Sometimes despite careful planning, assignments get backed up, editors ask for work early, or you get sick and miss a few days of work. Maybe you just spent all day on Twitter instead of finishing a story that’s due.
Whatever the reason, you’re behind and close to hitting the panic button.
That was me not long ago. An assignment took more time than I expected, and non-work obligations chewed into my available work time. On top of it all, I had committed to traveling to a conference out of town.
The confluence of circumstances created a time crunch that had me sweating how I was going to meet all my deadlines.
Over the years I’ve known freelance writers, publicists and other self-employed creatives who live in a constant state of crisis. I’m not one of them. I’m already a worrier, and there’s too much else in work and life to be concerned with – like where the next assignment is coming from – to make myself freak out over things that I can control.
So here how I avoid panic mode – it’s short and sweet, in case you’re reading it on borrowed time:
1. Cut out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.
Random web browsing and hourly updates of my status on Twitter – ain’t gonna happen when I’m under the gun. To make sure I don’t cheat, I use StayFocusd, a Chrome extension that blocks my access to sites like Facebook and YouTube during hours of my chosing. Other freelancers use productivity apps like Freedom (Mac) or Anti-Social.
2. Make a to-do list.
Dump everything you need to do out of your head and onto Evernote, Microsoft Outlook Task manager, whiteboard, paper to-do list, or whatever you use to keep track of work. Break big projects into discreet steps – set up interviews, conduct interviews, create outline, write story, bill – and then cross them off as you finish each part. It feels great, gives you an idea of how much you’ve accomplished and what you still need to do.
3. Do one thing at a time.
Rather than work on each project a little bit at a time, plow through one, get it done and move onto the next.
4. Eat the frog.
That’s code for tackling the hardest thing on that day’s to-do list first – everything else will feel easier by comparison.
5. Write fast.
Set a timer and don’t let yourself be distracted until you hear the buzzer. If you can, create a story outline before your research and interviews are finished to help you zero in on what you need to ask. Write during your “up” time of day to maximize productivity. Here are some other tips on how to write fast.
6. Work in time blocks.
A very successful freelance writer friend breaks her work day into time blocks and then slots tasks accordingly. One way to copy this method would be to use a daily calendar and then slot out tasks in 15-minute increments:
- 9 to 9:45 a.m., Conduct phone interviews
- 9:45 to 10 a.m. Catch up on email
- 10 to noon Write story
- Noon to 12:30 a.m. Lunch
- 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. Conference call with prospective client
- 1 to 1:15 p.m. Send prospective client proposed statement of work
- 1:15 to 1:30 p.m. Check Facebook, etc.
7. Work more hours.
Set your clock for 5 a.m., or work after dinner. It’s only for a few days (or weeks). You can always catch up on sleep and everything else once you’re off deadline.
8. Save marketing for next week.
This goes against advice that other freelance bloggers share about the need to do some type of marketing every week, if not every day, no matter what. But honestly, it can wait. If editors don’t see your stories when they’re due, they aren’t going to want to read your pitches.
9. Ask for help.
Need to turn in file art for story? Email the PR department at the company, agency or government office you’re interviewing and ask if they can send something directly to your editor. Use Twitter, LinkedIn or HARO to round up sources.
If you really don’t think you’ll make your deadline, email or call your editor and ask for an extra day or two – just don’t make it a habit.
10. Keep a can-do mindset.
There’s a fine line between feeling overwhelmed and feeling on top of things. Sometimes the mere act of telling yourself you’re in control of the situation can make a difference. Stay positive.
What’s your secret for not hitting the panic button?