Designing a Project Management Planner for freelancers

I have started a part-time job and independent projects since last year, but I have been having trouble managing multiple projects by my own. If I focused one project, I forgot other projects to do. When I had an idea to do sometime later but couldn’t made progress. After some weeks I felt terrible because of many tasks left even though I’ve worked hard. I have used a daily checklist, which I liked a lot, but it wasn’t enough to see the overall progress of the projects.

I tried multiple digital apps, but they were
- not easy to see a different time scale in one view,
- hard to access anywhere,
- not good to plan vague future tasks.
- And I basically don’t prefer typing keypad than writing on paper. Writing helps me better to organize my thoughts.

So, I decided to make my own physical planner.

The goals of the new planner are:
- It should be compact and light to bring with me anywhere
- It should show both a daily checklist and project progress at the same time.
- It should be able to show both daily schedule and tasks to manage my time actively.
- It should help to plan ahead and review the past.

Concept of the new planner

Its fundamental concept is a two-row structure. The upper zone is for the progress of the projects, and the lower area is for the daily checklist and schedule. I thought it would be good to describe the progress like a horizontal bar graph with task blocks. I didn’t fix the timeline for the bars because each project might have different speed and type of tasks. (Sometimes flexibility works better.)

Planning ahead
- Write down the tasks per projects. One block means one task in figure 1. Each task block will be added to the right side of the bar.
- I use the concept of Input and Output for the upper part. The input means all elements that help me to grow, such as taking an online class or reading a news article. The output means all the performances that I make using my skills. It’s because I wanted to value my time for learning. (I wrote Project A, B, and C as the output in the figure above.)
- Rewrite the tasks in the upper part to the bottom to make them the actual to-dos. Put the same work in multiple days if necessary.
- Also write schedules, such as meetings, in the lower part but be mindful of the time.

Reviewing the plan
- Use symbols for daily to-do.

- Use colors for weekly review. Check how much time you spent on each project in the past week.

How to use

1. Write projects and tasks in the upper part.
2. Plan the jobs and schedules of the week
3. Fill the gap with the tasks of the week and checkboxes.
4. Daily check — Fill the symbols in the check boxes. Write the date you worked next to the task in the upper zone.
5. Weekly check — mark the completed tasks with the color boxes.

Making a DIY planner

Based on the structure, I finally chose the B5-size(25.2x17.9cm) note from Muji. (It’s only $1.5!) Here are the steps:

1. This note is ruled until the end of the paper, so it was just perfect to make the upper zone look continuous. It’s also good to divide the lower area. It has 30 sheets, which means I can make 203 days in this note except the first and last page and weekly plan section. So it’s short to include a year, but it was okay for me because I didn’t want to carry a thick note with me.
It has total 38 lines on one page. I divided them by 20 for the upper part and 18 for the lower one. The paper clips help to cut the paper straight. Be mindful not to cut the cover.
Fold the bottom sheet twice to quadrisect. Start the planner from the second page to see a week in one view.

After 4 months…

So, this is my current planner.

I made the text blurry for the security.
  • It was not convenient to carry many color pens, so I basically have used a black pen, and colored only at home with crayons. I underlined the tasks in the bottom instead of boxes.
  • It was effective to compare the amount of my goal and completion.
  • It was good to see the progress of each project and the days I worked on the projects.
  • It was easy to see the amount of time I spent on each project.

In the middle of using it, I needed long-term milestones. So I made a yearly planning section on the last page. In this case, I put two months on one page. It would be better to make this yearly part in the beginning. But overall, I am very satisfied with my planner.