How I Stay Organized (and Sane): My Personal Planning System for Doing the Things

Posted on 12 January, 2018 in Productivity / 38 Comments

How I Organized a Day Job, Side Hustle, and Multiple Blogs (and Still Slept at Night!)

Write it down. All of it.

Whether you’re a side hustler with a growing freelance gig or a full-time boss lady with multiple projects and income streams, solopreneurs are usually doing a thousand things at a time. There’s only one way to stay sane and avoid screw-ups: meticulous planning. 💁🏻

There’s too much to do, always.

I know you know the feeling.

You’re always coming up with one idea or another, and never at a time when you can actually work on it. So you need to write it down somewhere to save it for later.

You have due dates, to-do lists, plans, and outlines out the wazoo – for multiple projects, multiple companies, and with different priorities.

Don’t try to keep track of it all in your head. It’ll hurt.

Organizing and planning your work to make sure things stay on track is sometimes as hard as the work itself. But, such is the life of a hustler.

*le sigh*

Right now, since I’m at the beginning of this blog to biz thing, the biggest struggle is planning out a schedule makes room for everything I want to do.

Something that’s enough to make sure I get everything done for both my day and side jobs on time, but still flexible enough to make last-minute changes, because both gigs have a LOT of spontaneity.

Now, back to that meticulous planning, and to me geeking out about it. 🤓

Get Organized & Stay Organized_ How I Managed a 9-5, Freelance Side Hustle, and Multiple Blogs Without Burning Out

I still get amazing responses to last year’s post about how I organized my year. My planning processes have pretty much all changed significantly, especially with the paper tools, so I figured an update was necessary – and would be really fun to write. 🙂

Note: Hey, friend! 🎉 I originally wrote this post back in January 2016 (when I was working full-time, freelance writing, and managing this blog as well as others) to explain how I keep track of multiple projects.

Obviously, my systems changed a ton when I took my business full-time, but it still follows this general structure, so I updated this post to give you more info! 🙌

How I Use Paper Planners: How to Keep Track of Multiple Projects

I could probably lose a lined notebook, or get locked out of an important app, and be okay. But take away my planner and you’re taking away my brain.

My soul. My heart. My other half (Sorry, boyfriend of almost a decade).

A lot of female entrepreneurs make a very large deal about how paper planners aren’t “supposed” to work, but whenever I try to shift to 100% digital or fall out of my paper planning habits, things stop getting done. So I’m not going to fight it anymore:

Writing my priorities down on physical paper is the only way I’ll truly focus on them. I know that about myself and build my business systems accordingly. 

I cannot function without it.

Once, in college, I left my planner at my parents’ after a visit home and missed so many things – homework, club meetings, a freaking class – that I begged my mom to overnight it back to me.

It’s more than a weird, nerdy emotional attachment, although that relationship is indeed very real for me. 🤓

how to organize notebooks

My planners of choice include:

  • The Erin Condren Life Planner, which I’ve used to organize both day jobs as well as all kinds of side projects. (PS – Want $10 off a Life Planner of your own? Just sign up for their newsletter – here’s my referral link!)
  • Bando Planners, which are similar but a bit more basic and way, way, WAY more fun! Seriously, they’re the most fun planners.
  • May Designs planners, which are super affordable, come in a ton of cover options, and have one or two handfuls of different planner layouts, all of which have awesome uses.

These days, I’m using one of each, since I like using multiple planners. This helps me focus and compartmentalize.

For example, when I was working on my side hustle before work in the morning, I wouldn’t see my day job tasks in the same planner reminding me that I only had an hour left before I had to switch focus. With my business now full-time, I use one for my client work and one for my own business/brand’s content.

Work Planner: How to Keep Track of Multiple Projects

mention planner

(I spill Diet Coke on it sometimes, which is why this page is crinkly. It sucks, but my planner and a Diet Coke both need to be within arm’s reach of my body during all waking hours, so it happens.)

Here’s where I list out my top priorities for the day.

I’m not doing detailed planning since there’s not a ton of room (and we all know how I love detailed and actionable to-do lists!) and is best done online. But the task of writing down what I’m going to focus on sets intentions for the day, and having the open planner sitting besides me creates a physical reminder of where my priorities should be.

That’s a HUGE part of why paper planners still work, in my opinion.

When you close out of a project management app to check Facebook, your work is “out of sight, out of mind.” But if I’m scrolling through Facebook on a normal day, right next to my computer is a physical, tangible reminder of what I’m not doing but should be.

