Getting and staying organized is the ultimate white whale for many freelancers. Be honest: how many of you consider the floor to be the largest shelf in your house? I know I tend to keep things in small piles scattered around my apartment. After I discovered a spider living in a stack of papers on my floor, I came up with a fool-proof organization system for myself.

The hardest part of getting organized is actually staying organized. We’ve all had those amazing days where we clean, file, and label our offices from top to bottom. Then, two weeks later, our desks are graveyards of coffee mugs and hastily scribbled notes to ourselves.

No more chaos! I decided to tackle the three biggest problems I found with my own organization problems: invoicing and payments, managing my inbox, and a note taking system.

Invoicing and Payments 

Having an invoicing and billing system in place is step one for any freelancer. You’ll thank yourself a million times over for setting those systems up right out of the gate. Don’t be a hero and try to do this yourself. You can easily get overwhelmed and end up misplacing invoices you need for tax season. Use an online company like Due to track invoices and payments. You can send reminders, design a logo, and don’t have to worry about a family of spiders living on your invoice stack.

Next up, open a business bank account. You can do this as a sole proprietor or as an LLC. Keeping your personal and business finances separate is key to organization. You can take out taxes, reinvest, and keep track of your tax deductions easier if you have a separate account for business costs.

Managing Your Inbox

Email is a great place to drown as a business owner. It can suck up time and energery you can’t afford to lose. I’ve changed my business email address three times this year. It was madness! In order to manage my most recent (and hopefully last!) inbox I set up two rules for myself. I check email in batches, and prioritize the emails I get.

I used to leave my email open throughout the day. That was a distraction for me. I compulsively checked it, sometimes in the middle of writing a sentence! It wasn’t sustainable. Now I use ’email times’ for myself. I check my email twice an hour now. This allows me to stay on top of my inbox so it doesn’t get overwhelming but also gives me the freedom to work in 30-minute chunks.

Secondly, I read emails in order of importance. If I get an email from an editor and an email from someone who wants to write a guest post, I check my editor’s email first. Non-essential emails can wait until I finish an article, or schedule my social media for the week.

Along with the prioritization, I try and take action on emails immediately after opening. If an editor as for edits, I open the doc and try to knock out the edits as my next task. If I can’t do the task immediately, I star the email as a reminder to come back to it when I have more time.

Note System

Taking notes is a compulsive habit of mine. I take notes on anything that’s near me: backs of envelopes, post-its, and my phone. I have piles and piles of half-developed thoughts sitting on the ground next to my desk. Worse, I refuse to get rid of anything! What is the next million dollar idea is written on one of those envelopes?

Something had to be done so that I didn’t end up getting buried alive by my own notes. I took one of my many moleskin notebooks and taped a post-it with my company name on the cover. This is my work notebook- anything related to work goes in there. I carry the notebook with me everywhere, and I am adamant about using it.

Now, for all those random things I think of I turn to my phone. I always have my phone with me, so it’s easy to get stuff written down. Notepad is a great place to store thoughts.

This organization tactic is simple and effective. Every so often I comb through my phone and erase or take action on some of my ‘Life’ notes. Consolidating all my work thoughts into one notebook has been a lifesaver. I can go back and check on half-finished to-do lists, color-coordinated pages, and leave sticky notes on pages that I need to come back to.

A system that is fool-proof is essential for someone who was a hot mess like me. Keep things separate, keep things automated, and keep track of things to finally stay organized.

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Kara Perez is the founder of Bravely, a company that connects women and money. She freelances in the areas of personal finance and travel, and she eats peanut butter straight out of the jar.

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