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Freelance Writing Organization: Spreadsheets, Money, and Pretty Colors

 

Freelance Writing

Guest Author, Sulagna Misra, talks about challenges with organizing her writing schedules and deadlines as a freelance author. More on the author below.

I got a check in the mail today! It was great until I realized it was for two different invoices — #5 and #7, which means I wasn’t being paid consecutively. I checked past checks and saw I had been paid for invoices #1 and #4. I double-checked the excel spreadsheet where I keep track of all these payments – blue stands for published and paid, orange stands for published and unpaid, etc. – to highlight the correct ones. The spreadsheet is more orange than blue, and also contains a huge patch of red – the color of stuff I should be working on.

Admittedly, most of those things are blessedly free from deadlines. And it took me forever to get to that level of red – in the beginning I did not even need a chart to keep track of my work, because I would work on one essay at a time. After it would publish I would agonize over the fact that I had nothing in the pipeline and spend the next few days pitching ideas and letting my anxiety and fear fuel me. Would I ever write again? Was that last essay my final hurrah?

To my shock, this has yet to be the case. In part because of my anxiety, I now have a wealth of editors to pitch to and a long list of essays to write. The problem was that my mind had yet to catch up with my work. I had left my job in August to work on writing full time and it took me until this past dark wintry February to realize that while I had a lot of work I needed to be doing, I would wake up in the morning still unsure of what my schedule was to be that day. Usually I would keep a cluster of notes on an essay before taking the day of the deadline to finish the piece and send it to the editor. I still do this, but at the time it had become unsustainable, as I realized when I had three deadlines for three articles due on the same day. I had to email each editor to ask for more time, and while it worked out fine in the end, I realized I needed more organization in my life.

First, I needed a writing schedule that staggered out my deadlines, anticipated that I would gain work in the future, and gave me an idea of what I needed to accomplish each day. And while I am an anxious person, I’m also very much about looking for any available possible opportunities both in terms of interesting people and interesting work, so my days could be quite nebulous – I wouldn’t know when I would get edits on a certain piece, or hear back about a pitch and either have new work or want to pitch the idea elsewhere. I bought a notebook and created and drew in my own schedule for these things, creating a weekly agenda but with two extra columns: one for what happened beyond my to-do list that would factor into future to-do lists and another for interesting, fun things: having a piece published, finishing a book or watching a TV show, making a new connection, even hearing a nice comment or seeing a friend. The last column was to appease my anxiety — when I felt unproductive or like a failure, a gratitude column gave me a way to put things in perspective.

Second, I reorganized the aforementioned excel spreadsheet. I separated 2014 and 2015, separated what was already published and what was in progress, and made note of what exactly had been paid. After a muddle with invoice numbers, I always checked to see what each check was paying for, and noted when I received them. (I already deposited them immediately through my bank’s mobile app, though. I don’t understand people who wait! It’s your hard-earned money! How can you stand waiting for it?) I’m still waiting on one outlet to pay me – if I don’t get a check this week they will get a flurry of stern emails – but I always feel calmer when I know the rhythms of how a place pays me, even if it takes two months. Yes, I know they all have to pay me, but it’s the same problem as the Anxiety of the Final Essay – if they have yet to pay me, I wonder if they’ll ever pay me.

Third, after reading a particularly horrifying article on how a writer’s clips disappeared from the internet as the sites they worked at went defunct, I archived all my past clips. It was beyond time to do so, anyway – I had enough clips that I couldn’t easily ramble off each one I’d written anymore. I also created subfolders in my “Freelancing” folder, putting invoices and articles and notes in a folder marked with each outlet. It isn’t yet perfect – I still have random documents floating around in that folder – but it’s given me a system to stick to from now on. Now every week, I take about fifteen minutes and update my website (http://sulagnamisra.com) with newly published pieces.

