It's a bit of a mess.

What I Use Instead

I have a series of useful tools to keep myself not only organized but they also help with the research process. For general use in scheduling (big blocks of time, and appointment keeping, etc.) I use Google Calendar. Gone are all my little post-its as Google Calendar takes care of that.

For longer-term projects, I had to go hunting for a CRM/Project Management platform that integrated into Google Calendar. My phone runs on Android, so having it compatible was an absolute requirement.

So, when I started hunting for something to take me from just the calendar to the whole package, I had to think about what my needs were. This goes for everyone. My needs aren't necessarily yours, so when you make that list of what a CRM needs to do for you make sure the list is what you need.

My list was:

  • Robust client tracking & billing, preferably in one but if not then something that integrated into QuickBooks.

  • Project Management Pipeline with checklists and timeline tracking for each stage in the process.

  • Research organizer (preferably with integration into Google Drive or pCloud) that can also be linked to the pipeline, and each stage, to keep everything organized.

  • Content Management tracking/planning/scheduling.

  • Something where I could keep track of my engagements for book signings or art showings, or even meetings with clients.

  • Vendor tracking.

  • Royalty tracking.

  • The ability to add team members with varying levels of permissions instead of blanket ones.

  • Quick add projects to replace the post-its.

  • Anything else I haven't thought of that could be useful.

  • A platform that integrates into others so I can do all of it out of one interface that is both attractive to look at and clean/organized so I don't have to constantly switch between them.

In other words, I was looking for a personal assistant in the form of a program, especially since my budget is limited (I'm only one person) and not a multi-million dollar business. I'm a small business... actually, I'm not even that. I'm a micro-business. A freelancer.

I did eventually find a few options, and they did do what I needed above. Some were more expensive but did absolutely everything (Zoho), and others weren't the "be all and end all" but were free, or freemium, (Insightly, Monday) and others didn't do everything but integrated well enough to work out but only with others to help them fill in the gaps (QuickBooks + Insightly, which Google Calendar integration).

Right now I use a combination of Monday, QuickBooks, Hootsuite, and Google Calendar and since these three "talk" to each other it's working out fine for my purposes... especially with my budget.

How do I organize my day?

I have a set schedule, and I stick pretty close to it. There is room for flexibility, but in general, my schedule doesn't change too much.

Keep in mind that these are large, broad, blocks of time, and not specific appointments or deadlines. This is where I set my "boundaries" to prevent burnout. For privacy, and for NDA reasons, I haven't shown the specifics.

Except for when I help my grandmother with her Zoom meetings when her church gets together.

Does it change? Absolutely. My schedule evolves with time and with needs. Sometimes I allow myself time for work that isn't necessarily normally for work because the client needs that flexibility, especially if it's one of those quick one-offs to cover something newsworthy. News doesn't always keep to your nice, neat schedule.

Notice, though, I treat my writing as work. It is my income and I carve out those slots and guard them jealously... probably why they're in green instead of any other colour.

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