The Freelance Writer's Guide to Project Management

I do a lot of Internet searches and ask freelance writing colleagues a lot of questions about project management for freelance writers--and as a productivity and organization nerd, I’ve been sorely disappointed. I, like most writers, like to tweak everything until it is maximally effective, so I’ve found that an action-based and simplistic approach to project management is key. Below are some steps and some tips to help you find your most effective formula for freelance writer project management.

Managing Your Freelance Writing Project Schedule

Before you can manage individual projects, you need a setup that helps keep all projects--billable and otherwise--working at peak productivity levels. Here are some tips to get your overall project management house in order.

  1. Funneling Your Incoming Information
    Freelance writers get information and actionable items coming at them all the time--email leads, Twitter updates, Facebook friend requests, LinkedIn group updates, private messages on forums, RSS subscriptions, business inquiries, snail mail, colleague chit-chat with other freelance writers, and material related to client projects come in through various inboxes on individual websites and social media platforms, in your email and in your conversations. It is absolutely necessary to get all these items into a consolidated inbox as much as you possibly can. Effective project management for freelance writers is about getting your projects completed as efficiently as possible. The necessity of inbox consolidation meets the demand of overwhelming information overflow by creating a simple task: process everything into the right contextual buckets.
  2. Creating a Smarter Task List
    If you’re familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), creating contextual to-do lists isn't a new concept to you. GTD methodology dictates placing your actions in lists grouped by the context in which you will complete them. This means having lists like “@Phone” for calls to make, but for writers it means having lists like @Research, @Outline, @Draft, @Edit so that as you move through your projects you’re systematically completing tasks. If you’ve consolidated your inbox of incoming information and action items, you can ask yourself where each item you receive goes (A context for completion? The trash? Delegated to someone else?) and aggressively commit to making those decisions about all of your inbox contents.
  3. Blocking Out Time
    Every freelance writer needs to do a lot of the same things every day--networking, marketing, answering email, editing, researching, outlining, drafting--and blocking out your best hours of time for each of these tasks ends the question of what you should be doing at any given moment. When you block out certain time for certain tasks (such as editing from 9am to 10am or drafting from 10pm to 1am) you can focus on a particular contextual to-do list. The reason you keep these actions on lists is to keep them manageable for when you're at that certain context (like having that @Phone list for when you're there to make calls) rather than creating a bloated, scary calendar.
  4. Appointments and the Sacred Calendar
    A calendar, as a form of list itself, should also be utilized in freelance writer project management, but you have to respect the calendar. Not just anything can touch your calendar. Actions that must be completed on a certain day and / or at a certain time go on the calendar and nothing else. No things you'd like to get done. Nothing that would fall under the category of "it would be nice". If you let just anything go on your calendar you'll have no respect for the relevance of things already on it. Then your calendar isn't an asset to your productivity. So get used to drawing a line between contextual action and calendar actions!
  5. Establish a Review Routine
    None of the above actions will do you any good if you don't regularly review everything. My regular practice is to look at each contextual list as I enter that context (picking up my phone, blocked time out for outlining or such) and I add things during a daily inbox annihilation. Find what works for you.

Managing Each of Your Freelance Writing Projects

  1. Set Parameters
    At the start of every freelance writing project, it is essential that you establish organizational and action parameters. The organization parameters are set by creating dedicated files for the project documents so that you always know where to save something and where to look for anything. The action parameters mean establishing the time and effort and contexts you'll utilize and enter to complete the project. Scheduling a client project would mean adding @Research tasks initially and subsequent @Outline and so forth contexts for completion. Review your context lists to see what you can reasonably complete with the workload already apparent in your context lists.
  2. Follow a Productive and Thorough Process
    With blocked out time with complementary contextual action lists, organized project material, set parameters and a regular review routine, you should be able to take each project from the inbox stage to the delivery stage with success. Pay attention to each phase of this process and figure out how each project management task should look for you. Ask yourself what you need to plan and what you need to get started on--and remember to focus on action-based items. The key to freelance writer project management is always focusing on the next action to get projects done.

Each month on All Freelance Writing, I'll be sharing more organization and productivity tips to make you the most effective freelance writer you can be. Ask your project management questions in the comments and I'll try to answer them.

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Jessie Fitzgerald writes about health and nutrition, especially for direct B2C sales nutritional supplement companies.

4 thoughts on “The Freelance Writer's Guide to Project Management”

  1. Thanks for the project management information. Most freelance writers struggle with blocking out time. Email, the phone, kids, pets, etc…can be huge distractions. Setting up a writing schedule will ensure that you complete projects on or ahead of time.

  2. Thanks, Rebecca. I just read a blog post referring to blocking out time as “batching” and I like the way that sounds. I work in batches–and I find other freelance writers tend to as well. What is your biggest challenge in freelance writing project management?

  3. For implementing GTD you can use this web-based application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version is available too.


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