Those new to freelancing (in any capacity) may wonder how exactly the experienced professionals they idolize keep up with everything they have to do for their work and personal lives. As a freelancer, it is easy to get distracted by one while doing the other: to forget what you needed to do for your work assignment, only to remember when you’re walking down the aisle of the grocery store.

Some people write notes to themselves; I used to be one of those people. I lost each and every note I made, only to find them about two weeks after my task to check off had been completed or had expired. My backpack in college seemed to resemble a black hole: everything I actually looked for in there disappeared, but I would find it when I didn’t need it anymore.

If this is you, and you want to freelance in any form, I have the solution for you! The successful freelancer’s secret weapon isn’t a revolutionary idea or complicated method. It’s actually very simple.

It’s a planner.

Yes, I said planner (or agenda, depending on where in the country you reside). Since becoming a freelancer, my agenda has become my best friend; it reminds me when I work at my full-time job, when I have freelancing assignments due, and when my personal life has time to actually happen (e.g. birthday celebrations, family dinners).

My freelancing schedule is more complicated and detailed so that I can stay on track. I make sure that I write down what day my assignments are due and for whom, as well as any length requirements or topics I want to remember for these assignments. I have a list on topic ideas on a “Notes” page; as I use topics I cross them off the list so I do not repeat one. The names of the website or email where I contact each employer in the “Contact” list, as well as the amount we have agreed upon for each article or task I complete for them. This makes it easier to track how much I should make over time.

Using a planner also helps me manage my time properly and keep my free time in perspective. If I see that I have five articles due on a week where I also agreed to pick up extra hours on one job, I won’t try to take on another freelancing assignment. I don’t want to overextend myself and submit lower-quality work; my reputation and my paycheck will suffer as a result.

Planners are also great ways to keep all of your to-do lists in one place! It has been — by far — the easiest solution I have found to losing all of those notes I wrote for myself. I try to pick one day a week (normally Mondays for me) to start my to-do list for the week. As I finish tasks, I scratch them off, leaving space to add more tasks if need be. (I also get a little crazy drawing arrows to other days if I ran out of time or want to reschedule something, but how you organize and use your planner is totally up to you.)

The point is, a planner can be your one stop for all things…well, planning related. It can help you organize not only your life, but your work schedule and freelancing schedule, helping you to see where you have the time to pick up more assignments or shifts, and where you don’t. It also helps to keep track of what you did or need to do, or be a life-saver if someone didn’t receive your assignment on time or your paycheck was off what you thought and you need to troubleshoot.

(It also helps that planners come in all shapes, sizes, and patterns, so you can pick one to match your personality and customize it to fit your needs easily!)

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William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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