An Ode to My Planner

A guide to staying organized as a freelancer.

As a freelancer, you’ve reached the big leagues of staying organized. No more parents or teachers standing over your shoulder. No more bosses pre-ordering office and organizational supplies for you to grab at whim from the supply closet. Yes, I (occasionally) miss those days too. Yet, congratulations, because it’s likely that if you’re a freelancer, you have mastered an organization system that allows you to manage all your clients and projects, while still finding the time to seek out new opportunities. I for one know that I would never have made it this far without my planner(s) and therefore would like to take a moment to give a shout out to those little books and the ways they help me to stay sane.

Photo credit: Mariel Tavakoli
Photo credit: Mariel Tavakoli

Planning a To-Do List

Planners have always held the most important role of being a to-do list for my crazy brain and the millions of directions it always wants to go at once. As a visual learner, it’s hard for me to remember anything I need to do, or anything at all by simply hearing it or talking about it. Making constant lists is my way to both keep track of my tasks and to get that small sense of satisfaction when I can cross an item off. Whether writing down my plan to go grocery shopping or accomplish a major milestone in a work project, storing this information in my planner in a to-do list is the best way to take some pressure off my brain, prioritize these tasks, and create an action plan to make sure everything is completed by the end of the day.

My Planner: When I look for a new planner for my year’s-worth of list-making, I’m looking for space in each day to write out several tasks and sufficient space to scribble notes, draw stars and other prioritizing marks, and draw lines through my finished tasks with gusto.

Electronic Versions: Various tools now exist to centralize your tasks in one home on your computer, mobile phone, or both for easy access amidst your online lifestyle.

  • Remember the Milk: Use colors and smart tools to visualize your to-do list and make planning fun. Great for the forgetful and those who love to color-coordinate!
  • Todoist: Sleek, simple, and comprehensive. Todoist will take your to-do list to the next professional level with tools for both organization and collaboration.
  • Toodledo: A great system for those who love to categorize, filter, and track every step of progress. Toodledo will help you to prioritize and keep yourself in line.


Planning Time Today

Balancing various freelance jobs requires careful time management, both for personal and professional purposes. Working from your home office can easily lead to distractions. First, you’re getting up to throw in that last load of laundry and suddenly, you’re going through your entire closet and switching out your winter clothes for summer dresses. We’ve all be there, but taking the time to map out your time each day is the first step to sticking with a productive, work schedule. Now that you have your to-do list, a planner that allows you to then visualize those activities over the course of the day provides that sense of security that there really are enough hours in the day to get it all done.

A fresh, new planner for an exciting and memorable year! #myAAG #TakeNote #planning #flowers

A photo posted by AT-A-GLANCE (@_at_a_glance) on

My Planner:  I love having a column for each day, with the hours of the day listed out. This allows me to literally box out my time for different activities and ensure that I’ll be able to fit all my commitments in. This is also a great way to track your time for the purpose of invoicing. My personal favorite is made byAT-A-GLANCE and has been my survival tool throughout university and post-graduate life.

Electronic Versions: We all know and love Google Calendar, but here are some other cool daily planning tools to map your time and visualize your schedule each day.

  • DayViewer: For more of a professional spin on making your daily schedule, experiment with DayViewer. This online and mobile platform allows you to color code and plan out your time in an efficient, and visually-pleasing way.
  • Cal: Although only available on mobile devices, Cal showcases your daily activities as soon as you open the app. With clear, bold images and a clean design, you’ll love using Cal to see all of your plans for the day in one simple list.
  • Day Designer: Day Designer offers free trial and printable versions of their organization systems that are a great start to try out a daily planner system. Who knows though, you might just be tempted to buy one of their colorful, cute physical planners!

Planning Big Picture

Although freelancing requires efficiency each and every day, as you control your own workload and timelines, you need a place to plan your time on the bigger scale. We’re talking weeks, months, and even years! There’s nothing more unprofessional than having to push back a deadline because you overbooked yourself. Having a planner with space to map out what you need to do at a larger scale will ensure that you’re not overcrowding any one square on your calendar. Most of all, having a calendar with space for long-term planning will encourage you to think about what kinds of jobs, skills training, or plans you want to have in the future. Make sure you have a planner that accounts for your goals and dreams that are ambitious and far-reaching as you are.

My Planner: Any planner I purchase must have monthly calendar pages. While I’ve adapted to the list of days in each month type of view, I prefer the traditional calendar with boxes for each day that I can jot down deadlines within. This is also the best for me to visualize where my plans fall within the scheme of the days of the week and see when I’m front-loading or back-loading my schedule in each week or month.

Downloadable calendars for 2017, from Asaltodemata.
Downloadable calendars for 2017, from Asaltodemata.

Electronic Versions: Almost any OS has a basic calendar feature, but these websites, applications and apps give you the tools to personalize, customize, and make your calendar alive with flair.

  • Jorte Calendar: Modeled after the physical planner, Jorte Calendar syncs with several platforms to host all your long-term plans in one centralized location. With plenty of features, Jorte is versatile with multiple ways to track all the exciting events coming up in your life.
  • SolCalendar: For Android devices, SolCalendar is a winner for monthly planning. Use emojis and graphics to make your calendar look as creative and colorful as your freelance lifestyle.
  • Cozi Family Planner: If your responsibilities for organization extend to the whole family, Cozi Calendar is your solution to see the plans for each family member in one location. Color-coded events, monthly, and weekly views make it easy keep the whole family in line.

Planning Everything Else

If you’re a lover of planners, you’re also likely a lover of notebooks. To me, there’s nothing more exciting and inspiring than a blank notebook—so many pages to be filled with ideas, sketches and random thoughts that can be lost and found again. Best of all, what you write today can unexpectedly connect with something you wrote weeks before as you flip through the pages. However, if you’d rather be at the dentist than in a stationary store, the number one reason to invest in a good notebook is that you never know when you’ll need to take notes. Maybe you’ll be caught off guard by a catch-up phone call with an old friend turned new job opportunity, or be at a bookstore and want to make a list of all the books you would read if you had endless time. Either way, your handy-dandy central notebook is your open, personal space to jot down all the important information that you need.

My Notebook: My new favorite notebooks are made by StudioC. Not only are they pretty, but they are soft, flexible, lined, and have a binding that won’t snag or break. Other personal favorites are of course the traditional Moleskine, or really any lined and lightweight notebook that can accompany me on all my adventures.

Image: PixelsAway

Electronic Version: Go beyond your phone or computer OS notes tool with some of these fun sites that provide you with tools to spice up your notes as if they were hand-written.

  • Evernote: As all-star of online note-taking, Evernote centralizes all your notes in one comprehensive and searchable system. Beyond written reminders and thoughts, Evernote also allows you to integrate images and documents as if you were storing these things physically in different file folders.
  • Lino: If you love post-it notes, Lino is a great system to electronically pin your notes on a bulletin board and arrange them. With different colors and a corkboard backdrop, you’ll feel like you have all your favorite physical tools with you on your laptop or mobile device.
  • Simplenote: For a clean and streamlined system, sample Simplenote. This website and app is as simple as its name and will allow you to focus on your written ideas, rather than get lost in colors and complicated features.

Have fun exploring these different planner types and online organizational systems for your freelance life! Then let us know which ones work best for you.


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Mariel Tavakoli

About the Author Mariel Tavakoli

Mariel is a writer, content marketer, ESL teacher, and writing coach. She loves all things cultural exchange and is always planning her next trip. She tweets @mstavakoli and writes on her website.