Some of the most sought-after advice by freelancers is how to meet project deadlines. Freelancers typically handle everything independently, from creating to marketing to finances to customer service.
Writers tend to juggle several projects at once, in addition to all of the other things they do during the day – billing, networking, searching for work, living life, etc. There are times when it feels like there are never enough hours in the day to complete everything.
The bad news: there isn’t enough time. The good news: not everything has to be finished today.
One of the craziest things that people do when trying to manage their time is giving each to-do item equal priority.
I’ve talked with friends who have said that everything they do is important. I get it, I like to feel important and busy too, but everything I do throughout the day does not have equal importance. It took me a long time to figure out how to prioritize, but let me spare you the years of bewilderment with three ways to put your priorities in order.
#1 Develop a System
Tornadoes, terror alerts, snow emergencies, they all have one thing in common – set standards that determine which actions to take and when they should be taken. Is that email about dinner as important as the email about accepting a new gig? Is deleting spam as important as editing a piece to make your deadline?
Whether you use color coded Post-Its, numbers or electronic alerts, develop a system that combines standard actions with level of importance. Be careful not to set too many levels. An overly complicated system is ineffective – right, U.S. color-coded terror alert system?
#2 Make a decision.
Trying to figure out where things land within your shiny new system is the toughest part. Start with the obvious items – deadlines, contracts, billing, etc. Then move on to communication items such as research and writing, followed by social networking and follow-ups. Or work backwards – whatever works for you!
#3 Stick with it.
Another thing I have struggled with is implementing a system and sticking with it. It’s one thing to tweak things along the way, but it’s unproductive to scrap the whole thing and start over every couple of weeks. Give your system a chance to work and become a habit.
There are only 24 hours in the day. At some point you have to sleep, spend time with your family and eat. The rest is filled with deadlines and to-do’s. Successful writers figure out what must be done and when to do it.
How do you manage work priorities?
It’s no secret missed deadlines are a great way to end a professional relationship with a publication. They are a nightmare for both the writer and the editor. The editor is left holding the bag with thousands of dollars on the line waiting on a late article and the writer is off somewhere sweating bullets trying to pull a rabbit out of a badly squished hat.
And, while the entire FWJ blogging crew can take turns yelling out into the world wide web that writers should NEVER miss a deadline, it is going to happen. The best we can do is try to arm writers with ways to stay on track.
I’m a mother of three children under 7, I write full-time and run a business with a life thrown in there. I’m REALLY busy and if I don’t write an appointment, due date or event immediately on my calendar it disappears from my brain after 10 minutes. So, it’s sad but I can easily trick myself into thinking an article is due earlier. I give myself several days leeway because life happens. Kids get sick, clients have emergencies, somebody spills milk on my laptop… A few days cushion can make the difference between a heart attack and a mild headache.
A disorganized is a writer who misses deadlines. The long loved image of the disorganized writer not only does a disservice to writers it’s a falsehood. Maybe novelist can be disorganized, they only have one due date looming over them. Bloggers, columnists and article writers juggle multiple dates and if they do not have a way to keep track of important dates, ideas and information they are a deadline time bomb waiting to go off.
Even if they have the date correct, they can spend days digging through piles of paperwork and notebooks to find all of the notes or research related to the article. Or worse, an editor calls to clarify something and you’ve got to spend three hours looking through your ‘files’ for the correct information. Get rid of the clutter.
They say it’s not good to bribe children into good behavior. Well, for adults it works very well! Reward yourself when you turn in assignments early. Building your reputation with a publication is a great reward, but an in-hand treat is a visual motivator that’s hard to beat.
Staying on task is difficult in any profession, and writers often juggle dozens of deadlines at any given time. It doesn’t matter the reason, missing a deadline is unacceptable. Working ahead, staying organized and rewarding oneself for good behavior are just a few ways writers can make deadlines manageable. How do you manage your deadlines? Got any tips for other readers? Tell us below!
Freelance writing clients are smart cookies. Most of them know when they’re being conned or lied to. In today’s public and open world of freelancing, you can’t call in sick and head to the beach. You can’t claim an aunt died when you really just want a few days off. If you’re going to lie to your clients, keep in mind that in most cases they’ll find out.
Don’t Invite Clients to View Your Personal Details if You’re Going to Be Dishonest
As freelance writers we work hard, but we still maintain flexible schedules. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to take time off any time we like. Still, sometimes opportunities present themselves or we find ourselves not wanting or not able to work while still being on deadline. Instead of planning ahead or rearranging their schedules, some freelancers will make up little fibs about not delivering to clients as promised. Back in the day, clients would be none the wiser unless they ran into their writers in an elevator or something. Nowadays, it’s easy to catch on.
