Freelancing · Tips and Tricks

How to Stay Organized: Tips for Entrepreneurs, Freelancers, and Consultants

Over the last two weeks, the convergence of meetings, customer deadlines, and new demands have made staying on top of my schedule more than just “a good thing to do.” It is imperative to my sanity and success as a one-person consulting business and entrepreneur. So, how do I do it? Time to share some of my organization tips!

First, let me point out that I have a neurotypical brain. Many of my friends and colleagues do not. So, what works well for me will likely not work for them. And that’s perhaps the first bit of advice: by all means, use my list as inspiration, but don’t feel like it’s the One True Way to keeping all your ducks in a row. Think about what will work for how you think about projects and responsibilities, and build from there.

Outsource Your Brain

My brain is appallingly bad at remembering things. Names, faces, facts, times, they bounce in for a moment and then right back out. I know this about myself. I don’t like it, but I accept that’s just how it’s going to be. In response to this memory limit, I outsource my brain to lists, calendars, and notes.

Outsourcing knowledge is something I learned in library school. Training to be a reference librarian turned out to be perfect for me. I didn’t have to remember the details of history or the minutiae of chemistry. I only had to remember where to find the books and articles on the topic. It was all about searching for data without ever having to retain the data itself.

Having outsourced my brain, I must get in the habit of checking in that brain. I’ve seen people build a robust list of things they need to accomplish but still miss tasks. They have outsourced what they need to remember, but they never refer back to make sure they remember to do it. The act of writing something down is necessary but not sufficient for remembering to do it.

Organize Your Lists

I love lists. There’s something satisfying about ticking off a box and watching it disappear into a log file somewhere. One could even argue that my lists have lists. That’s because I organize my lists by client and/or project. I use Things, but other apps can do the same thing.

Organizing lists within lists and having a log file that keeps track of what you’ve completed are incredibly powerful tools for staying organized. Managing the list by client or project helps separate it into mental buckets. Having a log file that captures completed items is a valuable reference when you need to look back at what you’ve done, either for reporting purposes or just for the satisfaction of seeing how many things you’ve accomplished in a given time frame.

Before you go all Gantt Chart-y on your life, organized lists do not have to be complete project plans. Try not to go more than two levels deep on any lists you have (‘Client’ followed by ‘Project’ works well for me). Project plans usually involve more than one stakeholder and capture what a group needs to do to achieve a specific goal. While I create client project plans, my lists are simply reminders for myself about particular tasks I need to do.

Color Code Your Calendar

Aggressive calendar management is necessary for any organized entrepreneur. That means protecting blocks of time in your calendar so you can do the work in your contract or assigned during meetings. It is so very easy for calendars to get away from people, especially if they don’t think of it as outsourcing part of their brain.

I love timeboxing my calendar, and I’ve found it particularly useful to assign colors that match the active clients or projects in my lists. Determining what to do with that random hour between calls takes a lot of work. Knowing at a glance where to check my list for the next useful task saves considerable time.

Have a Scratchpad Ready

Last but not least: have a scratchpad ready for ideas you cannot handle now but don’t want to forget. I use Evernote, and I have pages of brainstorming ideas for blog posts, business ideas, and informal notes from conference calls to refer back to when I’m ready to come back to a client or idea.

I have impressed friends and influenced people by being able to drop back to an old note that captured their thoughts from a call three months ago. Do I remember what was in the note? Not in the slightest! But I do remember where to find my notes, which makes all the difference. It also helps when it’s Friday afternoon, and I have yet to write the weekend blog posts. A quick skim of my scratchpad, and I can usually find something I can write about before the weekend.

Wrap Up

Entrepreneurs, freelancers, and consultants, we are all task-switching junkies. We will not just be interrupted; we will completely swapping contexts several times a day. By having a system in place that is ready to bootstrap you back into the next context on your list, you will save time, impress your clients, and keep your sanity.

Thank you for reading my post! Please leave a comment if you found it useful. If you want to start your own blog or improve your writing, you might be interested in another effort I’m spinning up, The Writer’s Comfort Zone. Learn more here!

If you’d like to have me on a podcast or webinar, my media kit is available for your reference. 

One thought on “How to Stay Organized: Tips for Entrepreneurs, Freelancers, and Consultants

  1. Yes! It is essential to have a system in place to keep up with deadlines and new demands. This is where timeboxing and color coding your calendar come in. Having a system in place will help separate your brain into mental buckets and keep you on track. Lastly, having a scratchpad ready will help you come up with ideas before they get lost in a project plan.

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