How I created an editorial calendar that works for me

By Brittany Taylor

I know my way around an editorial calendar. I’m not bragging. I’m not even humblebragging. It’s just the truth: Editorial calendars and I are besties.

Except when it comes to my own website.

When I worked at The Magazine, I managed the editorial calendar for five verticals. I planned out holidays! I handled campaigns! I prepped for the glossy release! And almost every single post I sketched out on that calendar made it from my brain to the internet.

But when it comes to my own website? Forget about it.

When I work with blogging clients, I routinely juggle three or four editorial calendars at a time—and I love it. I’m anal about it. I update those suckers constantly, and I stick with ‘em.

But when it comes to my own website? Yeah, you got it: No way in hell can I make a traditional editorial calendar stick.

It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve tried, folks! I started with an Excel sheet, my Magazine go-to. When that tanked, I tried Trello. No good. Then, I moved on to Asana. Nope. Then, I went old school, wayyy old school: paper. Post-its on the wall, printed calendar, nada.

It was epic fail after epic fail, and so many hours wasted setting up these different systems.

What went wrong

I have an accountability problem. I know that; I made “accountability” my 2018 word of the year (read more about that here).

Still, what made the difference between sticking with The Magazine’s editorial calendar and with my clients’ editorial calendars?

I seem to be motivated by guilt and a huge fear of disappointing people. So, when I have a calendar I share with a boss and coworkers (or with clients, as the case may be), I feel indebted to them. I have to get that work done because they know what to expect from me and I don’t want to fall short of that expectation.

The big problem with that is I have no problem disappointing myself, apparently. The only firm deadlines I stick with are my clients’ deadlines. Any I set for myself might as well be written in chalk, given how easily I brush them away.

It wasn’t so much the systems I tried that were failing me, it was me. It was my lack of willpower. It was that I didn’t care enough, that I didn’t respect myself enough so follow through on my goals.

Ouch. Admitting that stings.

One more problem

Maybe you’ve noticed, maybe you haven’t, but the content I publish isn’t cookie-cutter content. If you can get it somewhere else, I’d rather point you to the best resource for it than recreate that same tutorial or list or whatever it is here. I want to be known for my originality, my depth, and my thoughtfulness—so that’s what I do.

The issue with that is much of my originality, depth, and thoughtfulness leans heavily on inspiration to make it worthwhile. The standard editorial calendars I created over the last few years were chock-full of ideas, but staring at the headline of the blog post I intended to publish next week didn’t inspire me.

I resented it. Looking at my own editorial calendar felt akin to looking at a homework planner in 5th grade. I didn’t want to do it—and I didn’t want to do it so much that I could write out the headline, peck out an outline, and stare at my screen in blank defiance for an hour.

Sometimes, my brain is my own worst enemy.

What I’ve learned from wasting so much time

Here it is: You have to work around your own shortcomings. Let me explain.

For a very long time, I tried to pretend that I was a perfect person. I would ignore or hide my flaws, and if I thought something might be a problem, I’d do whatever I could to avoid confronting it.

I don’t do that anymore (and it feels freeing).

I still struggle with creating an editorial calendar because, truthfully, I love creating them. I love the minute details required in getting them set up. I love pin-pointing seasons and holidays and campaigns. I love brainstorming content ideas. It really is the follow-through that gets me. When I get the itch to make myself a new one, I have to remind myself that it’s a waste of time.

So, there’s that. There’s also the problem of having a set list of ideas that I’ve decided ahead of time to work with.

What my editorial calendar looks like today

How do I handle both of those problems and keep my content creation under control? In a very free, loosey-goosey sort of way, it turns out:

  • I have my blog categories scrawled on an index card, and I’ve washi-taped that index card to the wall above my desk.
  • Next to each category is a Post-it flag with a number on it. The lower the number, the more recently I’ve published a blog post in that category.
  • When I’m writing new blog posts, I concentrate, first, on the least-recent category.
  • After the post is written, I add it to my calendar so I don’t forget that it exists. Then, I produce it, schedule it, and forget about it until it goes live.

That’s it.

Of course, there’s some fine print.

There are more index cards taped to my wall with series, campaigns, products, or other timely ideas. Those take priority when I sit down to write.

And, when I’m writing on a certain topic, I tend to write multiple blog posts around that topic at once and then space them out on my publishing schedule. That way, I give myself the opportunity to say everything I have to say on that one idea while I’m still excited about it.

When I’m not motivated to create content, I find the act of brainstorming is often the push I need to recover my inspiration. Ten minutes with a pen and a blank sheet of notebook paper will set me up for an afternoon of blog post writing.

What do I do with these brainstorms if I’m not inputting the good blog post ideas into an editorial calendar? I keep them. I hoard them. And when I’m not feeling the mojo, I take out my old notebooks and thumb through my scribbles until I light on an idea that piques my interest.

That’s it, folks. That’s how a former magazine editor and editorial calendar lover manages her content.

One last thing

There are a lot of blog posts that will tell you exactly how to create an editorial calendar that will solve all of your content creation problems. And you know what? You might get lucky. You might hit on the perfect solution your first go-round.

But if you don’t, don’t pretend it’s working when it’s not. Don’t assume that the existing solutions or the one a successful business owner uses are the only options out there. And please—please—don’t give up.

This isn’t just about editorial calendars, friends. This is about everything work and life bring your way. Sometimes, you need to create your own solution. And sometimes—lots of times—it’s going to take time to figure out what that solution is.

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- Brittany Taylor