Update (3/1/09): The most recent version of this planner is now moved to the free planner page. Subscribe by RSS or by email if you’d like to be updated when the updated planners are available to download.
(If you’re not a freelancer, this post may not interest you. Also, if you’d rather not read about “the making of” this planner, jump down to “How to Use This Planner.”)
At long last, I have a draft of a freelancer planner. Thanks to all who have been sending donations and creative encouragement.The Freelancer Workweek - Draft (9416)
As always, I’ll start with…
The Big Idea
Freelancers have a different orientation to time and work than the majority of employed people. On the one hand, freelancers don’t work regular hours in an office separate from their home, and hence the 9-5 grind doesn’t capture their workday. On the other hand, they usually are paid for their time – whether it’s a flat by-the-hour rate, or a project estimate that uses time as one of the justifications for their rate. In short, time is usually not the primary consideration – the work to be done is.
Since time is not the focus of their work, freelancers tend to overcommit themselves on projects. People who work the 9-to-5 have a better sense of how much work they’ll be able to do, and the clear split between home and work provides constraints that most freelancers don’t have. The limiting production factor for freelancers is energy, not time.
Because individual projects take longer than estimated and they’ve agreed to multiple projects, the working freelancer has three options: 1) stack projects (thus working longer hours), 2) renegotiate deadlines for agreed-to projects (a band-aid, at best, that still drains credibility), or 3) drop agreed-to projects, either intentionally or unintentionally. None of these options are good.
So the idea behind this particular planner is to get all of your projects in the same space. If you can see what you’re doing and what you’ve committed to, you have a better chance of working with a clear head and being able to commit with confidence. Hence the text in the title area: you can commit with confidence, knowing that you’ll be able to complete your current and proposed commitments, and you can complete your projects with the clarity that you’re working on what you should be working on.
You’ll notice that this form is about constraints. If you’re juggling more than five projects at a time, you’re doing a lot of shuffling. If you’re planning to work on five decent-sized deliverables of projects during a single day, you’re probably planning too much. Hopefully, the physical constraints of the planner help you gain the focus you need to produce quality work. Take a second and envision what it’d be like to actually complete your projects with less stress rather than always working under the gun of a deadline and the stress of juggling too much at once – I hope this planner helps you get there.
Where I Got Hung Up
I’ve had the rough draft of this planner for about 6 months. It actually came from thinking about the different relationships people have with time and their work.
But I got stuck for two reasons. The first is that I still get nervous launching new design ideas – but that’s just creative doubt. The second reason dealt with the complexity of freelancer projects. There’s simply a lot of information about projects that’s important from different perspectives, and there’s no clear way to present all the information from specific projects on a planner that shows multiple projects. It’s information overload.
So I had to rethink what the point of this planner was, and after I got clear about that, the obvious answer hit me: make two planners. The companion planner to this one is drafted, but not yet ready to share – but it covers the detailed information from individual projects. The planner being shown today is about higher-level perspective, not about the details of a particular project. Think of it as the difference between looking at a daily planner versus a weekly planner.
Even after obvious detailed information was relegated to the project planner, there were still tough choices to be made. What I didn’t like was all the places that required project information, simply because rewriting on a hand-written form is annoying. At the same time, there was no way to have a bigger box that had all the information relevant to a particular project in the same space.
For instance, were I to try to display “Milestones” and “Deadlines” in the same box, it’d be easy to get the two confused. They’re confusing enough as is. The only way to separate the two conceptually was to separate them physically – but to separate them physically would be repetitive.
So I borrowed a technique from the Daily Productivity Planner to get it to work. That helped. After I made these decisions and implemented that technique, the draft fell together pretty easily.
How to Use This Planner
Pick it up here in case you missed it above: The Freelancer Workweek - Draft (9416)
This planner serves as your weekly dashboard. Use it when you’re planning your week and review it throughout the day to make changes as needed.
The little columns on the left of the planner are mostly about your constraints. If you’re scheduled to be somewhere for a day, that’s time you can’t use. So mark down your scheduled events before you think about when you’ll be working.
Then list the projects you’re working on for the week. Yes, there are only five spots available – this is intentional. Yes, the block is kind of small – the companion planner will give you plenty of room to write. Use the short name for your project, since you’re probably using it with yourself anyway. Also: use the number (1-5) of the project as a reference throughout the planner.
The “Deadlines” and “Milestones” seem to be the same kind of block, when in fact they’re dramatically different kinds of constraints. Deadlines are commitments you’ve made with your clients and what you’re used to working against. Milestones, on the other hand, are commitments you’ve made with yourself. Using milestones helps you visualize how your projects are coming along and keeps you working on your own pace. Remember: the sooner you complete the project, the sooner you get paid and the sooner you can focus on something else.
A further note on deadlines and milestones: think long and hard about whether you want to have multiple deadlines or milestones on one day. Stagger them if at all possible and save yourself the stress of it all.
Now that you have the left column filled out, you should have a pretty good snapshot of when you should be working on what. Hopefully, the Dashboard on the right is straightforward. Be mindful of how much time you’re planning on working on a deliverable and how much time you’re actually working on that deliverable. Notice trends so that you can better plan in the future.
Though I recognize that you may need every row on every line, don’t feel like you have to have something on every line. I would err on the side of undercommitting than overcommitting until you have a good feel for how long you’re actually working on your projects.
Please help me make this better by taking a look at it and giving feedback on it. While feedback about spacing issues is important, what’s the most valuable to me is some feedback on the principles of the design. Does the planner help? Did I leave off important information that needs to be captured at this level? Is there a piece of it that’s annoying as all hell?