Ad agencies want to bill every minute of employee time to their clients, so they demand daily timesheets – which require each project have a unique tracking ID.

While I don’t track my time with such precision (any more), I have adapted my last ad agency’s job tracking system to my freelance practice, and while I’ve tried other methods over the years, I keep coming back to this simple, elegant system.

At the start of every year, I simply print a simple gridded spreadsheet with job numbers (each line increments by 1), and when I begin a new project, I pick up the clipboard/binder near my desk and assign that job the next number on the list (along with a start date).

The simple job tracking grid

The simple job tracking grid: fast, easy, and offline.

It couldn’t be simpler.

The Benefits?

Suddenly, each job comes equipped with its own unique job number, so I can simply note that number on everything associated with that job (copy files, invoices, passthrough costs, travel expenses, etc).

And because my numbering system begins with the year (“I started this year’s sheet with “2009100” – the next job assigned will be “2009101”), I can tell at a glance which jobs have been invoiced (because yes, I do forget), which are finished, and even if a suspended job needs a tickler sent to a client.

More importantly, you’ll have a paper index of all your jobs – one that’s easy to scan, so you can tell at a glance which jobs are lagging, and which of your jobs haven’t been invoiced (yes, I have forgotten to invoice jobs in the past).

Every freelance writer develops an internal process for handling the business – and I’m sure there’s a technology-enhanced method for handling this one (if I wrote a lot of editorial, I’d probably integrate this into one of the PC or online submission tracking systems).

Still, simple offers a quality all its own (namely, it’s sustainable over the long run), and it’s hard to argue with what works, no matter how low-tech.

Click here to download the basic job-tracking spreadsheet in Excel format (.xls). Modify it to fit your process, and let us know how it works.

Keep writing, Tom Chandler.