When you've decided to work for yourself, whether that's in a business or just doing some great volunteering or extracurriculars, you will suddenly find that you have to manage a lot of administrative aspects of things that you wouldn't have to in a typical company situation. For example, when you're employed by someone else, you usually have your workload managed for you, and when you have competing priorities, you (should) have a manager who you can talk through those priorities with and make sure you're focusing on the most important things in the right order. When you're on your own, that's up to you.
It is then that you may find out that it's a taller order than you anticipated, simply because it hadn't been on your radar. This is the situation I found myself in when I was greener in my career, and I wanted to share it with you so you could learn from my mistakes and hopefully not make them yourself. It's a critical tool to have in your box, because you don't want to have too little work (and not have enough money coming in) or too much work (and risk alienating clients).
My big mistake was being myopic about my workload. I really only looked at what I had going on for about a week at a time, so the immediacy of my feelings was what drove me to act. If I had a boatload of work in a particular week, I'd allow myself to feel overwhelmed, and stopped seeking other work. I'd focus on driving down the requests I had, and delivered great output, but once it dried up I faced the other feeling: panic.
All of a sudden, I had too little to do. I felt as if I was resting on my laurels, and this terrible anxiety would set in. I set off into a flurry of outreach, seeking new work and opportunities. Naturally this would result in a glut of new work coming in all at once, so I was creating my own challenging cycle. It was always either feast or famine, and for a good side gig to work, it needs to be more balanced and predictable.
Keeping a calendar of my work became a crucial piece of my planning regimen. I keep track of everything there - appointments, social media posts, blog posts, phone calls, outreach. Anything that I might be doing is there. Even my projected activities are included so that I can keep on top of when I plan to do certain things, so that when I make future appointments, my planned activities are always taken into consideration.
I also keep track of whether my activities are revenue-generating or not. Any good business has a mix - you have to attract new business, and you won't get paid while you're introducing your concept. It's still important, but you need to know what the ratio of paying to non-paying activities is so you don't accidentally schedule a week where you're doing nothing but free work by accident. As I have done. Learn from my fails, people!
I am insane in my organization. But it is because I have failed in so many ways, and I am not a big fan of failing in the same way twice. So now I have a tightly controlled system, and it works pretty well for me.
Now, as always, I'd love to hear from you! What do you do to keep on top of your life?