If the task or project has multiple steps, that stuff has already been broken down in Todoist, Trello, or one of the other tools our company processes live in. The planner is for focus and prioritizing more than breaking down projects.

Related: 7 Online Business Tools I’m Totally Ride or Die For

Click to Join the Free Email Course: Automate Your Creative Biz

Blog/Biz Planner: for Side Hustle Planning

Since I’m doing so much more with blogging and freelancing than last year, I decided it needed the space of its own planner.

Plus, I’m addicted to stationery, I had gift cards burning a hole in my pocket, and I wanted another goddamn planner. 💁🏻

For this one, I stayed with the vertical layout. I like that it divides things up since for this one, I will need to divide things. I normally label the 3 boxes for my 2 of my blogs and freelancing – my main focus these days.

blog planner week

But what’s awesome about creating my own versus using a blogging or freelancing planner is that my planner layout can change with my to-do list.

Those are my normal labels, but on weeks where I’m 100% focused on this blog, I’ve done things like divide it up by blogging task: admin, content, social, etc. During a busy week of client work, I can dedicate one row to each client.

Depending on the week, this can be a dedicated blogging planner, freelancing planner, moving planner, etc.

I also use the monthly view as an editorial calendar for this site and my book blog. I don’t stick to it 100%, but it’s helpful with setting deadlines for myself. There are just some weeks when I have several drafts started and switch which post I want to finish and publish that week, or publish one or two days later than planned.

blog planner month

The plan is to also experiment with adding freelance deadlines here, but you can see there’s not a lot of space. Since that work has several deadlines per post, with editing and everything, I’m worried it’ll get cluttered and harder to read.

I’ll also use the sidebar to jot down a few goals or things I want to focus on that month. Since taking the picture, I’ve also added freelance metrics, like my goals for income and number of pieces written. This area serves to remind me of my priorities and what I need to be focusing on, because I’m not great at focusing.

Paper Notebooks: for Planning, Notetaking, and Any Other Damn Thing

Since I keep things pretty simple in my planners, of course, I need a bunch of notebooks (read: I want a lot of notebooks) to go into more detail.

Here, too, I divide things up a lot.

In addition to having different notebooks for different jobs or blogs, a lot of bigger projects within those have their own notebooks, as well. For example, I’m almost at the point in planning my course where I’ll want a separate notebook for it.

In terms of how I take notes, for the past year I’ve mostly been doing my own spin on a bullet journal.

I create an index instead of a table of contents in the back now, and while I don’t do the rapid logging part, it has influenced my old process and it’s now a lot more flexible. I loved the system of creating different bullet styles for different types of notes, so I’ve created my own key. I don’t use the events part since I keep my calendar separate. And what would normally go in the logs would be more likely to be in my planner.

Mention Notebook: Swaggy Notebook from Poppin

So this is pretty much the same as last year – I use a Poppin notebook for taking notes at work. But this year it’s infinitely cooler! Our U.S. team ordered notebooks and swag for our customers last year, and since clearly, I’m obsessed with this stuff, I got to do a lot of the choosing.

So, of course, we went with one of my favorite companies and a fancy debossed logo. 😛

mention notebook

My favorite things about the Poppin notebooks are the attached ribbon bookmark, that the elastic band means you don’t worry about bending the spine until the notebook no longer closes, and that the top margins and page layout make it easy to set important info apart from the rest of the page.

And it could also be a great setup for bullet journaling.

For example, I note the date and sometimes a category in the top corners, then the “page title” in the rest of the top margin. Then I just write normally, but the size of the side margins is perfect for adding an asterisk to important lines.

Blog/Biz Strategy: Erin Condren Notebook

My next notebook, I like to call my master plan for world domination: It’s my blog to biz strategy notebook. My “Blog Bible.” It’s my first Erin Condren deluxe notebook, and it’s awesome.

I held out on splurging on one of these for a while, but decided it would finally be worth it for a few reasons:

  • I knew that with something really nice and fancy and that I would really love, I’d use it more. So it makes sense to use it for one of the most important things I’m doing right now, as a little subconscious motivation.
  • From the heavy-duty cover to the thick pages and strong coil for the spiral binding, these notebooks are made to last. I tend to be a little rough on my office supplies, and as a home for high-level plans and strategies, it needs to last long-term.
  • As always with Erin Condren supplies, the accessories take things to the next game. I have a monthly calendar added to the front, a dry-erase divider to separate different blogs and jot down notes, a pen holder, and lots of other things that make planning easier.

