Hey there, busy freelancer. I have a feeling you’ve already received a few emails today. What? More than a few, you say? And a few phone calls, too? Yeah, that comes with the territory when you run a business: people are always wanting to hire you.
That last phone call you took probably had a task or two buried within it that you are responsible for. Your email inbox is most likely overflowing with to-do items for projects, both current and future. And, heaven forbid, if you’ve actually met with a client in person, you probably picked up a few things to add to your list there as well.
It’s a lot like playing catch. People throw the ball to you, and you…um…catch it. In freelancing, though, there are a lot of people, throwing a lot of balls (often at the same time), and you’re expected to catch them all. The more you can catch and manage, the more likely you’ll make your clients happy.
Here are some helpful hints to make sure you’re capturing everything, no matter what the situation.
The Right Tools
We’ll talk about what to do with all of these captured tasks in the next chapter, for before you can manage them, you need to find them. As I said before, tasks can come at you from any direction: a phone call, a meeting, or even over email. Often, it’s a long list that comes at the beginning of a project, but sometimes it’s a new item thrown at you out of the blue.
The point is that you bump into tasks in a variety of situations. That means you need to be ready to capture them no matter where you are or what you’re doing. If you forget to write down something you need to do for a client, you might forget to do it. Clients don’t like it when we forget things.
I have few tools that I use on a daily basis to capture tasks. One is a small stack of index cards that I keep in my back pocket. I use a card of my own design, but any scrap of paper will do. The important thing is to always have that paper with you.
Some people use Field Notes notebooks because they’re pocket-sized and durable. I love them, too, and that’s what I use to hold my index cards. My only issue with a notebook is that the pages are stitched in. With an index card, I just toss it onto my desk for processing. Notebook pages, though, stay in the notebook.
I carry a smart phone (the iPhone is my personal choice), so there are a couple of apps that I can use to capture a task. Universally, we all have email on our phones, so a simple solution is to email the task to yourself. That puts it right into your inbox with other messages about things you need to do.
If you use Evernote, though, you can download their mobile app and use that. They even have a Reminds feature built in, so you can assign a date to the task as you capture it. I would just suggest that you set the due date to today, so that there’s a badge alerting you to the new task right away.
Remember, out of sight means out of mind for most people. You don’t want to put these things into places where it’s easy to forget them.
My task app of choice is OmniFocus on the iPhone. My reason will become more apparent in the next chapter, but essentially, I use OF because it’s an app built for storing and sorting tasks. Plus, it’s dead- simple to get things in quickly.
And that leads to another point to remember: the longer it takes for you to record a task, the less likely you’ll keep the habit up. Find the method that works for you, and find ways to make it faster. You can’t beat an index card for its speed, but some mobile apps are getting close.
There’s no perfect tool, just like there’s no perfect productivity system. Use whatever tool works best for you. Use it every time, and master it. Build a habit—an instinct—that makes it impossible to miss tasks you are responsible for. You’ve heard it said that the best camera is the one you have with you, and the same is true of capture tools.
Always be capturing.
Oh, one last and probably completely obvious note: if your preferred method of capture is analog (meaning, some kind of paper tool), then you need to build into your daily schedule a moment to input all those new tasks into your master list. That might entail hand-copying them into your master notebook, or typing each one into your app of choice. Without this last step, you’re capturing becomes pointless.
What to Capture
When you capture a wild task, you need to record four key elements of the task:
• the task itself
• the due date (not the “do” date)
• the category or area it falls under • the time you estimate it requires
I tend to capture the text of a task in a certain format. It looks something like this:
“60min – SMITH – generate layered PSD file for dev – 6/12/2014”
This allows me to see the most important aspects of the task at a glance. I can tell you how long I think the task will take (60 minutes), and who the client is that the task is connected to (Smith). Of course, the task itself is in there, too (that last bit). All of these items help me prioritize the task later when I get to the “plan” stage of my system.
Note that the category is missing. For me, everything I do between 8am and 4pm gets thrown into one über-category called “Work”. Crazy, I know. I just like to have as few buckets as possible. Some people, though, create a bucket for each client. This is something you’ll want to reflect when you capture each task.
Now that you’re capturing everything, what do you do with it all? You manage it properly, of course. Onward and upward!