The Productive Freelance Editor, Part 1: Setting Goals

editorial business topics

Does the following sound familiar?

You sit down at your computer to work on a specific project.

Before you open the document, you check your email to see if the author has answered a question you asked yesterday.

You see that you have a new message from another client, about a project due in a few days.

You answer the email, then remember that you need to reschedule lunch with a friend next week.

You pick up your phone to text your friend, and there’s a voicemail waiting from another client. They have a question that needs to be answered quickly or it will delay the project.

You call the client back to answer their question.

Before you know it, you’ve spent the whole day bouncing from task to task, not working on the original project at all. You haven’t made enough time for yourself—exercising, eating a good lunch, taking breaks to recharge—and now you’re behind on the original project. You end the day feeling stressed and frustrated.

This was my freelance life for years. I was usually juggling at least ten clients a month (sometimes double that), and I was drowning in project-related emails.

After I developed severe RSI, I simply couldn’t go back to juggling tasks and being unproductive. I needed to drastically lower my stress levels and become a more efficient business owner, fast. I figured out a better way to balance my billable and non-billable tasks, but I was still drowning in to-do lists and an overloaded calendar.

I had to get serious about creating a new system to save time and energy. In this series, I’ll be laying out the steps I took to get there, with the hope that my journey will help you develop a method that works for you.


Coming up with a list of goals for my new system was easy, but I had to be careful to set realistic goals that I could achieve quickly. (In fact, I had to revise my list of goals a few times before they were attainable within a short timeframe.)

Here are the final productivity goals I came up with:

  • Spend less time answering email (and stop feeling overwhelmed by it)
  • Reach “Inbox Zero” in Gmail
  • Clear my Google Calendar to only the essentials
  • Stop jumping from task to task throughout the day
  • Use to-do lists more efficiently
  • Have a better sense of the big picture (future projects and goals)
  • Make work-life balance a priority, without bulking up my Google Calendar with tasks like “go to the gym” or “call a friend”

What Are Your Productivity Goals?

Now it’s your turn! What are your productivity goals, not just for your business but for your life as a whole? You can start working on your own list by answering the following questions:

  1. Do you often feel like you haven’t done “enough” by the end of the day? What prevents you from accomplishing your given tasks?
  2. Which of the following tasks makes you feel the most overwhelmed, unmotivated, or stressed: checking/answering email, looking at or updating your calendar, making or reading to-do lists, or trying to come up with long-term goals?
  3. Where in your life do you feel the most organized?
  4. Where in your life do you feel the least organized?
  5. What hobbies or non-work activities do you enjoy, but never quite make the time for?
  6. Do you do well with a very structured day, or do you prefer more flexibility?
  7. Are you balancing your work life with your personal life, or is work taking priority over your personal needs?

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where I’ll show you how I put my list into action—starting with streamlining my email accounts.


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