Let's Get Organized — Part 2 of 2

Monday, March 31, 2014

This is a cross-post with Muddy Colors — An Illustration Collective

Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

In Part 1, I talked about the benefits of keeping track of your working hours with digital calendars. For this installment, I wanted to share how I organize my various assignments, while also tallying income and expenses.

But before I move on to the next subject, I wanted to clarify how I use Calendar. If I have a specific appointment that is time-sensitive, I will, of course, mark it down at the appropriate time in the future. Everything else is simply logged as I go (pressing Control + the Up or Down arrow moves events forward or backward 15 minutes, while that plus Shift increases or decreases the duration by the same amount). It's a to-do list and a log, as opposed to a schedule.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #646, Variant Cover. 2010.
Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 x 17".

Moving on. It's tax season yet again, and while I entrust my accountant to take care of filing, I still need to keep track  of the many projects I complete throughout the year (and whether or not they were paid for). Prior to 2012, I had an exclusive contract with Marvel comics, which meant that although I was paid per project like a freelancer, I was actually treated like an employee when it came to payroll and taxes — in other words, I received a W-2 at the end of the year that was calculated by my single employer. Nice and easy.

When I became a true freelancer with many different projects and clients, deadlines were no longer the only detail I had to worry about. To keep things from getting out of hand, I created a spreadsheet with Google Docs that can record and tally all manner of information. (I also use Google Docs for recording art print inventory and to write comic scripts. It keeps everything updated no matter what computer I'm working from.)

Here's a link to the document in the Template Gallery. It contains fanciful information, but I filled in all the cells as if for the current year. The rows are color-coded according to the type of work — that makes it easier to see what's on the slate at a glance. Red is used to highlight projects in progress and/or pending payments. (If you've used a spreadsheet before, it should be intuitive, but you can find more detailed instructions here.)

There are two main benefits to keeping these records: (1) my gross and net income for the year is automatically calculated as each project is added and (2) my project rate is divided by the hours, which lets me know how valuable my time is (to people other than myself). This information will help me make decisions in the future, like whether or not I want to work for a particular client again. The pic above reveals 7 of the 148 rows from last year's records. As you can see, my hourly rates are totally unpredictable. (And I get into negative territory when I do pro bono work that nevertheless requires paid assistance.)

Long before I started using a spreadsheet, I recorded all my transactions with Quicken, an easy-to-use personal accounting program. I still use it because having separate records can help me discover errors when there are discrepancies between the two. If you're diligent about categorizing every transaction, Quicken can generate a year-end report that lets you know how you spent your money. When it comes to tax-deductible purchases, (computer equipment, conventions, travel, art supplies, meals, lawyers, utilities, rent, advertising, printing) you still need to save all your receipts, but you won't have to add them up — it's already done.

That's quite a bit of information that you need to keep track of. And that's not even counting the countless digital files that comprise your actual oeuvre. It's only a matter of time before your computer gives out on you, and you had best have a backup. After burning through several external hard drives, I stopped using them years ago, opting instead for an on-line service, CrashPlan. I don't ever want to have to use it, but that's what insurance is for.

You've probably heard of Evernote, but just in case you haven't, it's worth a look. Although they offer a paid subscription, the free service is more than enough for me. I use it for reading (it can strip away ads and save articles for later), gather reference for projects, structure plots and ideas for my own stories, or even remember people I meet. (Oh, and recipes too.) They seem to be a responsible company as well. When Adobe's servers got hacked, Evernote was the one to tell me — not Adobe. They cross-referenced the leaked data and informed anyone with an email address that appeared in their own records.

Last, but not least, my most annoying recommendation: I have my computer announce the time every 15 minutes. My wife hates it (and I can't blame her). I got the idea when visiting then-Marvel-editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada. It was a constant, grating interruption — but it kept us focused on the task at hand.


  1. Do you mind expanding on how you use CrashPlan? Do you find the free option sufficient or have you chosen a pay plan?

    1. I have a pay plan, the one with unlimited storage for up to 10 computers, and I share it with my whole family. I think it's like $4/month.


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Design out of the FlyBird's Box.