The Freelancers Guide to Staying Organized

This post comes from our Australia contributor, Miann Scanlan. Follow along with her on Instagram @freepeopleaustralia!

I’ve always been a pretty organized person. Sometimes I even dance the fine line between organized vs. obsessive — to the point where I can’t sleep if my room isn’t clean, or I generally feel as if my world is crashing down around me if there’s clutter in my apartment. But even with my books that are laden with colored tabs and notes, my color-coordinated closet (with matching wooden hangers), and a paper filing system that works with both color and the alphabet, I still had much to learn about being organized when I made the change to the freelance life.

For years I told myself (and others) that I could never work for myself. The fear of being totally accountable for everything that happens in the business was intimidating and overwhelming. That is, until I went through some pretty big life changes and lo and behold I fell into the world of freelancing. And now that I have the hang of it, I love it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Being your own boss comes with many freedoms. You can choose your own hours, which for me means running down to the beach at lunch to have a surf or catching up with a girlfriend over a smoothie. You literally get to run your own race, but this also means that there’s no one to tell you when to get out of bed or remind you of what needs to be done and by when. You rely entirely on yourself and are fully accountable for all of your work, which means you must stay on top of your game.

As I continue on my journey, from blogger, to freelancer, to new business owner and now working with Free People over here in Australia, here are a few of my tricks of the trade to stay organized:

Make a priorities list:

Possibly one of the most satisfying activities for an overly-organized person like myself is that feeling of striking out a task once it’s complete. Daily, I seek the gratification of that ultimate horizontal pen stroke dancing my way toward the bottom of the page.

But there’s more to it than jotting down a bunch of tasks. One of the best tips for crafting the ultimate To Do list is ensuring to include an action in the task and also address the project. This combats trying to decipher those late night cryptic memos, or notes scribbled on napkins.

Let’s use writing this blog post as an example.

[Action verb] [task] for [project].

Following the freelancers formula (remembering that your brain will, 90% of the time, be  juggling more tasks than a Cirque Du Soleil performer) your task will look a little something like this: Write blog post for Free People. Et Viola!

End of day re-group:

Once you’re done for the day (even if it’s a 3 am finish), take an extra five minutes to work on your new list for the next time you will be working. Carry over tasks that weren’t finished, I like to circle the dot point and then craft my list with a fresh set of eyes in the morning based on priority.


Set work hours (and task hours):

When you start out freelancing, you go through what I call the honeymoon period. There are many days spent sunbathing, countless sleep-ins, staying up to watch a full season of your favorite TV show simply because you can. Which is amazing, but this doesn’t get your work done.

Slowly you will develop your own routine. I realized that I am most creative in the mornings, so don’t touch my email inbox until the afternoon and instead focus my fresh attention to writing articles, brainstorming concepts and styling shoots. Additionally, when you start freelancing there will be a handful of mundane tasks that no matter what industry you’re in, always end up getting pushed back because something more pressing or exciting has presented itself. Blocking out time slots for these tasks helps you work toward an achievable time-based goal.

Make your electronic calendar your new best friend:

My iCal and I are the best of friends. She knows everything about the inner workings of my life. First things first, the difference between my iCal and my To Do list is that the To Do list is a day-to-day task manager, whereas my iCal shows me the bigger picture. Appointments, meetings, birthdays, travel details, reminders to send hand-written thank you notes after an event… I think of my iCal as my week or month, and my To Do list as my day.

One of my favourite things about having an electronic calendar is that you can share certain calendars with your friends, family or business partner. It makes life fun. My business partner and I share a few calendars, if she has a meeting she wants me to see, she adds it to the iCal and I receive a notification. Seriously magic stuff!

Email filing system:

This has got to be my favorite organization hack of all time. I picked up this trick at my first job as a fashion PR girl where being organized is not only necessary, but also means the difference between living a relatively normal life and being in the office until 10pm each night.

The idea to the perfect inbox is filing an email once it has been actioned, so that you can look at your inbox ultimately as another To Do list… hence the term “inbox clearing”. The goal is to have as little emails sitting in your inbox as possible, because whatever is visible needs to be actioned.

To do this, create a bunch of email folders with bold headings like BILLS, PHOTO SHOOTS, COMMISSIONS, EVENTS, FINANCE, etc. and under each heading have a sub heading. This will take some time and you will most likely add to them as you go, but categorizing emails also helps you retrieve them with ease.

You can thank me later.