And fourth, I kept track of the money. On the advice of my family’s accountant, I went back through my cards and bank accounts to note my taxable spending in January, February, and March, in order to gear up for paying my first freelance balance in April. I’ve decided to spend about fifteen minutes a week on that as well. I also created sections in my work spreadsheet so I could sum up how much money I had made and could expect to be paid and how much money I could expect to make in the future based on my in progress projects.

I am so, so grateful to my system now, as it saves me a lot of worry and has helped me figure out steps to prevent unneeded stress and burnout from excessive work. Unfortunately, it has also given me the time and mental space to think of new projects. So I might end up creating five, six, or seven more points of organization in my life.

 

Sulagna Misra, in her own words, is “a freelance writer in New York. She also draws, reads, blogs, reblogs, edits, journals, scribbles, and watches things, like TV and gifs and the bug that just ran across the floor, ahhh!!” Sulagna Misra on Twitter.

4 Tips For Selling Stuff On eBay

One of the first rules of getting and staying organized is to get rid of the things you do not need any more. That home ab cruncher you bought six years ago and swore you would use every day? Since you only used it twice, you might as well get it out of the closet and into the hands of someone who might actually use it. That vintage rock concert T-shirt that you love so much? If your wife will never let you wear it (even just to do household projects on occasion) it is better off in the hands of someone who will really make use of it.

If you are in a position to be able to do so, you could consider donating them to charity. If you are not in that position given that these are challenging economic times, you should be able to get some cash for the things you don’t need any more by selling them on Ebay.

If you are an experienced eBayer, you already know all the tips and tricks to maximize your selling effectiveness. Maybe you have even read one of the countless books on the subject  But if you are new to the eBay game and your seller feedback score numbers in the tens or hundreds, not the thousands, then you should benefit from these 4 tips:

1) pick what you sell: there are many factors that go into what you should spend your time trying to sell on eBay. Start by using common sense. If you have, for example, a hundred pound kettlebell that is only worth $5, then it is doubtful that anyone will want to buy that from you and pay the high cost to ship it. If you are not sure what something is worth or what people will pay for it, try doing a search for the item in eBay and look at the completed auctions – chances are someone else sold an item like yours, or something close enough to it to give you an idea of what it will fetch. Avoid convincing yourself that “no one will buy this”. Jay Leno has done a segment for years titled “Stuff We Found On Ebay” where they show things that most people would have thought would never sell, but they did sell.

2) put the item’s best foot forward: one of the biggest concerns of an eBay buyer is getting something different from what they thought they were getting. You can help prevent a potential buyer of your item from thinking this if you take good photos and write a comprehensive description of the item, including all its features, specifications, measurements, and (especially) condition. And make sure you choose words for your listing’s title and content that are meaningful and will attract users. Remember that people looking for something like what you are selling who are using search engines will come across your listing if you word things right.

3) determine if your listing should have a reserve price: eBay lets you put a reserve price on a listing — if no bid goes above that price, the item is not sold. If you are the kind of person that will really regret letting something go for less than you thought it was worth, then you should set a reasonable reserve price for the item. Beware that eBay does not display this reserve price to potential bidders; they only see that it has a reserve price. This can scare some bidders away, so you should not take the decision to set a reserve price lightly.

4) choose the day your listing ends carefully: the end of an auction is where the real action happens. It is where the most bids start getting entered as the battle between interested buyers heats up. Therefore, you want this time to be when the most people can participate. eBay lets you specify how long your auction will run. If the length of auction you choose ends at 8am eastern time, for example, that is 5am pacific time. Such an auction will likely miss out on a lot of west coast bidders. Most eBayers will tell you that the best time to end an auction is mid-afternoon to evening on a Sunday.

Given those tips a try and see if you can make some money from all that stuff collecting duct in your closet.

5 Tips To Getting Organized And Staying That Way

When it comes to all of the information in your life, what is the best way to get organized? And once you achieve your new year’s resolution to get organized, what is the best way to stay that way? Everyone is different, of course, and one size does not fit all. But here are some tips that most folks should find helpful in achieving those goals.

