Monday, June 05, 2006


Schedules schmedules

Over the weekend I was talking to my sister-in-law about how hard it is to stick to a schedule when you're self-employed. You know, wake up and start project A as soon as you hit the keyboard. When we're working for a regular paycheck and have an evil boss warlord breathing down your neck, moving from most important A to next most important B isn't a challenge: if you don't complete your work on schedule, you get hassled by the boss man or hold up your team's progress ... at worst, you severely disappoint a major client or find yourself filling out forms at the unemployment office.

But when you're your own boss? There's more room for laxity. Your computer isn't in view of some boss's glassed-in office, so you're free to bid on pottery at eBay. Or play a few games of online Sudoku. Even if you have assignments on your plate, you can push them aside until the pressure gets to great (i.e. they're due tomorrow, and you must get them done). After all, no one's going to hand you a pink slip.

In thinking about this over the weekend, the problem with me -- and other freelancers I've talked to -- isn't sticking to a schedule with assignments. After all, they've got pressure points built in to them: deadlines. Editors. A promise of X amount per word when you're finished. It's the "little" things that we tend to push aside. Marketing (if you hate querying or calling editors). Following up on proposals. Invoicing and logging expenses (slowly raising hand here). We let those things go and over time, they seriously erode the quality of our worklife. We get to the point where we don't enjoy the freedom our jobs afford us because we have months of backlogged bookkeeping over our heads. Or no income coming in because we didn't invoice our clients when we should have.

I'd give myself a B-/C+ on scheduling. I'm fine with assignments -- again, there are those built-in pressures that help me stay on track. But I could be better on stuff like bookkeeping. I've been setting aside time on Fridays to do billing, contracts, and other bookkeeping-related stuff and that's helping. Another thing that has helped me -- at some point in the near future, I'd like to hire an assistant. I'll need some office procedures in place, so I can just hand off those tasks when the time comes. And I'm getting better at prioritizing my work the night before so that when I enter my office in the a.m., I can start work on priority A instead of hitting my favorite gossip sites.

What do you do to stay on track? Tips and tricks, please!

I actually do a little "housekeeping" every day, usually first thing in the morning. I start by opening my query tracker. I skim it to make sure I've invoiced, received a check, followed up with an editor, etc. And I make sure I entered anything pertinent from the day before.

Yeah, it might make more sense to perform all this stuff at the end of the day, when the information purportedly is fresh in my mind, but I'm usually too tired by then. Plus, I enjoy having my little morning ritual, and it gets me "warmed up" for the day ahead.

The query tracker (which is just an Excel spreadsheet) helps keep the business side of my life on track. I have thought about investing in a fancy-dancy one, but I know having yet another electronic toy would only distract me from...say, what is that squirrel doing in my yard?
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