The Productive Freelance Editor, Part 3: Streamlining Your Calendar and To-Do Lists

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As an editorial business owner, I wear many hats. In addition to managing both the billable and non-billable tasks of my company, I also need to run errands and complete other day-to-day tasks.

For years, I piled everything into my Google Calendar, using it as my to-do list. I’d have client projects alongside errands to run, birthday gifts to buy, family members to call. I would look at my calendar every day and instantly feel overloaded.

Quite a few of the productivity goals I originally outlined had to do with my calendar or to-do lists, so it was time to make a change. Here’s what I did.


Using my Google Calendar as a catch-all for every single task I needed to complete wasn’t working for me—I ended up bumping tasks around constantly, which wasn’t efficient.

So, I cleared my Google Calendar completely (this can apply to any calendar, paper or digital). I did this in two steps, which took about two hours to complete:

  1. I deleted every task that wasn’t date- or time-specific. (Examples: “make vet appointment,” “write blog post,” “organize filing cabinet,” “brainstorm new class ideas.”)
  2. I moved all of these tasks, project ideas, and goals to a blank Word document.

This left only time- or date-specific tasks on my calendar, such as:

  • Appointments
  • Meetings
  • Project deadlines

Immediately after clearing out my calendar, I felt relieved. No more overwhelm! Now, I only use Google Calendar for time- and date-specific items—I make lists for everything else.


After clearing out my calendar, I had a huge list of all my to-dos, project ideas, and other general tasks. I had to figure out a way to make sense of all of it, and one big list was not going to work.

After a month of trial and error, I came up with a system that works for me. It’s loosely based on April and Eric Perry’s Learn Do Become program, and it consists of three separate lists:

  1. Master projects list
  2. Current projects list
  3. Daily to-do list

Here’s a breakdown of each:


This is my full list of projects I want to complete, broken into three categories: work, personal, and home. Whenever I have a new idea for something I want to do that isn’t time- or date-specific, it goes on one of these lists. These lists can be as long as I want them to be (I think my current “work” list has more than fifty items on it).

Here’s what this list looks like:

  • Fix the contact form on my website
  • Launch new membership for freelance editors
  • Outline upcoming class for brand-new freelancers
  • […]
  • Plan next vacation
  • Organize family reunion
  • Get haircut
  • […]
  • Fix bookshelves in living room
  • Reorganize pantry
  • Clean out storage room
  • […]


Unlike the master projects list, I restrict my current projects list to seven or eight projects total so I don’t overload myself. Each project on this list also includes a “next step,” which helps me break the projects into chunks so I don’t procrastinate. It’s also separated into work, personal, and home.

Here’s this list in action:

  • Send biweekly email to my list (next step: write copy)
  • Organize Dropbox (next step: delete unused files)
  • Reach out to local writers’ groups to pitch class idea (next step: compile list of local groups)
  • Learn how to cross-stitch (next step: sign up for weekly classes)
  • Start doing yoga again (next step: research local studios)
  • Look into moving to a new city (next step: research housing markets in target cities)
  • Rework current garden layout (next step: sketch out new garden design)
  • Redo my home office (next step: replace desk)


Last but not least, I have a daily to-do list. This is everything I hope to accomplish in one day, and I limit it to five to seven tasks total, broken into the same categories. Some of these tasks are the “next steps” in my current projects list, and others are just quick errands and to-dos that I need to get done.

Here’s an example daily to-do list:

  • Finish developmental editing project
  • Respond to emails
  • Sign up for online cross-stitching class
  • Do one hour of yoga at home
  • Change oil in Jeep
  • Spend one hour looking at online property listings in target cities

I write my daily to-do list the night before, which helps me wake up in the morning knowing exactly what I need to accomplish (and what I can realistically get done).

Simplifying my calendars and to-do lists has been a lifesaver for my productivity…and my sanity. What steps can you take to streamline your calendar and to-do lists today?


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