What Tools Work For You?

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Organization is one of the most important aspects of a thriving freelance life. If you’re constantly dropping balls on projects, pretty soon there won’t be any balls left to drop, because clients will find others who are capable of follow-through.

Online tools always fail me. When a client wants to work using an online platform, I will adapt (unless it’s Trello, a platform I loathe). But I also have my own tools that aren’t dependent on an app or a third party.

I keep client folders on the computer (backed up) and I have hard copies of necessary information.

I have project boards when it makes sense for a project, combining visuals and catalyst phrases, so I can look up at it, drop back into the project and pick up where I left off.

For novels and series, etc., I have outlines and series bibles and tracking sheets (and I teach courses on how to set those up and put together a submission system, so it doesn’t take hours to put together the pieces of a project). I also keep “project bins” of all the research materials, so I have them in one spot. At publication, I return the books to the shelves, and the files to the cabinets.

I keep a notebook and pen in my glove compartment, and usually have one in either my purse or my tote bag. I do use note-taking apps on occasion, like Evernote or Keep, but the act of writing it down in longhand makes it stick in my brain better.

Zoom is a favorite tool, as long as it’s not overused (and yes, I limit the amount of meetings I book in any given week). One of my cats, Charlotte, adores Zoom and is convinced the entire purpose of this tool is for people all over the world to see her and tell her she is pretty.

I used to use Skype a good deal, especially when I was working with actors in the UK; they were in the rehearasal room, I was at my desk, and we collaborated. But then I started having issues with Skype not recongizing my log-in, and demanding access to all my contacts, so I’ve switched everything over to Zoom.

The To-Do List no longer works for me. Instead of helping me see what I’ve accomplished and making me feel good about the day, I start to resent it and feel restricted by it. I have my calendar, with different projects in different colors, so I know where I am on any given project on any given day at a glance. Hard copy calendars are also useful, because the box for each day is a finite space, and if that space is full, it means I’m taking on too much, and I need to adjust. It’s too easy to overfill an electronic calendar.

I have my pitch logs and submission logs, so I know what pieces are out where, with whom I’ve pitched ideas, where it needs follow-up, where something needs to be invoiced, where something was rejected and needs to go to a different market. Those are list logs, rather than spreadsheets. Again, if a client likes spreadsheets, I’m fine with that. For my own purposes, list logs work better.

One of the most important lists I keep is what I jokingly refer to as “The List.” It’s a list of companies who demand unpaid labor as part of the interview process, or as a condition of consideration for an interview. Whether it’s an assessment or an unpaid sample or the demand to “make an introductory video” (I talk about the actual cost of that here), unpaid labor as part of the interview process is no longer acceptable to me. Read my samples. Or pay me for my time, if your reading comprehension is so feeble you can’t figure out how my skills translate. As far as a one-way video introduction/interview goes, no, thank you. An interview is a two-way process, a conversation, not an audtion.

I’m not at the beginning of my career, paying dues, racking up credits to prove anything. It’s all there.

You want me to take tests? I have a contract for that, with payment terms. Otherwise, it’s a good indication we are not the right fit, and it’s best we both move on.

And if a company demands something like Myers-Briggs or DISC or anything along those lines? Absolutely not. I am a multi-faceted individual and I will not be stuffed into someone else’s box. For me, companies that demand such tests are a big red flag. If they feel the need to limit and sort their employees into “types” it is, for me, a toxic work environment. And if they feel they have to put their employees through that kind of psychological testing, it’s an indication that they are attracting the types of people with whom I would not work well.

The list grows regularly, although it’s not as long as it would have been, had I started it pre-pandemic. Some companies have learned that there’s no need for this type of “testing” and if they want experienced, qualified personnel, those individuals find plenty of work without that demeaning unpaid “testing” process.

Companies who actually have a positive “work culture” will pay for tests and samples. Or have hiring managers with strong reading comprehension to read samples and see how the skills apply to the company’s needs. They understand that professionals deserve to be compensated for their time, and the company is not doing the individual a favor by demanding a test as part of the interview process.

I admit I do like to try new tools when they come on the market.  Because there’s always room to integrate something cool and useful. But too many of these tools are built to limit, when I believe creativity is and needs to be limitless.

What tools do you find useful? Useless? Do you keep track of companies who make demands that don’t fit into your work ethic?

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