Freelancing -- more than university, more than working in a cafe, more than full-time employment --taught me to be organised. After a month or so of following my usual routine (read: no routine), I had story ideas written in draft emails, potential websites to pitch stashed in my favourites and no real record of what or when I was owed money. And, it was stupid. So with a bit of research and organisation, I came up with the bare minimum 'tools' I now use to stay on top of my game or, just make my life easier. (There are plenty of tools and programs that can help with organisation. But I prefer to keep things easy and like I said, this is very basic. If you want more, have a look here and here for other suggestions).
MONEY I AM OWED (yes, all caps).
If we're getting right down to business, the most important spreadsheet I keep (on Google Docs, but your preference) is the one where I keep track of the money I am owed each month. As you can see, it's nothing complicated but it allows me to clearly track invoicing, payment and my per-word-rate for negotiation purposes. Those highlighted in green have been paid, those highlighted in red have not. This lives in a folder with invoices I have filed.
I got the inspiration for this idea from Steven Johnson's blog post on The Writer's Room. It's basically an ongoing list of ideas. This could be a half-baked thought, a fully formed idea with research or, part of a sentence. And it's a good idea to keep the oldest first. That way, you're forced to skim over previous ideas and maybe find some old gems. Sometimes, I highlight the completed ideas in green and some of the better ones in yellow but, it's up to you.
It's a good idea to keep track of the pitches you send and I do this in a spreadsheet. These are not half-baked ideas, these are the fully formed queries you have sent out to editors with the hope that the stars have aligned. I tend to highlight the accepted pitches/stories in green as a motivational push to pitch, pitch, pitch.
I like to keep track of publications to pitch and submission guidelines by saving them in an instapaper folder. When I'm stuck on story ideas or more likely, publication ideas, it's handy having these links on hand to jog my memory. It also means that I'm more likely to keep pitching when I have differnet options.
Quotes and Notes
Thanks to an annotation in Rolf Potts' Marco Polo Didn't Go There, I now try to keep note of interesting quotes, facts, statistics etc. that may one day come in handy for a story. (A note: it's good to try to keep the quote or note in its context but it can be hard to include a whole passage in a document. If you're going to use it, it's always good to recheck the facts, wording and the context of the quote/fact/stat first).
To do list (paper or online)
Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people who loves stationary or, loves to write to-do lists (they seem to go hand in hand). In fact, I prefer to keep my to-do list in my head. But, of course, it doesn't always work. Because of this, I keep one flat, weekly planner without dateson my desk and a 'sticky' on the desktop of my laptop. I tend to fluctuate between the two but having both is a good reminder of any urgent tasks and upcoming deadlines.
For more on freelancing + money which is really what all this organisation is about, check out:
Manjula Martin's newsletter three cents (she also created the now defunct Scratch magazine)