According to a paper by the Alliance Academy, 83% of Americans want to be more organized. When we were younger, being organized wasn’t as important, or nearly as difficult. Maybe it wasn’t as important because it wasn’t cool, not as much depended on it, or  we were just more carefree. It probably wasn’t as difficult because we had a much smaller circle of acquaintances, there was much less going on in our life, or everything just moved more slowly before things like the internet and wireless handheld devices came along.

Whatever the reasons, it seems increasingly harder to do now. Here are five things you can do to deal with the information overload in your life:

  1. Determine what kind of information you have the most trouble keeping up withMaybe you find it almost impossible to remember when you have a dentist appointment. Or perhaps you keep forgetting that your father-in-law’s first name is Bob. Or maybe all of these are true and you think it may just be hopeless. Knowing the scope of the issue and the type of information involved is the first step in being able to identify the best way to organize it.
  2. Decide what type of organizational tool fits you bestOnce you know what kind of information you need to organize, you have a better chance of choosing the right tool that will work for you. If you are a techie and you always have a gadget with you, then a mobile phone, tablet computer, or PDA may suit you best. If you’re a luddite, then you’ll probably want to stick with something like a Moleskin notebook or other paper-based solution.
  3. Put your information into your organizational toolMost people have a tendency to want to keep track of “everything”. But you’re probably better off culling out the stuff you’re never going to use so you can get down to something more manageable and less overwhelming. Once you have identified what’s really important, think about the best way to organize all of it, and then put it into your tool in a way that makes sense to you.
  4. Get into the habit of using your organizational tool by establishing a routineThe more you use your organizational tool of choice, the more useful information it will contain. The more useful information it contains, the more you will want to use it. See how nicely that works?  The best way to ensure that you are capturing useful information is to establish a routine for putting information into it. When you meet someone new, put their contact information into your organizational tool right away. When you are scheduling an appointment, consult your tool to see when you’re available and immediately record your appointment.
  5. Periodically refine your processEvery once in a while, it pays to evaluate how well this whole model is working for you. You might start out using a paper-based system but, after having gotten an iPhone for your birthday, become much more comfortable with technology and more productive using it. Or, you may have changed jobs from one that involved working with lots of different people and required maintaining a bunch of contacts to one that is less people-oriented and requires keeping track of tasks and projects.

Those tips may not help get your junk drawer sorted out, but hopefully they will help you get your information in order.

I Like Coupons

I like Groupon. And I like Living Social too. In fact, I like all of the dozen or so (at last count) online coupon sites there are for the city in which I live. On average, I buy about two or three of these per month. I understand that online coupons aren’t for everyone. But these work for me because I’m a fairly organized person, so the ability to save money on the things I do and the places I eat can be achieved without too much burden.That said, I find that it does help to be methodical about this stuff. It would really bug me if I discovered a coupon I bought that I forgot about and has expired. To prevent from getting myself into that woeful situation, I have developed a methodology for managing my online coupons. And given the technology available today, that methodology is fairly lightweight.At a minimum, the information I track for each online coupon I buy is:

  • the face value
  • the expiration date
  • any restrictions (such as not valid on certain days of the week, reservation required, excludes alcohol, etc.)

Bonus information to track for each coupon is:

  • a digital copy (pdf or photo of a physical printout)
  • the amount I paid for it
  • the credit card I bought it on
  • the online coupon site I bought it on, along with the email account I used when I bought it
  • whether or not I sent a referral of this coupon to a friend, since some sites give me kickbacks for each friend that ends up buying from a referral of mine

But probably the most helpful thing I do is to add a reminder entry to my calendar for each coupon, one or two weeks ahead of its expiration. If I haven’t used it by then, I know I need to make plans to do so soon.

The best evidence of the usefulness of this methodology is that even after all the coupons I’ve bought, I have never yet had one go unused.

