Freelance Writers: How do You Hold Yourself Accountable?

Working as freelance writers, we don't have an employer or supervisor looking over our shoulder to hold us accountable for how we spend our time. Instead that responsibility falls on us.

I've always been big on planning and organization to help me get more worked into my schedule. I keep daily and weekly to-do lists. I have four white boards and two bulletin boards in my office to keep track of specific types of projects. And I have a terribly guilty conscience when I don't finish the things I set out to do in any given day. But that's not always enough.

One of the best ways to hold yourself accountable as a freelance writer is to share your plans with others. Knowing that someone else will see you fail can light a fire under you to succeed.

Step Into About Writing Squared

That's why it was such a great idea when Anne Wayman suggested using the About Writing Squared community (the "five buck forum" run by Anne and Lori Widmer) to hold ourselves accountable. This is a paid writing forum where you can network with, and get support from, your fellow freelance writers of all levels.

I finished more work last week -- the first I shared an accountability list -- than I had in months of using my standard lists. If you're curious to see what I and our fellow freelancers are up to each week, you should join for a month and check it out. Some examples of freelance writers you might know who are using these accountability lists include:

  • Anne Wayman
  • Lori Widmer
  • Sharon Hurley Hall
  • Cathy Miller
  • Samar Owais
  • Luana Spinetti

There's something motivational about seeing what everyone else is working on. And there's something comforting when you see that others don't always get everything done as planned either. We share successes and failures alike, and I consider it a great weekly reality check.

How it Works

You can really choose to share in whatever way suits you. But here's what I do:

  • I set up a single thread called "Jenn's Accountability" in the "High Value Actions-Accountability-Bookending" forum.
  • I posted a heading for the first post with a "week of..." notice.
  • I listed all of my planned tasks for that week.
  • When I complete something, I color it green. If I need to bump something to the following week, I color it red. You can edit these as you go.
  • When one week ends, I post a fresh list in a new post in that same thread with a new "week of..." heading.
  • As we go along we post in each other's threads occasionally with words of encouragement.

Simple, right? Yet it's very effective.

You could certainly do this anywhere. You could use a more public community (this one has a certain level of privacy because of its paid nature). You could even post your lists to your blog. Personally I think a tight-knit community like About Writing Squared is a great way to go. And I hope you'll check it out.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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15 thoughts on “Freelance Writers: How do You Hold Yourself Accountable?”

  1. Hi Jenn, this is a great idea. The only person I’ve shared my lists with in the past is my wife and I have a feeling she might get tired of acting as my personal accountability coach whenever I get distracted. I have had good luck in recent months with software and calendars, but that’s just tracking – actually getting stuff done is a different beast entirely. I’ll most definitely take a look at this.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out, Jenn. I love this idea, too. Yes, it duplicates the lists I make anyway, but there’s something about your peers seeing that list.

    And it’s great for picking up ideas from those peers. For example, I tend not to list posts to my 3 blogs or admin or “maintenance” work – like it’s not work. 🙂 So, I added that.

    I’ll admit the volume of work being produced by peers can be intimidating. But, then I remind myself – different goals – different work.

    And I have a different color code – red means done to me (as in stop -Lord, I’m so literal) and green is In Progress – as in Go. 🙂

    • This week I tried writing out my usual to do lists in addition to the one on the forum. And I haven’t even used my cards. That’s turning into an all-out substitute. This has been a wonky week for me — losing one of my biggest clients due to their content strategy changes. So I was concerned it wouldn’t be a productive one. I was just checking a couple of posts off my list there, and I realized I’ve gotten a heck of a lot done! The only things I might not finish this week are some post edits for a blog contributor (because they didn’t upload the posts for me yet) and the 10,000 word target in the mystery novel. I’ll consider myself lucky if I hit half of that. Still, it was a big list, and I’m getting far more done than I would have if people couldn’t see it. 🙂

      That’s one of the perks Cathy — we can use whatever color codes or other methods we want. 🙂 Some people post DONE next to items. I’m not sure why I even picked green. There’s no logical reason for it. I opted for red for the bumped tasks because it sticks out like a sore thumb and reminds me nasty old school editor’s marks. So I want to see less of it. 🙂

      I don’t think anyone should feel intimidated. We all break down our lists differently. For example, I lay out every post I have to write whereas someone else might just lump them by client or site. And with admin work, some folks might just list daily admin as one task. I break it down based on the length of time things take. If it’s more than 20-30 minutes or I don’t do it at the same time I do other admin work (like weekly backups), then it gets its own spot in my list. I just do it that way because I like the feeling of “checking things off” as I go along. It reminds me that I accomplished something instead of screwing around all day, which is always tempting.

  3. I think the accountability list is a great idea. I really need start participating on the About Squared Writing forum.

    Right now I have an “accountability partner” – a copywriter in California. We talk twice a week about our daily/weekly/monthly goals, plans for our businesses and push one another to stay focused and follow through. We’ve been doing this for two years now and she’s a great resource when I need straight up, honest feedback and/or advice. I also love, love listening to her her Irish accent. :~)

  4. Thanks for the shout-out, Jenn! Much appreciated.

    You’re right — what I like most about that sort of thing is the feeling that I’m not alone. I like the behind-the-scenes aspect of the forum because clients don’t see all I’m juggling and get nervous, nor do new clients say “Oh, well she’s too busy to help me.”

    I really appreciate your kind words about the forum. Anne and I always say it’s not ours — it’s yours. You and everyone who’s in the forum make it the great place it is. Thank you for that, as well!

  5. Jenn! Thanks so much. It’s been so wonderful to see so many grab hold of an idea I’ve found truly helpful. I have two accountability partners in real life – we meet once a week usually… the forum lets me say what I’m going to do, then own that I either did or didn’t on a daily basis.

    Thanks so much for the article! A delightful surprise!

  6. I’m the only accountability partner I have. I’ve tried other memberships, but they didn’t work out. I felt like I wasn’t getting my monies worth. I tend to hold the developers of a membership plan/course accountable if I’m spending $25 per month or $500 for an entire course. I’m looking to be surrounded by people who are truly supportive and won’t just take my money. I don’t want to be considered an ATM Machine. 🙂

    • Then it sounds like this one might be a good one for you. 🙂 It doesn’t involve laying out a lot of cash. It’s enough to keep the spammers away. And the community is one of the most supportive I’ve seen. 🙂

  7. I’ve found the accountability thread incredibly motivational for the same reasons, Jenn. My color coding is RED – not done; ORANGE – in progress; GREEN – completed. 🙂

  8. I email my accountability buddy every Friday with my list of what needs to be achieved next week and what I achieved this week. I’m thinking of changing this to a Google doc in 2013 so it’s a more interactive experience.

    • It sounds like you have a great plan in place. As long as we find something that works for us, it’s all good. 🙂 Oddly, the week I talked about the accountability forum posts here was probably my worst week work-wise. I skipped quite a bit more than expected due to contractors showing up and some other distractions. Now it just means I’ll be more determined to do well this week. 🙂


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