I started out the month of November a little bit behind. I spent the end of October focused on buying a house and moving, which is more distracting than I had hoped for. We got settled in and just as I was starting to get back into my routine, I got clobbered by some sort of bug. I tried to keep up, but I managed to accomplish far less from the couch than I had hoped for. I’m finally back to normal (mostly), just in time for everybody to head to my house for Thanksgiving.
I’m the kind of behind that you just can’t recover from.
I’ve managed to get most of my client work in. I’m lucky enough to work with incredibly understanding clients who have been willing to be more flexible about projects than I’ve had any right to expect. I’ve had to do plenty of juggling on my end and, considering that I’m the kind of person that just about breaks out into hives when I miss a deadline, I’ve felt pretty badly about it. I’ve got my head above water at this point, though, and I’ll still get dinner on the table for Thanksgiving.
If you find yourself in this sort of situation, there are ways to make sure that you can make it through a tough situation with your sanity and client list intact. This is not the first time I’ve felt that I couldn’t catch up and I’m sure it won’t be the last — but these are the actual options I’ve figured out by trial and error.
- Talk to your clients as soon as you know you won’t meet your deadline. Personally, I wait until I’m absolutely sure — if there’s a chance to catch up, that’s my first choice. But the more room you can give a client to adjust dates, the more likely they’ll be able to. If you can offer up an idea of when your situation will be straightened out, your client may even be able to just wait for you to catch up.
- Keep another freelancer in reserve. When you hit the wall and you just don’t have any way to catch up, you don’t want to leave your client in a tough situation. I keep a list of three or four freelancers who will take on the same kind of projects I do, at similar rates. The ones I can toss work to on a short notice have a gold star by their names.
- Prioritize client work ahead of (almost) everything else. I’ve got lots of personal projects going on these days — I was even hoping to be ready to launch another ebook next week. As you may have noticed, I had to cut way back on things like blogging on my own sites in order to make sure that my paying clients were able to pay me. In a crunch I’m will to prioritize clients over not only my own work and social life but even certain family obligations.
- Find a way to de-stress. Not being able to follow through on things I’ve promised to do stresses me out beyond all expectations. Before I could even focus on finishing any part of my work, I had to find a way to at least reduce the stress — preferably in a way that would leave me able to work afterward.
In the moment, it’s very easy to feel like you’re the only freelancer who’s ever had to juggle this many balls at once. But in reality, I think each of us winds up in a tough situation every few months as a matter of course. It’s important to remember that while we can’t always catch up, we can come out ahead.