Journey to Paperless

I aspire to a more paperless life, at least when it comes to my personal information. To achieve this, all I need to do is be able to record more of the information I care about in something like my mobile phone.This is not motivated just by a desire to be more environmentally friendly. I have many reasons for wanting to reduce my paper footprint, but the top five are

1. More ways to capture information more quickly enhances quality

With my mobile phone, not only can I type text, but I can also take a picture and record audio or video. Now, instead of having to write down all the information for a wine I like (vineyard, vintage, varietal, etc.), I can simply take a picture of the label and, in one or two seconds, have all the information that would have taken me a lot longer to write down. Or, while driving, I can record an audio clip of some genius idea I had which, if I had to write down on paper later, probably would never have gotten captured.

2. Data consolidation enables better decisions

Having all my information together in one location means I am able to take actions that are smarter. Now I can have a bookmark for the web site for that great seafood restaurant I like but whose name I can never remember. That would allow me to see if the restaurant is open for dinner next Monday and, if not, make a reservation at a different place.

3. Data consolidation allows for faster decisions

Having all my information in one place means I have access to different things that are related, even if I didn’t previously know they were related. Because I don’t have to hunt around for multiple things that are related, I can reach conclusions much more quickly. Where were the last three places I had lunch with my business partner so I can make sure I suggest some place different?

4. Keeping the information on my mobile phone makes it more secure

The number of times I’ve lost a slip of paper with some important note on it? Countless. The number of times I’ve lost my mobile phone? Zero. […as I nervously tap on wood…] My mobile phone is always with me, and it holds more data than I could carry if it were written down on paper. My mobile phone is configured with a passcode so only I can look at the data on it. And, I backup the device all the time to protect me against data loss.

5. Better insight through searchability

Given one or two key words, I can let my mobile phone search through my appointments, reminders, notes, lists, and most of the other data I gather in order to find things I can’t seem to remember. Today, that may not work for audio and video clips, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before that’s possible too.

Obviously, all of those really boil down to making me more productive. I’m busy, I’ve got a lot going on in my life, and anything that helps me do more things, more quickly, with less effort makes a very positive impact on my quality of life. And, I get to sleep better at night knowing a few trees are breathing a bit easier.

Less Organized Spouse

I admit it: I like being organized. I am most comfortable when I am staying on top of all the things I’ve got going on in my life. And when it comes to coordinating commitments, technology has been an enabler. Online calendars, digital contact lists, smart phones — they all help me keep tabs on what is an ever-growing list of obligations. Over the years, I have developed a finely tuned “workflow” that fits my lifestyle and made me the envy of even my most punctual friends and colleagues.

The real challenge came when I started dating someone who isn’t as, um, “organized” as I am. Luckily for both of us, she recognizes this fact and acknowledges my role as the logistical half of our team. (In return, I have fully handed over to her the title of design czar — a good thing given how fashion-challenged I am.)

Personally, I think her job is a bit easier to execute. Some choice of “wear this”, “this doesn’t really go with that”, “burn those – I never want to see them again” pretty much covers every situation. And, over time, some of it has started to stick; now I can predict which of my clothes she will not find acceptable for any given situation about half the time. But getting her to embrace technology to help us stay organized has been a bit tougher. She’s not a big fan of e-mail (e.g., she hasn’t used her gmail account in so long she has forgotten her password) and the most-used app on her iPhone is Words With Friends, not her Calendar.

So we have settled on a model that is lightweight enough so as not to be burdensome for her, yet complete enough to prevent me from going completely loony. Basically, we each inform the other about potential commitments before we confirm them, but I maintain the calendar (although she does have access to it, and can view it any time she wants once she recovers her gmail password).

When I’m scheduling something:

  1. I check our calendar to make sure the time is available
  2. I check with her to make sure she’s interested
  3. I add it to our calendar, complete with text alerts to remind us of the event

When she’s scheduling something:

  1. she checks with me to see if I’m interested and if we’re available
  2. I add it to our calendar, complete with text alerts to remind us of the event
  3. she confirms the commitment with whomever originated

I know, it’s not rocket science and it seems totally obvious. All I care is that peace and harmony reign. Now, if only there were an app to help me keep her from throwing away my trade show T-shirts when I’m not looking.