As I talk to more freelancers and writers, I realize that many of us are very similar. That makes various tips and tricks that we use for ourselves potentially applicable to other freelancers and writers. This morning as I prepped a new notebook for an upcoming project, I realized one of my strategies that might be helpful for other freelancers looking to develop or maintain motivation and organization on their own projects.
Notebook and Journal Obsession
As a writer, I like notebooks. Blank notebooks hold the promise of empty pages waiting to be filled with brilliance and genius alike. Hardbound notebooks, softbound notebooks, blank pages, lined pages, leather covers, design covers, big, small, portable, ridiculous, and everything in between, I love all kinds of notebooks. It turns out that many writers need notebooks… lots of notebooks. (They make very good gifts for writers and freelancers.)
In fact, I like all manner of writing and desk supplies. I go a little bit nuts every fall when the school supplies sales come out. There are always some things that I need that I can pick up for cheap, but there are even more things I don’t need at all, but I want to have. My wife makes fun of me for my school supply addiction, as she calls it.
The reality for me has long been that many of my notebooks sit empty. The reason for this seemingly incongruous love of notebooks coupled with not actually using them comes down to intention. I buy notebooks I love imagining that I will fill them with words, and projects, and diagrams that I love. I imagine, quite frankly, the Da Vinci notebooks. (If this sounds like hubris, feel free to check out my website BestHubris.com — get it? — which actually has nothing to do with hubris, but still…)
That little project about moving all of my websites to mobile-first responsive design? That isn’t really good enough for that cool leather, Escher-ish covered notebook I just bought. So, I grab a spiral notebook (less than 10 cents each during Back to School sales!) and start jotting stuff down in there. By the time I realize that this was an important project filled with both important, and boring, notes, it is too late to move it to a better notebook.
Notebooks Motivate Freelancers and Writers
I accidentally discovered that notebooks and journals can actually be very motivating for writers and freelancers. You see, I have assignments pretty much every day. Those come and go. The notes I jot down are not necessary to keep much beyond the assignment itself. However, longer projects often require extensive notes. Research, thoughts, ideas, designs, these things all belong in a single place, a notebook, or journal. Too often they end up scattered across several notebooks and journals.
The trouble is that I often start using a blank notebook as a “anything” journal only to find important things on multiple topics hidden in its pages somewhere. To avoid this on one particular project that I accurately characterized as important before starting it, I bought a special journal just for that project. I promptly labeled it and began filling its pages. As it sat on my desk, it seemed to cry out for more information, and my notebook motivation tactic was born.
Every project you take on either means something to you, or it doesn’t. Only you can fill in the definition of what makes something fit either category. Whatever criteria you use, for any project that will take more than two days, and that means something to you, assign it a new notebook. Make the notebook fix the project. Big, important projects take big important notebooks. Small projects take small notebooks. Quick, unimportant projects can use a cheap spiral notebook.
At first, you’ll just work through that unused stack, but soon you’ll need to buy new notebooks. This is good for two reasons. One, you get to buy new notebooks (yay!) and two, it means you are taking on, and seriously committing to, your new projects.
Now, here is the key. The notebooks must sit on a prominent shelf where you can see them. They must be distinct enough, or labeled enough, so that every time you look at them, you know what they are for and what projects they go with.
The motivation comes from seeing your neglected notebooks. Surely, you have some time to work on one of them, even if it’s just to jot down a few pages of notes, or do a few minutes of research. Even more motivating is a rapidly filling shelf. Are you really taking on new projects when these sit unfulfilled?
Try it. Start with your current projects and get them notebooked. See if both having a place to work on them, and keeping them in sight helps you move in the right direction. Then, when you are finished, or you have filled an entire notebook, move them to a new shelf. That shelf if your trophy shelf, proof of all the many things you have attempted and completed.