Us freelancers/small business owners have a lot on our plates. At first, maybe it’s enough to be good at what we do, but eventually, as the business rolls in (fingers-crossed), we find ourselves also having to be good managers—of projects, of deadlines, of clients, and of our work. If business is good, you might have multiple projects going on at the same time, each with their own files, notes, documents, deadlines, and the like.
With all this new responsibility, how does one stay organized and manage multiple projects? Here are some tools and tricks of the trade to keep you on top over everything:
Day-Planner for Organizing To-Do Lists
My entire professional life lives in my Moleskine weekly planner. Each week has its own page so I can schedule meetings, phone calls, and appointments, andinclude my obsessive daily check-lists, so I can keep track of milestones and follow-ups for each day. Projects for which I bill hourly, have my hours for each day recorded beside each item in the checklist, so at the end of the project I can go back and tally the time up.
The secret of a good checklist is to include any and every step of a project in your list. Maybe your presentation to your client isn’t due until Friday (“Client X: Submit Presentation” gets penciled in on Friday, of course), but you know that you need to start quoting some prices on Monday, spend 2 hours on the presentation on Tuesday, (Wednesday’s booked on another project, so that’s out), 4 more hours on Thursday, etc. By scheduling all of your work out, you’ll have a much better idea of what needs to be done each day and deadlines won’t sneak up on you. I also include email follow-ups, invoice submittals, and even my own blogging schedule in my Moleskine.
Individual Client Folders/Label Maker
When you’re busy juggling twelve different projects for twelve different clients, it can sometimes get a bit difficult to keep all of your papers and notes straight. With a folder for each client (labeled with a label-maker), I manage to keep all of my notes and papers for each client separate. When it’s time for a phone call, I pull out the folder and take notes, easily able to reference later on. Current projects’ folders are all kept within hands reach and older projects’ folders are catalogued alphabetically.
Organized Bookmarks/Tabbed Browsing
Each client comes along with websites, whether it’s their own, their hosting account, associated research, etc. I organize these URLs by creating a web bookmark folder for each client. I use tabbed browsing when I’m working on several projects on one day, each client has its own window, full of tabs associated with that project. At the end of the day, I can add any new sites to the client’s bookmark folder. This keeps websites organized the same way my files are, so everything’s in one place and easily retrievable.
Organized Document Folder/Plenty of Desktop Aliases
Just like your web browser and your tangible paperwork, your computer’s document folder needs to stay organized so your projects—and their associated electronic documents, images, files, etc.—are easily found and easily managed. Inside my documents folder, each client has its own folder and each project its own sub-folder. I also add another “business” folder, for proposals, invoices, etc. Current clients each have an alias or shortcut on the desktop for easy access.
Sensing a pattern yet? “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
Filing Cabinet/Document Organization System
Receipts, invoices, tax info, legal documents, bills… In addition to the papers we need every day for our work, there’s a lot of other paper that finds its way into our homes and offices. By keeping these important documents organized and filed away, they don’t clutter our desks/offices and therefore make it a whole lot easier to focus on the work at hand.
With important documents come lots and lots of unimportant documents. Many of which, unfortunately, contain personal information identity-thefters would love to get their hands on. Having a shredder next to the recycle bin makes it easy to organize mail and documents on a daily basis so papers don’t pile up and your workspace stays organized.