If a writer claims to be too sick to work yet talks often on Twitter and Facebook about having lunch with the girls or going to a party that night, the client will find out if he or she is a follower in said networks. If you’re photographed being in one place while begging out of another place, and said image appears on a popular blog or website, your client is sure to find out about it. If you publicly do or say something and others talk about it, your clients could find out.
Today’s freelance writers are living very public lives, even if they don’t want to be public people. Now, there are steps you can take to prevent private details from becoming public, but when it comes to your business honesty is always the best policy. Also, if writers don’t want their clients to find out what they’re doing during their down time, it’s best to either create a separate business account on the social networks, or don’t allow or invite clients to participate in private Facebook discussions.
How to Freelance Writers Can Be Flexible and Honest at the Same Time
So you’re working, and a friend calls and asks if you want to take a day off and go shopping. You’re on deadline and really can’t go, but the idea of going is so appealing and distracting you want to blow off the deadline anyway. Now you’ll have to make some excuses to your client.
Or how about this one:
You have several clients. Some are more lucrative than others. As a result the “big” clients get all your attention while the smaller clients get the shaft. You often tell the people you work for your child is sick or you’re having school emergencies but discuss online how busy you are with other client projects. Eventually the shafted clients come to realize this and end the relationship.
And what about:
You’re busy. You’re so busy you can’t possible keep up with all the work. You don’t want to give up your clients because you need the money, but you’re increasingly less reliable. You have constant excuses and your client is getting frustrated.
What’s a better way to handle these scenarios?
- Don’t leave deadlines to the last minute: Being busy is cool and all, but when you’re so swamped each bit of writing is turned in at the very last minute, you’re never going to have any time for fun. Assess your client situation and your schedule to see how you can work it so that your projects are all ahead of your deadlines. This will allow for better flexibility and if you want to blow off work for a day you’re not going to lose your client.
- Don’t go shopping: Seriously. Flexibility rocks and all, but if you’re going to keep blowing off clients in favor of fun things to do, you have no business freelancing anyway.
- Be flexible with your flexibility: Blowing off work in favor of a fun day is cool and all, but who says you have to blow anything off? Instead of dropping everything and running off with your BFFs, ask if you can meet in a few hours after you complete deadlines. Or leave early. Attend whatever it is you want to attend but leave yourself enough time to come back and complete the work in time to save the gig. No one says you have to miss deadlines in order to do fun things anyway.
- Plan ahead: Spontaneity is fun and all, but sometimes you have to plan your fun. Suggest to your friend, “I really do want to take a day to go shopping but I’m on deadline today, can we do it Friday?” You can also set aside a specific time each week to do a non-writing related activity and plan your schedule accordingly.
- Don’t talk about what you’re doing if you’re gong to lie to people: A day at the beach is fun and all, but if you’re going to screw off on a project and make a lame excuse, don’t post photos to your Facebook if your client has access to your account. Don’t Tweet. Don’t Foursquare. Don’t do it.
- Don’t deliver what you can’t promise: Having lots of clients is lucrative and all, but blowing off one client in favor of another is only going to mean you’re going to lose a client. If you can’t do the work be honest with your clients. Let them hire someone who is more into their projects and truly has their best interests at heart.
What to Do if Your Client Catches You in a Lie
So…you decide to blow off work in favor of a day at the beach but you have a project that absolutely must go to a client TODAY. You jot a brief note explaining some vague family emergency, send it off to your client and rush off. You check in at the beach using FourSquare and Tweet about a sandcastle contest. You even post images and updates on Facebook. Your client sees some of your activity and calls you on it. What do you do?
That’s it. No explanation necessary. Apologize. Let your freelance writing client know you were unprofessional. You might also offer a discount or freebie for blowing the deadline, but you have no choice but to say your sorry. Don’t lie again or make up lame excuses to cover for your original lame excuses, because now you breached the trust factor. If your client doesn’t dump you might, try offering some sort of reparation. Chances are though, that the damage is already done.
Apologize and use as a lesson learned.
Sometimes writers take advantage of “nice” clients because they don’t complain or they’re very understanding when deadlines are missed. After the first few times this happens it becomes apparent the writer has more important or interesting priorities and the freelance writing client gets a bit frustrated. Choose your clients wisely. If you find yourself lying to them or making constant excuses, it’s probably time for one of you to move on.
Have you ever lied to a client? What the circumstances? Were you ever caught in a lie?