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Paperwork is essential for freelancers! It’s how we get paid, how we keep track of deadlines, and how we plan our next steps. I’ve tried so many different methods of getting all my paperwork organized, and there’s one program I keep coming back to. Microsoft Excel.
I know. I know.
There are new fancy programs out there with bells and whistles. And Excel, well Excel is sort of plain. And old-fashioned. I mean I used how to use Excel way back in high school computer class.
But, it works for me!
I used to get so worked up feeling like I should be using Trello. Or Evernote. Or several other programs. After all–that’s what all the successful peeps were using. They must know what they’re talking about, right?
Well, I’m sure they do. They know what works for them. It doesn’t mean their methods will work for me.
And I’m slowly learning to be okay just being me.
How & Why I Use Excel
Today I’m going to share exactly how and why I’m switching back to using Excel. It might not work for you–that’s perfectly okay! Do you.
I use Excel in three main roles in my freelance business.
- Keeping track of deadlines (a to-do list of sorts)
- Tracking my income and profit/loss reports
- Creating my content calendar for my blog
So why Excel?
Frankly, I’m married to an Excel expert. I had no idea this program could do so many amazing things. I’ll be trying to do something and talking to my husband about it, and he’ll say, “Let’s use Excel!”
So he whips up a sheet for me, customizes some macros, and it’s everything I ever dreamed it could be!
Excel is pretty amazing!
My Excel To-Do List
Excel is the perfect way for me to keep track of all my writing assignments. I currently have a sheet going for each month.
As I get assignments, I enter them. I also recently started adding my own blog posts in there–after all I have to treat myself like a client or I get left on the back burner.
I include the due date, task, topic/theme, client name, and value. One final column is a checkbox, so I can mark when it’s complete.
I can easily sort by any of these columns, at any time.
My husband made me a macro so assignments that are due on the current day are highlighted in yellow. Any that I’m late on (which are always my own writing…) are in red.
The visual coding works so well for me. And I don’t have to do anything–the program takes care of it all behind the scenes.
I can also easily hide all of my completed tasks. That makes my list not so overwhelming.
I can use formulas to show me how much money I still have to earn from the tasks listed. That’s pretty motivated! When I’m feeling like, blah I don’t really want to write, I look at that number.
Every little bit helps the financial situation around here, and it usually gets me going again. It’s not all about the money for sure, but it definitely helps!
I feel much more on top of assignments now. Here’s a screen shot to show you what I’m talking about. I hid the column with client names, but you can see everything else.
The red ones are this blog post (that I’m writing on Friday instead of Tuesday!) and my post for one of my other blogs, Maggie’s Milk.
With all of its formulas, Excel is the perfect tool for tracking income. I enter money as its received, and expenses the same way. After talking to an accountant in January, I added a column for checking if it was income earned in state–those need different taxes and have to be accounted for differently.
Another change I made after filing my taxes a few months ago was to add an additional column for the expenses. I indicate what category expense it is, and have a drop-down menu with choices that correlate to the IRS options.
That way I won’t have to stop and think about those things when I do my taxes next year. Streamlining is the way to go!
With some formatting help from my husband, I’m able to visually track my progress. I really try to earn a minimum of $1000 each month. My total earnings for the month are color coded.
If I’m below $700, it’s in red.
If I’m between $700-$1000 it’s in yellow.
When I reach over $1000, it turns green–which is where I like it!
It seems silly to enjoy these simple color codes, but they really help keep me motivated.
Creating a Content Calendar
Back when I only had one blog, I just wrote about whatever I wanted. Now that I have three, I can’t be so lackadaisical about it anymore.
I have to plan my content.
So I’m using Excel to do that too. I have a sheet set up for each blog.
One column has a drop down list of the different categories I cover on that blog (like homesteading, homeschooling, and home life on my Maggie’s Milk blog). Whenever I come up with an idea for a new post, I just enter it in and assign it a category.
When it comes time to write each week, I open up my spreadsheet and have a ton of topics to pick from. I can get a good balance of my categories, look for possible series to cover, and just have what I need in one place.
On the Go
With Office 365, I can have my spreadsheets with me even on the go. I’m no longer limited to only using it at home (which was the big reason I stopped in the first place!)
So it works for me!
How Do You Stay Organized?
I’d love to hear you share your favorite tools for organization in the comments section! Remember to do what works for you–not what works for me or anyone else!
Lisa Tanner is a former teacher turned homeschooling mom with 11 kids. She's also a successful freelance writer. Lisa enjoys helping other busy moms find time to start and grow a side hustle of their own.