Play foreign music while working to keep attention:

They say playing classical music while studying helps you retain information at a much higher rate. If Brahms or Beethoven isn’t quite your thing, jump on a program like Spotify and discover the world of Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot, Buena Vista Social Club, just to name a few. The music will energize and intrigue you while not being distracting, especially important when you’re writing.


Clear the clutter and put things away:

For a freelancer, having an impeccably spotless work space will translate directly to your work. Clear your space of clutter and put things away immediately after you have used them. There is no better time to do it than right now. If you’re not using it right this second or in the next few days, it goes.

Make your mess pretty:

While the idea of having a work space that Mary Poppins would be proud of is something to strive for, sometimes it just simply isn’t attainable. If this is the case, make an effort to make your mess pretty. Have a bunch of pens lying around? Put them in a cute cup or a rustic-looking pen holder. I like to weigh my receipts down with a beautiful rock, having them out reminds me that they need auctioning but it also works them into the theme of my décor.

Use inspirational quotes:

Working in social media, I spend a lot of time getting lost in the backwaters of Instagram and Pinterest… if there’s a quote overlayed on a beautiful photo, chances are I’ve seen it. However the quote below is one I got in a fortune cookie when I was 16. I’ve since lost the piece of paper, so instead I decided to hand write it and pin it to the board above my desk. Who knew that 8 years later it would be so relevant to me now: “Killing time murders opportunities.”

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Do you have any freelance life hacks to add? I’d love to hear about your tips and tricks in the comments below!

Follow Free People Australia on Instagram.

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9 years ago

such a great guide. I am envious of anyone who is living their dream and doing what they really want to do in life, instead of something they have to do in order to pay the bills. I started organizing my emails my Sophomore year in college. I went to college online and was constantly getting emails from teachers, but I was losing them in the sea of junk mail so I decided it was time to make folders in my email for each individual thing. My email is still setup like that, lol. I also try to put things away after I have used them. Making crafts can be a messy past time/job.

9 years ago

Pinned this! I love the tips on listing, end of day re-group, and foreign music. Excellent points.

Warm Regards,

9 years ago

I think that every single tip is amazing. I’m a huge list maker, but i can’t deal with electronic calendars hahaha.

thanks for the tips,

xx Cecil //

FP Brigette
9 years ago

Girl, I’ve been thinking of doing a post similar to this, right on this here blog.. but yours is MUCH MORE HELPFUL. I am the opposite of organized by nature, so this is gold. THANK YOU!

9 years ago

This is the most helpful post I have ever seen. I am a freelance model, and I am always struggling to getting everything I need to get done done. I work three jobs, run a fashion blog, and model, and I am about to rip out my hair! I cannot wait to get started on the advice you shared! Thank you.
xoxo Kennedy
Northern Indigo

9 years ago

So inspirational for me right now. Thank you so much for sharing!
Greatings from Spain :)

9 years ago

I love the quote you ended with “killing time murders opportunities”. I never thought about it that way.

9 years ago

Holy moly! thought I was all set up, but now I read this post and I am FULL of inspiration to get even more organizeder (is that even a word?) ! Thanks heaps, Miann! love from germany

9 years ago

Kinda reminds me of my art desk. Still need to get it organized though. :)

9 years ago

This is really very helpful. Thank you for generously sharing all the tips! :)

9 years ago

I’ve added this one to my reading list so I can go back and look at these handy tips when I’m feeling a little lost. As I work for myself and freelance, I do find that I tend to work 24/7, but having to-do lists make it feel like I’m achieving something during my long days. Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m so glad you mentioned how much you love organising, because I most certainly do too. To the point where somedays that’s literally all I do. And my goodness, is it fun!

9 years ago

So good – love her insta too! such an inspiration to be so free and doing what you love. yet still dedicated!

9 years ago

So many great ideas and tips. Personally I like listening to french (a bit of Edith Piaf does wonders for the mind) music when I really need to buckle down and get my work done.

9 years ago

Really helpful :) I’m just starting my freelance career and have just got myself a new flat in Kathmandu so this has inspired me to stay organised before I even settle in.

9 years ago

Woow thank you so much for all this tips ! I work in free lance since 10 days now so I would be glad to have as much as hacks that I find !
Thank you FP, as usual you’re the best ! <3

9 years ago

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8 years ago

This is seriously one of my favorite blog posts ever. Thanks to this post I’ve been trying to straighten out my inbox & sort hundreds of emails. Getting organized is incredibly liberating. You have a beautiful work space, and I really appreciate this post!

5 years ago

It’s a very helpful article and it’s motivating, too. But when I have deadline, it doesn’t work for me.

5 years ago

Gosh, this is such a great guide, I have nothing to add!