• Advice, Community

The simple secret to being an unstoppable freelancer

Like many freelancers, I juggle several clients, several projects, and a seemingly-infinite number of deadlines at any given time.

And whenever I’m approached by people interested in becoming freelancers, one of their first questions is “How do you do that? How do you balance so many competing demands, without letting things fall through the cracks?”

The short answer is that it’s an imperfect system! I do, indeed, sometimes become overwhelmed.

Every now and then, things do fall through the cracks (the laundry suffers the most). But there is one habit that keeps the multi-task machine humming along; that keeps me sane.

It’s a simple practice that I advise EVERY freelancer to take up – because it’s saved my overtaxed bacon on many an occasion.

It’s not novel advice, but it’s indispensable:

Write down everything.

Yes, everything. Even minor details that you are SURE you will not forget – because given the chance, your overloaded brain will indeed let it slip.

I read an interesting book recently that explained that our brains can actually adapt to regard external sources as an extension of their own structures.

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In other words, much as our ancestors used tools as an extension of their own limbs, we use our smartphone and e-calendars and day planners to externally store memory – freeing up our mental resources to use elsewhere.

We can “outsource” petty details, while concurrently drastically reducing mistakes. So why don’t we do it, automatically?

If you’re anything like me, you may postpone writing details down because you are a) lazyish – nnngh, do I have to TYPE that with my FINGERS – and b) vaguely vain about your own ability to remember things correctly.

Even if you have a shining, sterling, steel trap memory, rivaled only by fictional detectives’ – trust me, your enviable recall will eventually be defeated by balancing multiple clients.

If Encyclopedia Brown were a multi-tasking freelancer, even he would miss a deadline, if he didn’t Write. It. Down.

If you’re technology-averse, don’t bother with gadgets.

Carry around a notebook or agenda, but carry it around EVERYWHERE. Don’t be forced to fruitlessly fish around in your wallet for the receipt you wrote that deadline down upon.

Those of us who feel naked without smartphones have convenient organizers within our pockets. If you’re of that ilk, sync up calendars with your computer and create alerts for deadlines and payments.

Make it a habit. Once you are given a project, write down the contact information of your client, the deadline, the parameters of the project, and the rate (if at all variable).

Write down when you can expect to invoice for this project, and when you can expect to be paid. Jot down a few notes: ANYTHING you think you may need, no matter how minor.

Scratch it down now, and reduce your stress later.

Write. It. Down.

Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.

Kate Shea Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.