I normally use it during big brainstorming and planning sessions, so as-you-go bullet journaling doesn’t really work.

It serves as more of a guide, with a table of contents and different chapters for things like email content themes, future product and content upgrade ideas, and big picture product plans (stuff like outlines for the actual content would be somewhere that serves as less of a long-term reference).

blog strategy notebook

The lists and outlines that go in here are ones that will take a long time to cross everything out. For example, this is my list of ideas for my weekly emails curating links for solopreneurs, and this is the third page of it.

It’s something I can refer to again and again, add to and edit, etc.

You might wonder if I’m crazy for putting such long lists on paper instead of keeping them digital. That’s a fair question.

But when I do big brainstorming sessions and try to spend a few hours on just ideas, disconnecting as much as possible works best for me.

I’d probably get distracted more if I were coming up with the ideas on a computer.

Randos: May Designs Notebooks

I like smaller, more affordable office supplies for things that are less permanent. Things like my day-to-day “idea dump” notebooks. They tend to serve as mostly scrap paper – for when I need to write something out, but won’t be referring back to it more than once.

May Designs notebooks are priced like basic, generic notebooks, but are full of color and customization. They are, as Penny Hartz would say, “suh cyuht.” (So cute)

They also have a ton of different page layouts, so I have my options. My notebooks are a mix of blank pages, grids, dots, and lines.

They have “buy _____, get _____” deals a lot, and don’t cost too much to begin with, so it’s okay that I go through about one per month. I have a huge stockpile of about 10 right now, thanks to a huuuuuge end of year sale, and I love it!

I’m currently using 2 on the reg:

education notebook

The unicorn notebook (btw – unicorn – see what I meant when I said suh cyuht?) is what I’m using for educational notes. Ideas and to-dos I get from reading blog posts, taking ecourses, and participating in webinars and Twitter chats.

The second notebook is less interesting inside – random lists of non-business things to do, bills to pay, rough blog post outlines from before I move them into WordPress or Google Drive, etc. Right now it’s that dinosaur one that says “Bright Ideas.” It was a gift from the boyf, since dinosaurs are an inside joke between us, so I’m kind of sad I’ll have to be done with it so quickly. I should’ve planned that better, ironically.

Related: Inside My Unicorn Content Creation Process

With such random notes, a detailed table of contents or index would take up the whole thing, so instead, I mark the pages by color-coded categories.

bullet journal

I highlight the edge of each page based on which category the notes fall into. This is the education notebook, and each ebook and ecourse I’m going through has its own color. This makes it easy to find all of the notes for a certain topic, without having to go into detail of exactly what’s on which page.

Apps: For Even. More. Detail.

Now, paper is great, but your space is limited, and it’s not so fast. So I tend to use it for tracking projects versus individual tasks. If I wrote “check email” in my planner every time I had to do it, I would probably want to light my precious on fire. 😂

For tracking tiny tasks and appointments, or anything that I want to automate, I keep it digital.

Related: The Easiest Ways to Save Time on Your Business: Scheduling & Automation

Click to Join the Free Email Course: Automate Your Creative Biz

Daily Task Manager: Todoist

Todoist is where I keep the detailed breakdown of my day for everything from business stuff. About half the to-dos are added through automation – either through Todoist’s own advanced features or IFTTT and Zapier, so it’s the only tool I liked where I can get as detailed as I want to, without it taking forever.

I have 3 main projects for…my 3 main projects, plus a “Misc.” one for anything else.

My lifesavers are task templates, recurring tasks, and Karma. It has a bit of gamification with Karma, where you set goals. But it also gives you a lot of data, which helps me notice patterns and trends in my productivity and make sure my focus is where it needs to be.

Project Manager: Trello

I use Trello less than I used to since I’ve started to do as much planning offline and away from distractions, but there have been some things I haven’t been able to let go of it for.

It’s always been really great for mapping out large content projects like ecourse and ebooks and content pillars, particularly since it’s so easy to toggle between project lists and due date calendars.

Get Organized

Well, this post was way longer than I intended. Way, way longer. I must have, once again, underestimated how much I love organizing.

But now it’s over to you. What do you use to juggle all your creative endeavors?

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Get Organized & Stay Organized_ How I Managed a 9-5, Freelance Side Hustle, and Multiple Blogs Without Burning Out