I think one of the hardest parts about being freelance full time is the act of juggling my schedule. This includes my different work projects (currently I have one that's super active, several more in the wings, and some on hold while I wait for feedback) but also my personal projects and appointments and plans with friends. If I want to have good work/life balance, I have to keep track of how I spend my time and stick to my internal deadlines and checkpoints on projects to prevent procrastinator's meltdown.
To keep on top of my commitments I've tried lots of different schedulers. Most recently this includes awesome planning systems like the Passion Planner (which I still love but find a little restrictive) and the Happy Planner (which I love aesthetically but didn't really work out for me). Until I started my DIY little brain book planner, I had a hard time getting everything I wanted.
Here's what I've learned:
- I hate regular to-do lists. The act of writing stuff down in a particular order really stresses me out--I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure I'm putting the "right" thing first. In general I've found that I'm not a super linear thinker, and my diary/planner/brain book has to allow me to think non-linearly in order for it to be successful. It's hard to find a designed planner that allows for mind mapping, so I have turned to a DIY option.
- Related to the first one: I will overload myself given a chance. I'm always overly optimistic about my projects and the time I have to complete them in. With a small notebook, I can generally fit about 5-6 things I have to get done on a single mind map. More than that and I'm overreaching and probably on a track to burn myself out. Knowing this limitation really helps me prioritize.
- Wasted days/weeks/months bug me. I'll admit it, sometimes I fall off the wagon. I hate looking back and seeing that there are wasted pages in my planner.
- It needs to be portable. Like, really portable. The PP was okay and the HP was horrible in terms of portability. If I don't have it on me I won't use it. My current brain book is 4"x6" and fits in my back pocket (I know because I've carried it around in my back pocket before).
- I really appreciate a space to journal when I need it. I definitely don't journal every day, but I've found that on days when my anxiety is up, having a space to journal is really helpful for sorting out my feelings and getting them out of my head.
So what does this all amount to?
A tiny notebook, about $6/pop, that I write in. Specifically I really like the pocket Decomposition Book, sold at my local indie bookstore.* The pages are a little thin, but overall they hold up pretty well and are way cheaper than a comparable Moleskine. I use mind maps for daily planning, and hand-drawn monthly pages as I need them. It's stupidly simple. It allows for whatever I need it to be.
My "Brain Book" includes:
- daily to-do lists (mind maps, technically) and appointment reminders
- a spot for daily journaling
- monthly layouts with appointments that are further out, deadlines for projects, and holidays/vacations
- a place to write out passwords I need to remember
- meal plans and grocery lists (I'm trying to save money for a trip to Scotland next year, and most of my discretionary income right now goes towards eating out--planning my meals and sticking to that plan really helps keep me on target to save cash!)
- important notes to myself about projects or phone calls I made
- miscellaneous lists for traveling, projects, supplies, and errands
- when I'm at conferences it also serves as my note-taking space about talks I saw and people I met
It's not fancy but it works for me. I'm on my third book after 7 months and about to go get another. The most important thing I find is that this forces me to think about what I want to get done in a day in order to feel productive and "on top of things". And if I don't mind map, that's okay too. No wasted space. If I need to journal about something that happened or a feeling I've been having, I have a place for it.
How do you guys keep track of your projects and daily schedule? What systems have you tried?
* I use the same notebooks for projects and lab notes/drawings as well, just in the big size.