New Planner Available: The Freelancer Workweek


Editor’s note: This planner is now called the Weekly Project Planner and the most recent version of this planner is now moved to the free planner page.

(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.


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: [download#43]

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.

That’s it!

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  1. says

    Charlie, I LOVE this! I consider myself a pretty organized person, but I’ve been having trouble keeping track of everything so I can stay focused.

    I stumbled on this in my very neglected feed reader today and I’m really glad you put it together – thank you.

    Can’t wait to see the companion planner :)


  2. says

    Charlie, thanks for putting this together! I’ve looked at your productivity planners before, but as a freelancer, I tend to have a task not time focused approach. This looks like just the sort of thing I need … will give it a whirl next week! :-)

  3. says

    Hi Charlie, as I’ve mentioned before your weekly and daily planners have done amazing things for my productivity and peace of mind. The two work really well together.

    Do you see this freelancer planner as taking the place of the weekly planner? Or both the weekly and daily planner?

  4. Charlie says

    @Andrea: Great! I look forward to your feedback!

    @Lisa: Hopefully I can get the companion out by March 1st. It’s already drafted – but the devil is in the details.

    @Ali: I was hoping someone would say that, as that’s exactly what I designed them for. Let me know what you think!

    @Rebecca: Tough question. If you’ve already got something that is working for you, there’s probably no reason to change it. However, if the time-based focus is not helping, then maybe a task-based one will. So, looking at them as companion pieces, you’ll probably want to use either the Productivity Planner series or the Productive Freelancer series.

    I appreciate you reminding me that you like the Productivity Planner series, too.

  5. says

    Here’s the biggest thing I’m taking from this today: “think long and hard about whether you want to have multiple deadlines *or milestones* on one day. Stagger them”

    I usually manage to stagger deadlines. Haven’t been doing it with milestones. Aha! Need to take that seriously.

  6. says

    OMG! I don’t remember how I found your website and your absolutely AWESOME tools…but THANK YOU!

    As a freelance writer/educator and blogger who works from home, your planning tools will CHANGE MY WORKDAY and my WORKLIFE!

    It is so true that we work differently and I was SO feeling guilty about not keeping “9-5” hours…especially since I have clients around the world in multiple timezones!

    Freelancers and creative people ARE (for the most part) project-driven, not time-driven, and although we have milestones and deadlines to meet, other than that, it doesn’t matter when we work as long as the work gets done!

    How many ways can I say “Thank you” for these planners?

    Now, can I get refunds on all of those “regular” planners I’ve bought recently?

  7. Peter says

    I really like the idea. I really like that you’ve designed an organized that is oriented around deliverables and constraints. That is exactly how I think, even though I’m not a freelancer, but it never occurred to me to design such a planner.

    I haven’t tried using the planner yet, but when I do I’ll give you some feedback.

  8. karen says

    Thanks so much for this planner. Did you ever finish and publish the companion planner – the one that “covers the detailed information from individual projects” :-)? Thanks much again!

    • charliegilkey says

      Hi karen! We’re actually working on this one now. It was one of the items we discussed at our team retreat a few weeks ago. It’ll probably be out in a month or two.

  9. says

    Good morning Charlie! I have actually bee using this and versions of your Daily/Weekly/Monthly planners off and on for years. For a while I used them for my F&B Leadership Team at the hotel where I managed the food service ops (Def not 9 to 5!!). But we fell off the wagon, so to speak because it was so rare for all of us to be there at the same time. So I moved to a Kanban system with a bulletin board and index cards. This worked well.

    Now I am back home freelancing and I had forgotten all about these until I got your email in my feeds on the first. Thanks for reminding me about them! I have shared them on every network that I have and started using them again to get my act together.

    I have a love affair with pencil-and-paper planning, but I have a vision in my mind of a digital version of these with expanding boxes and hyperlinking tags and fields that auto-propagate…

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