In August of last year, I was laid off due to the pandemic. I received a severance package that included a free, three-month outplacement program where I was paired up with a development coach and would have bi-weekly, goal-setting phone meetings, all to help me find a new job.
In our last session, I shared with my coach my fear that going back to work full-time would mean little time left to pursue freelancing. She simply asked me, “Do you have a planner?”
After I got off the phone with her, I went out and bought my first planner in over ten years.
In high school, I was never the person who forgot to write their assignment down — because I always made sure I had my planner with me. Since graduating high school, I hadn’t given much thought to the necessity of owning a planner. But when you’re breaking into freelance writing, trying to keep up with friends and family while juggling a full-time day job, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In the first month of learning about freelancing, I developed such anxiety about this potential career path that I began to shut down and almost decided to quit. I tried to do everything at once and was failing. I had to figure out a way to stay organized, and I have my job coach to thank for reminding me about the benefits of owning a planner and creating a color-coordinated schedule.
Here are the ways in which following a colorful daily schedule have helped me manage my to-do list, boost my writing productivity and achieve my personal goals:
Using colored pens makes me look forward to scheduling out my week —because I can visually see exactly where I’m spending the most of my time, and, if need be, adjust for balance. Each task is written in my day planner in a particular color. I even assigned specific colors to my leisurely (but equally essential) activities, such as going for walks, grocery shopping trips, and catching up with family and friends.
In the beginning, I spent most of my week just pitching to editors. I did not leave much time to work on my blog, building connections with other freelancers, contributing to publications to build my portfolio, and learning the craft. Without a planner, I usually found I was wasting time rather than using it wisely.
Even though it takes a bit of time to create my color-coordinated schedule, it has alleviated a lot of stress, and I have found it to be one of the more enjoyable tasks I look forward to each Sunday evening.
I have this fear that I’ll never get around to completing all the goals I have because I have so many. But breaking my big goals down into small ones has allowed me to see that I am making progress. Keeping a planner and taking a moment to carve chunks of time during the week that are strictly devoted to a specific goal makes the idea of becoming a self-employed writer in the future not too grand a dream anymore.
Starting out as I am freelancing, you quickly feel inadequate — but checking off completed tasks in my planner gives me a small sense of accomplishment.
I believe it’s crucial in the earlier stages of freelancing to believe in yourself and believe that your work will eventually pay off. Checking off a completed task in my planner does that for me. I find comfort knowing I have one less job to do, and I am one step closer to getting an article published.
If you are interested in building your own color-coordinated schedule, here are a few tips that helped me boost my productivity and stay better organized.
Find a planner that is right for you and meets your needs.
If you need a bright, loud, or flowery planner to keep you motivated every time you look at it, get one with a fun cover. Some people can do all of their planning in a simple notebook or bullet journal; if you are like me and need a lot of structure, a planner with an hour-by-hour timetable is a great option.
Set aside a consistent time each week to plan out your schedule.
I usually plan out my week every Sunday so that I’m ready to start on my first task when Monday comes. Whatever day you choose, make sure to keep it consistent.
Create a schedule that works for you.
Before writing your tasks into your planner, brainstorm a bit about how you’d like to break up your days. Do you work better if you dedicate one day to just writing and another to just pitching? Or do you need a bit of variety and can manage writing for a couple of hours in the morning or the evenings after your full-time job ends for the day and then tackle smaller tasks? The goal is to work with your already busy schedule, not against it.
Choose a consistent color scheme.
When you are putting your daily objectives into your planner, choose a specific colored pen for each specific category. For example, all of my writing tasks are blue, pitching to editors is in red, and reading related content is in green.
Do your most challenging task first.
If you tackle the more difficult task first, you’ll start your day off with a sense of accomplishment — and the other tasks on your list will feel that much more doable.
Create a rewards system.
Any time you try to create a new habit, you need some motivation to stick with it. Whether you celebrate at the end of each day for completing your tasks or save up your celebration for the end of the week, come up with a tailored rewards system that keeps you on track.
Life does happen, and some things will go left undone — and that’s okay. Just make sure you reward yourself for the work you’ve put in.
It’s only been six months since I’ve actively pursued freelancing, and I know that if I hadn’t found a way to stay organized, I would have burned out and quit. But I didn’t, and I’m here now and just wrapping up my first guest post for this blog — and I can’t tell you how excited I am to see what is to come in the next six months.