In a previous article, Managing Multiple Freelance Gigs With Mind Maps, I covered how to use a grid/ mind map to track your freelancing projects and tasks. In this post, there’s a bit more detail about actually working on tasks, not just tracking them. ( See bottom of article for a free MindJet MindManager 8/Pro 7 map template of my work grid, as per some requests in the comments of the last article.)
The freelance task management process is best demonstrated by an example. Since my work is mostly freelance writing, that’s what I’m using here, though you can extrapolate for other types of work. Assume that you have a big writing project and several smaller ones for a given week – possibly with some of the larger projects spanning several weeks. Here’s what you do to manage and work on your tasks.
- Determine your scope. Scope out your outstanding projects. Sometimes it helps to cluster related projects and scope them out simultaneously. Make sure that you understand your real objectives for each project.
- Break it down. Break the tasks of large projects down into manageable sub-tasks. This gives you at least three benefits. Firstly, it’ll be much clearer what work needs to be done. Secondly, this allows you to take one step at a time for projects that might otherwise be overwhelming. Thirdly, since you’re assigning approximate income value to each subtask (as per my previous article), you’ll get the emotional satisfaction of feeling like you’re making work progress and income. You can assign value by the hour (based on your hourly rate and how long each subtask might take), or estimate it as a fraction of the total project value.
- Outline. Come up with an outline for each project by using the objectives for each. When it comes to freelance writing, an “outline” is literal. I’ll start off a mind map with sections, even if they’re just labelled for my own use while writing a rough draft. (E.g., intro, points, summary, references.)
- Start with what you know. For small projects, this might not be necessary. For large projects, it helps you to consciously realize what you do know. Even if you just record this in point form, either in a list or a mind map, it helps reduce the risk of a type of creative block that comes from thinking you don’t know enough about a topic.
- Leverage your efforts. Could the research for a larger project also be used for a smaller project? This is more likely when it comes to writing and design, but I have also reused code snippets in different projects for the same client/ employer. If you can reuse research or content, then start work on the larger project first, and keep notes. Filter your references and copy them to any suitable smaller projects. This way, you reduce your overall workload and effectively increase your earnings per hour.
- Work in layers. Write for related projects in layers. A good writer takes time to think about what they’ve written so far for a given project, and the same applies to other types of freelancing work. What I do for writing is start fleshing out the outline for a project, first by writing down what I know (see above), then doing some research, writing some more, taking a break, then finishing up.
- Take a break. There’s only so much time in a week, and sitting back to think about what you’ve written might be a luxury. Let your mind think about the last project for a while, while you move on to another task in another project. This gives you some relief time, and is actually the proper way to multitask. (At least, it’s been effective for me for over twenty years.) As long as you don’t fragment your project time into “too small” slices, jumping from project to project, you can make multitasking work for you.
The above process is simply one that I use for freelance work (writing, screencasting), in tandem with mind mapping to manage everything. Adjust it to your own needs. Even I find that a process I developed for my own needs slowly changes over time and might be unrecognizable months later.
A Sample Task Management Grid Template
As promised above and in the comments of my previous managing multiple freelance gigs post, I’ve created a sample work grid template as described in that article. (It looks like the above image.) It’s in MindJet MindManager “.mmap” format, and should work in at least MM 7 and 8 (newly released), for both Windows and Mac (although I have not tested the latter). Version 8 for Windows is available on a free 30 day trial basis. Version 7 Pro for Mac is also available for a free 30 day trial. Both are fully functioning, with all features available.
The .mmap file is available from two file sharing services: MediaFire and FileFactory. Click on either of the preceding links to go to a page to download the .mmap file. If you do not have/want MindManager, you can also use MindJet’s free Map Viewer software.
For those of you who asked in the comments of the previous article, I got rid of the grid lines by changing the “Topic Line Style” of the parent nodes (mon, tues, wed, etc.) to “None,” from MindManager’s “Format” menu.