Sunday Mailbag

March 1st, 2009 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: With all the jobs you have going on at the same time, how do you juggle them all?  When you have a deadline for MAD and a job doing a poster and other odd jobs coming up, what do you do?  Do you work on the MAD in the morning, and the poster in the afternoon?  And what is your limit in terms of taking on more work?  Will you only do a certain number of projects at a given time?

A: Time management is something that can be difficult to get a handle on as a freelancer. Ideally you don’t ever want to find yourself in a situation where you have nothing to work on, and since you cannot expect to have the phone ring with a new job every time you put the final touches on your latest project, you have to accept multiple jobs at once.

Personally I do not find it too difficult to juggle several jobs at once, mainly because a freelance job is never something that in continuous work from beginning to end. There are always different phases of each job, and in between each phase there is time to work on something else while waiting for the next phase to begin. Each job might have a final art deadline, but they really involve several small deadlines culminating in the final deadline.

A typical job consists of a round of preliminary sketches, possible revisions, final pencils and then final art. Each of these steps require review by the client, and that sometimes takes anywhere from a day to a few days depending on the job. As long as you stagger these little deadlines you can work on several jobs at once without having them step on one another. The problems arise when you either take on too much work or you do not estimate the time it will take you very accurately and you find yourself with important deadlines that coincide. That must be avoided at all costs.

I plot out my schedule in advance, organizing my next few days by establishing self imposed deadlines for the different phases of whatever jobs I happen to have going. For example, if I have three jobs on the board at once I may figure doing pencil sketches for a MAD job on Monday morning, e-mail out the sketches and then while waiting for a reply from the editors spend the afternoon working on the color for a poster job in progress. The next day I start a sketches for a magazine cover job, send those in and then finish the color for the poster job. Once that’s done I start on the final pencils of the MAD job, etc. I find having a to do list where you can list these little deadlines and “check off” those completed really helps me stay on task to complete them. There are lots of easy “To Do” list programs for the computer than makes this simple. I use one called “Things” for the Mac.

The trick is to always have something you can work on while experiencing downtime waiting for approval on other jobs. That requires having work that vairies in it’s deadline intensity. Some jobs are tight deadlines and some have longer ones. The poster work I do for The Marlin Company are great jobs to have, because I get the art direction usually the first week of the month and the final is not due for about three weeks. That’s easy to set aside and then pick back up when other, more pressing deadline jobs are awaiting client review. Jobs with medium level deadlines have some room for flexibility but not as much as the poster work might, but they still can give way somewhat for a tighter deadline job to be accommodated. Of course as a freelancer you don’t get to pick and choose what comes your way, but in considering what work I accept I keep this in mind.

As far as limits for what work I can accept… of course I do have those but they are not quantifiable because all jobs are different. Sometimes circumstances allow me to take on a lot of jobs at once and sometimes things like deadlines that are too close together prevent that from happening. I have to play it by ear when considering new work. Usually there is a way to work almost any job into my schedule, but sometimes it is just impossible and I have to say no. That’s hard for a freelancer to do, but it’s better to say no than to accept a job and then not deliver it on time because you couldn’t manage the time to do it.

Thanks to Seth Wilks for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. […] MAD cartoonist Tom Richmond discusses juggling assignments as a freelancer. […]


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