Free Advice Friday: Your Streamlined Writing Life

What I’m listening to: Zombie by The Cranberries (RIP Delores O’Riordan)

This is the year I get my shit together.

That’s what I vow every year. Every year, I’m going to make that one change that pushes me into a new category of productivity. I’m going to streamline the hell out of my freelance writing habits, and it’s going to make me look like I’m working with six hands.

You’d think after nearly 15 years of saying this I’d actually have done it.


Except that this year, instead of saying it, I did it.

It took just three weeks out of my regular office routine (and away from reams of emails I found I needed) to decide to stop saying it and spend that energy actually doing something about it. I’m going to spend a morning/afternoon weeding through help sections and bad instructions and move all my operations online, I thought. Email, calendar, the works.

Judging from times I had to spend hours beating up against that same brick wall, it was going to take a while.

Maybe I’ve waited just long enough —

I had it done in one hour. And that’s because I’d screwed up a .csv file (and imported it in all its screwed-up glory) and had to look for how to delete my mistake. Then delete.

I know those of you who use Gmail right now are thinking I’m way behind the curve, that you’ve been streamlined for ages, that your emails and such are all neatly tucked away in a corner of the internet and ripe for the picking anywhere, anytime.

But you see, I don’t like Gmail.

I prefer Outlook.

Really prefer it. Like “Old habits die hard” times ten prefer it.

The Microsoft gods were smiling on me — I now have the online capabilities, easily accessible on my desktop app, that gives me access to the whole shebang — my address, which I’m trying to transition over to, and my Verizon address, which is now an AOL product (with a half-assed app that marks the good stuff as spam).

But the thing that makes me sing Halleluia is the calendar app. I open the desktop app (not the regular Outlook program), put in my appointment, and it’s suddenly everywhere — online, on my phone, and on the regular Outlook program.

Cue the harps.

Okay, so while I’m enjoying finally catching up to you savvy writers who have been working this way for a decade (just give me this little moment of victory, okay?), I’m also wondering just how much more of your life is streamlined in the same way.

Do you use cloud storage for all your files?


Seems I’m a little ahead on that one, but hey, we all get lucky once in a while.

So here’s how I’ve streamlined my writing day to make the most of my time (and keep things as close as a click on any device):

  • Online email/calendar
  • Cloud storage
  • Microsoft office account – I add this because I buy the $99/year subscription, which gives me Office on five devices, online Office access, and a terabyte of cloud storage. Plus I’m a die-hard Word fan. No other WP program has done it for me (and that includes Google Drive).
  • Accounts payable/receivable – my system is ridiculously simple: in my cloud drive, I have one folder designated for both payables/receivables. Invoices go in one, paid invoices are moved to the other. Boom.
  • To-do list – I use a calendar appointment that I move forward. You can use Todoist or any other task application.
  • Email rules – I have created rules that funnel stuff I don’t need to see into separate folders. Otherwise, I’d be spending precious time browsing the DSW or Gap sales pages.
  • – you get on one list, and suddenly you’re on twelve more. I’m using this to get rid of the junk emails and keep my in box more relevant to what I need, not what I need to delete.
  • Keeping productivity apps to a minimum – yes, as I tell you how I’m using apps to simplify my life, I’m also warning against too many of them. Do you really need Evernote, Trello, AND OneNote? Find one you like, one that your clients use most often. Stick with it. Spreading yourself too thin with technology means you’re wasting time chasing things through various apps.

So for today, find that one thing in your day that could benefit from a better process.

Writers, how have you streamlined your freelance writing business?
What are your favorite methods or apps?

About the author




  • Paula Hendrickson January 19, 2018 at 11:32 am

    One thing I know from experience: I need a good old-fishing paper calendar. Two actually. I’m a visual person, and when something is out of sight it’s totally out of mind.

    I bought a new computer at the end of the year, and one stumbling block I have is that my cell phone won’t sync with the computer and iPad. My cell phone is just too old for the new tech, but I only really use it for texting anyway.

    Like you, Lori, I got the new Office suite (when I bought a new computer at the end of the year), so now I need to figure out the cloud stuff. What goes to the Office cloud, what goes to the iCloud, and what I want saved to my computer, too since I don’t know how much I trust all these clouds. The first time I used Word I had no idea if my document was saved or where to fine it. There will be a learning curve.

    One thing I decided to try to streamline this year is on the financial side. My goal is transfer at least 10% of each check immediately to savings. (Of course, there may be cases where I need that extra 10% to cover my bills, especially when property taxes roll around.)

    Also: Great choice on the music, Lori. I’ve always loved The Cranberries, and Dolores’ death hit me hard. Zombie is just one of their songs stuck on infinite repeat in the jukebox of my mind this week.

    • lwidmer January 19, 2018 at 2:55 pm

      Paula, I set up folders in OneDrive just like the ones I had on my hard drive. I save to Documents, then to the specific folder.

      That’s a lot of cloud drives! Which one do you prefer? I’d say save the critical stuff to the one you like best, then the photos and things to the other. What do you think?

      I love your savings idea! I should do the same, but earmark it for retirement. I bought a car in August and so far, I’ve paid a year and a half of the loan off (I really hate having debt).

      I was blown away when I heard of her passing, too. A talent beyond words and a distinctive voice that will be greatly missed.

      • Paula Hendrickson January 19, 2018 at 5:39 pm

        I don’t know enough about either cloud to know which I like best. I don’t understand how they work. I am clearly not a digital native. It might help if I know what my iCloud password was, LOL, Maybe then I could go in and weed out things I don’t need and free up space. For some reason a year or so ago my ancient iPhone would not work unless I opted to connect it with the cloud. I never personally moved anything to the cloud, but the ic=loud is apparently almost totally full of stuff from my phone that I never knowingly uploaded.