I haven’t kept a calendar–ever—in my adult life. When my husband once bought me one of those expensive Franklin Covey planners, 2-inches thick with the leather binding and so forth, I gave him that look: don’t you know me at all?
All those little pages inside did come in handy over the years as scrap paper, though.
For me, a schedule was not necessary. I was rarely if ever late, and I never (seriously) ever missed a deadline. Still, things change.
One of the beauties of freelancing is variety, and adding several different tasks to the day makes schedules more important. I still don’t schedule my time on an hour-by-hour basis, but I do need a schedule to manage larger projects and to make sure that projects don’t overlap in deleterious ways. I also found that a schedule can make a project much more visual – you can see it from beginning to end, and how to get there.
So, when I was at the New England Romance Writer’s Conference last week, attending Susan Mallery’s presentation on how to schedule more writing while still having a life, it was time well spent. Susan offers up a template for a daily schedule that allows you to write a book at a reasonable rate, while seeing (much like saving little bits of money at a time) how fast it can grow. Her method also builds consistency and practice.
I made up a book-writing schedule–a fun exercise–but then thought, what about the rest of it? I have two paying freelance projects in play, and I send in proposals and spec work every week. I’m also constantly self-educating, and submitting/editing shorter work on spec. I have a life. (And a puppy! Cute, huh? But puppies take a lot of time.)
The idea of writing up a schedule to include all of it gives me hives, but then my husband suggested a “priority list”: a list of what must happen in my workday, first, second, etc.
Brilliant! (Forget that Franklin-Covey incident, this is why I married him.)
Freelancers need to be flexible and disciplined, and it can be a difficult mix. We need a more fluid approach to our work, one that combines schedules and priorities.
So, this is what I came up with:
- List ALL of your professional obligations/wishes/must-do’s
- From that, list no more than five (5) WORK priorities each day (this doesn’t include Facebook time, puppy training time or grocery shopping). This is about work goals. I think five is the max I could handle in 8 hours, and I don’t always have 8 hours.
- Mix it up – I don’t have to make the same list every day, and I can shorten it or move things around. It’s my list, after all. Sometimes, maybe my day will only do one very important thing.
The only “carved in stone” rule: ***Paying projects get my best/first hours.*** The other four priorities get divvied up as necessary.
Now is the scheduling part, but it’s just math. If you have an 8 hour day, take these five items and think about how much time you can spend on each in order of their importance, or, based on what you feel like doing that day (which is important).
So, my Priority List Schedule for today would look like this:
- Work on CIO book project (paying project) — 2-4 hours
- Check freelance (EFA, etc) sites for job postings/send in 1-3 proposals 20-60 min
- Work on spec writing/revising, blog posts, etc 1-3 hours
- Work on book pages 30-60 min
- Watch one more segment of SEO course video or video editing tutorial, do some research, read, or play with website, etc. 30-90 min
Today, I didn’t have any work on the paying projects, things were submitted and I’m waiting on the next step, so I just skipped to #2 and went from there. As you see, I have written this blog post. Check. I also applied to jobs and sent in some spec work. Check, check. (if need be, check off your list each day to keep yourself honest). I’ll get some work done on the book, but might not make it to anything listed #5.
If the things at the bottom are consistently not getting done, I suggest move them up on the list the next day — or make them higher on the list at least 2 days a week. You can also do some introspection about how important those items really are.
My biggest caution is to be careful of making schedules “ideals” or to make such an ambitious schedule that you can’t possibly do it – get real about your time, what you can do, and know that some days, life just won’t let it happen.
Remember, you make the schedule. You can change it, too.
Part of the freelance lifestyle is being flexible, and sometimes, life will takeover. But a well-defined priority list that is bounded by a fluid schedule can help you stay on track more often than not.
One more gratuitous puppy picture, just because. 🙂