I’ve never missed a freelance writing deadline. Considering the fact that I’ve been a full-time freelance writer for a little over two and a half years and pretty much always have a lot on my plate, I think that’s a pretty significant accomplishment.
Of course, staying on top of my workload and deadlines isn’t something that just happens—no, there’s no closing my eyes and clicking my heels together involved.
On the contrary, really. It involves a fair amount of organization, planning, and hard work. Fortunately, I’ve identified a few strategies that help me to manage my work and ensure I reliably meet my deadlines time and time again.
Don’t know where to get started with your to-do list? Fill in this matrix!
While I’ve always held (and will continue to hold) deadlines in high regard, I’ve met plenty of freelancers who aren’t quite so strict with themselves.
I’ll just be completely transparent: That’s not a strategy I would recommend. As a freelancer, you should live and die by deadlines.As a freelancer, you should live and die by deadlines. Click To Tweet
Yes, I consider myself a fairly talented writer. But, skills aside, I’ve been flat out told by clients of mine that it’s not just my talent—it’s my reliability and dependability that keeps them coming back to me again and again. They not only know that I’ll get things done well, but they can also rest assured that I’ll get them done on (or even ahead of) schedule.
So, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that deadlines are just suggestions. They aren’t. Respect them and you’re that much more likely take your freelance writing career far. Trust me on that, my friends.
Alright, so now that I’ve sufficiently scared you into honoring deadlines, how can you go about ensuring that you actually meet them? Here are a few different tips and tactics that keep me accountable to that pesky calendar.
Here’s something that’s important for you to remember: The process of not missing a deadline begins well before that deadline is ever fast approaching. In fact, it begins when you actually set the deadline.
It never fails—every client thinks their work is the most pressing, urgent, has-to-be-done-right-this-minute thing on the planet. And, it’s all too easy to set yourself up for failure by agreeing to their unrealistic end dates. “I want to keep them happy!” you think to yourself while accepting work that is practically impossible to get done on time.
But, guess what: Doing that ultimately won’t make them happy. Why? Well, because you won’t actually get the work done on time—which means they not only won’t have it when they’re expecting it, but you’ll also come off as flaky and undependable.
Instead, it’s much better to be realistic right from the get-go. Before ever agreeing to a deadline, I make sure to flip open my planner and take a look at the other work and deadlines that are on my plate (more on that later). That allows me to give the client a realistic timeframe for their project—meaning I’m that much more likely to meet their expectations.
Speaking of taking a look at my planner, I make sure to write everything down. I mean absolutely everything (even if it’s something I want to finish by the end of the day). I never convince myself that I’ll remember the details of when something is due—because I know as soon as I move on to a different project, that deadline will promptly fall out of my brain.
If you’re not someone who relies on lists, it can take a while to get into the habit of jotting down every single little thing. But, trust me, if you can stick with it, it will make a huge difference for you.
Another thing I do? I write important deadlines in both the weekly and the monthly views of my planner. That way, I can quickly get an idea of what my week or my month looks like without having to flip back and forth through different pages.
Yes, it involves a little bit of extra work. But, it’s more than worth the added effort.
No matter how effectively I try to manage my workload, I still end up with those days when I have zero things due and other days when I have four different things that are due. Additionally, my whole day isn’t consumed by client work. I still have emails to answer, accounting to take care of, and other administrative tasks involved in keeping my business running.
This is where effective prioritization comes into play. When I have far too many projects and deadlines on my plate, I take a good, hard look at my list to determine what actually needs to get done immediately and what I’m just convincing myself needs to be done immediately (that’s easier to do than you think!).
Need help prioritizing? This will help!
My favorite way to do that is with a simple matrix (hint: I’ve included a template as the download for this post—right above this paragraph!). That allows me to quickly see where I should focus my immediate attention and what can be pushed off for tomorrow (or possibly even never—gasp!).
This is all helpful moving forward. But, now you’re left wondering this: “What should I do if I’m just about to miss a deadline? It’s a little too late for these tips.”
Here’s the best piece of advice I can offer you: When you know you’re going to miss a deadline, it’s in your best interest to let your client know as soon as possible. Don’t wait until hours before—or worse—after the deadline has come and gone.
Be proactive in giving your client the appropriate heads up that you’re running behind so that they can make any necessary adjustments on their end.