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What are Action Items and How Can Freelancers Use Them?

Nikki Wisher
Nikki Wisher

There’s a reason why you see articles all over the web with titles like “Top 10 Productivity Hacks” and “Top Hacks to Get Organized at Work.” Staying on top of all your tasks and projects at work is hard, full stop.

For freelancers especially, this is a challenge that could make or break your budding business. You need to keep all your projects moving and meet every deadline to keep your clients happy and paying, but that’s not easy when you’re juggling several projects at once. The key to making it work lies in two words: action items.

What are Action Items?

Simply put, action items are tasks on your to-do list. There’s an entire strategy that comes along with them, though.

The action items process is a strategy of breaking apart each project and setting a task or action item for each step of it. Once you have that plan, all you have to do is tackle each task one-by-one and you’ll be on track and on time.

There are many ways to put action items into practice. My personal favorite is with an online task manager so I can access it from anywhere and I don’t have to worry about losing a physical planner. You could also use old-fashioned pen and paper or any number of online tools. Regardless, the overarching method is the same: plotting out practical steps toward a larger goal.

Why Action Items are Crucial for Freelancers

You can use action items in just about any line of work, but it’s especially helpful for freelancers. We superheroes are often balancing multiple projects and clients at once, all without a boss to hold us accountable. There are many ways action items can make a difference.

1. Breaking Up Large Projects

Depending on the type of freelance work you do, some of your projects could be large-scale, months-long endeavors. With those large projects, it’s next to impossible to know if you’re on pace to get done in time or if you’re setting yourself up to work around the clock in the final week.

Breaking it all down into action items allows you to see what all needs to be done. You can set a date for each action item to see where you need to be along the way in order to get done on time. In addition to keeping your pace, taking this extra planning step helps you avoid forgetting things along the way.

2. Managing Your Workload

One of the hardest parts of freelancing is taking on enough work to make money but not so much work that you burn yourself out. To do that, you need to have a clear view of how much availability you have in your schedule at all times.

When you plot out your action items for various days, you can assign a time estimate to each one. A glance at your to-do list shows you how much time you’ve booked for each day so you know when you can accept more work and when you need to say no.

3. Tracking Deadlines

In many long-term projects, clients will set a series of deadlines for deliverables at various stages. For example, if you’re building a website, they may want to see the homepage by a certain date, a set number of pages created by a future date, and a particular feature by another date. That’s a lot to track.

When you create action items, you can assign a deadline to each one. This helps you stay on pace at every stage of the process. By taking the time to do this at the beginning of your project, you can also make sure the deadlines are practical and go back to your client with a different suggested timeline if necessary.

4. Keeping Track of Approvals and Stages

If only freelancing were as simple as doing your work and sending it over. Oftentimes it’s not, and some projects may go through multiple levels of approvals and edits before you can finally cross them off your list.

This is another struggle that action items can manage. Using a task management system, you can put tags on each action item to tell you where it is in the process. You just swap the tags each time it moves to a new stage. This way, you can simply search for a particular tag to see everything that’s waiting for a specific person’s approval so it’s easier to follow up.

5. Assigning Tasks

As your business grows, you might start using subcontractors to handle lower-level projects or to collaborate with on projects that need multiple types of services. Just like I described using tags to track each action item’s stage in the approval process, you can use tags to track which action items you’ve assigned to which subcontractors.

Not only does this give you a view of what each subcontractor has on their plate, but it helps you keep an eye on the deadlines so you know when to follow up if necessary. You can also look for a task manager that links to a time tracker so you can see how long your subcontractors are spending on each action item.

Staying Sane with Action Items

Action items are more than a practical productivity tool for freelancers. They help you feel in control of your schedule and stop constantly wondering if you’re forgetting something. They keep your business running by helping you deliver every project on time and allowing you to take on the right amount of work at the right time. Trust me when I tell you that as a freelancer, using action items well can change your world.

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