With the first day of spring right around the corner, this is a common time of year for people to go through their homes and clean out the mess. But spring cleaning doesn’t have to only apply to getting rid of old clothes or cleaning behind the refrigerator.
As journalists, there are a variety of ways that you can spring clean your work process to allow the rest of your year to run smoothly. Here are some ideas for spring cleaning your workspace, portfolio, and contacts so that you can get back to to doing what you do best, reporting.
Spring clean your workspace
Taking the time to clean out your workspace and organize your files allows you to not only free up your physical and digital space but will make your workflow more efficient.
So look around and ask yourself, how cluttered is your office, desk, notes and computer? Do you know where to find everything? Are you holding on to unnecessary notes or documents that are taking up space or making it more difficult to find key information?
If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to organize your interview notes. If you rely on physical notebooks, start adding headers to interview notes with dates and contact name, phone number or email. It can be helpful to add page numbers and create a table of contents on the inside cover for quick reference later. There are a plethora of options for organizing electronic notes, such as tagging, or using a notes database like OneNote or Evernote. Both have robust search capabilities that make it easy to find information.
As for your computer, do you have a ton of files just sitting there waiting to be categorized? Trash unnecessary files and create folders to organize the ones you’re sure you will need. Having an exterior hard drive is handy for moving files off your computer that you don’t need immediate access to, such as old recordings you aren’t quite ready to get rid of or saved PDFs of past articles.
This is also a good time to update your organizational process and filing while you are at it. If you have a system in place, ask yourself if this system is still working for your current workflow or has it been too hard to maintain? If you don’t have a system, ask your colleagues what works for them and try some of their ideas. Just remember, that an organizational system is useless if not actively used, so be honest with yourself about what you are capable of maintaining and find something that works for you.
Spring clean your portfolio
When was the last time you updated your resume or portfolio of work? Whether you’re a freelancer or working in a newsroom, you should always remember to keep your portfolios up to date, even if you’re happy with where you are. Although, you may not be losing your job or have an interest in finding a new one, you never know what opportunities may arise where having this information at your disposal will come in handy. Perhaps one of your articles goes viral and now readers and other journalists want to know more about you and other pieces you have written.
If you have a website, a Muck Rack, or other variation of an online portfolio, take some time this spring season to make sure it’s up to date and figure out a system to help ensure it stays up to date. Maintaining a portfolio consistently will save you the hassle and stress of having to gather years of work together in short notice.
If you are one of those journalists that is diligent about regularly maintaining your portfolio, now may be a good time to sift through your work and decide if your work is saying what you want it to say. Perhaps you introduce yourself as a technology reporter to future clients, but as you look back through the work you notice that all your latest pieces have been about health care, and the technology aspects of those pieces get lost in the headlines. Are there ways you can reframe your work to show that technology is your focus and expertise? Or have you spent the last five years writing about banking, but really want to get a position writing about startups and venture capitalists. How can you display your work to show that you have the skill set to make the move to a different beat?
Spring clean your contacts
Ask yourself, when was the last time you went through the contacts in your phone and when was the last time you backed them up? Maybe when you were cleaning out your notebooks you realized you didn’t save contact information you had jotted down in the moment. As journalists we should be regularly maintaining and checking in with our contacts, because contacts can be crucial to getting the information you need.
If you predominantly keep your source contacts in your phone, you may want to consider transferring your contacts somewhere secure that you can still readily access them on the go, should anything ever happen to your phone. A password-protected Excel file that syncs across your devices is a simple way to do this and apps like Evernote not only sync easily, but can scan business cards.
Don’t just maintain your contact list, but check in with your contacts, as well. Have some of them changed jobs? Have their emails or phone numbers changed? Has it been a long time since you’ve reached out to them? Maybe it’s time to send them a simple message to check in and ensure you are always contacting the right person for future stories.
Spring cleaning doesn’t have to only happen in the spring
Even though it is common to clean up things in the springtime, try to make it a regular habit to check in with your organizational process, keep your notebooks labeled and sorted, your portfolio maintained, and keep regular contact with your sources. The more consistently you ‘spring clean’ the less work you have to do when spring rolls back around.