Set Alerts and Deliver Early

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Updated September 19, 2022
Art for Money

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Whenever I’ve made an important commitment, I set two reminders: one on the day it’s due, and another one three days in advance. Why do I do that? Isn’t it simple to remember that X work needs to be done by X date? Yes it’s simple, but simple ain’t easy, and besides:

Never waste good brain space on something that your phone can easily do for you.

Alerts aren’t just for deliverables; you can use them for payments as well. Remember, most people are 8-year-olds. We don’t prepare for the things we don’t enjoy doing. If we don’t enjoy going to the dentist, then we are less likely to be on time.

Your client’s accounts payable department doesn’t enjoy paying you on time. As such, they most certainly do not have a pink sticky note on their monitor that reads “IMPORTANT NOTE TO SELF: pay Johnny Freelance on February 1st!” And that’s perfectly fine, because you’re going to send the invoice two weeks in advance, followed up by a friendly courtesy notice three days before it’s due.

You’ve already gotten the point but I’ll share one more anecdote because it’s fun: I once worked with a designer who didn’t enjoy calendarizing. We’ll call her Antonia. She was gifted at designing the most amazing handbags I’d ever seen, but would rather spend her time shopping for houses online and complaining about the government. If she had 15 days to complete a project, this is how she’d use them:

  • Days 1 through 14: Shop online and read the news.

  • Day 15: Go to the gym, go for a hike, Google a few things related to the project, complain about how the lead time for this project was way too short.

  • Day 15, from 6 PM to 2 AM the next day: Do the project.

  • Day 16: Deliver the project, one day late.

We are not talking about an amateur here. Antonia had been designing handbags at the highest level for over a decade. And still, the above scenario would play out every time.

As you can imagine, starting to work on the very last day would be a disastrous approach to, say, a nine-month “footwear innovation” project. But if this happens during one short phase, it’s less disastrous.

I began using a courtesy notice strategy on Antonia. Sometimes, I’d build in a little three-day cushion that Antonia didn’t know about.

It pays to consistently remind yourself that the key to getting money seven days from now is finishing the project in that amount of time. Are we anxious about the deadline? Not sure how to manage our time? That’s OK, the calendar tells us exactly what to do.

By now you might be thinking “OK, I get it, it’s important to deliver on time. I’ll just work fast and stay on track—and I can do that without a calendar.”

No you can’t. Make your calendar, set your alerts, and deliver early.

Stay Organized: Systems, Tools, Apps

Watch out for intellect, because it knows so much it knows nothing.Anne Sexton

It’s easy to organize a single project, but what about working on four client projects at the same time? It’s tempting to always be on the hunt for the latest project management app, but unless you’re an agency with 10+ employees, you can skip those. The best tool is one that you’ll actually use—a very, very basic spreadsheet could do the trick. If you’re like me, you want a zoomed-out overview that keeps you on top of the big picture. Something like this.

Looks pretty rudimentary, huh? It is. I’ll share a secret with you—for a freelance operation, complex tools and systems are mostly BS.

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