We side hustlers know what it’s like to when every minute of the day is filled with a task, obligation, deadline or commitment. And unless we have a solid method for planning out all of those minutes in the day, it’s too easy for the day to get away from you without even realizing it. I’m going to share with you what is working for me right now and how it’s helped me get real focused work done to move my business forward.

  • Have you ever missed a deadline because you overbooked your week?
  • Have you ever forgotten to do something because you neglected to write it down (or wrote it on a sticky note that’s probably still stuck to the bottom of your purse)?
  • Do you make a task list but you’re not sure what to work on next?
  • Do you set your “top 3 tasks” for the day (like all the gurus tell you to do) and realize at the end of the day that none of them gone done?

Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different ideas to keep myself organized and on task. I’ve found that to stay on track, I need to stay on top of three main areas:

  • Calendar and time management
  • Task management and project planning
  • Idea capture and planning

Digital Calendar

I exclusively use Google Calendar to keep track of appointment and key dates. I’ve tried paper calendars, but they just don’t work for me – I need a digital calendar. What I love about Google calendar is the ability to create multiple calendars, color-code them, then have them all appear on the same calendar grid together (or turning off one or more of them for a more focused view). I also couldn’t live without the automatic syncing thing — I add something on my phone and it’s instantly on my desktop.

Paper Calendar

Didn’t I just say a minute ago that I can’t do paper calendars to keep track of my life? But that doesn’t mean I don’t use them for something else. I have a week-on-two-pages calendar that allows me to schedule hour-by-hour what is happening throughout the day. Those time slots give me space to set up my day for success before it even starts. Along one side I have time slots starting at 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. and I can plan out focused blocks of time to work on a design project, the day job, appointments, family obligations, etc. I don’t keep track of appointments here, but they get added to the schedule as I prioritize my tasks for each day. My paper calendar also includes a section under the time slots that I use to compile tasks as they come up – I treat this small area as a way to capture things I need to accomplish that week, rather than long-range task planning.

Task Management

As I mention above in my paper planner calendar section, I use the space there to write immediate tasks that come to mind and need to be done within a day or two. Bu This is a good way to capture things that are top-of-mind and get so I can get them out of my head and down on paper. Sometimes I just need to write stuff down so it is remembered. But for bigger pro task management, I use a project planning system to capture step-by-step tasks that go into a single project. I also use the Brain dump Dump system to capture tasks and create master tasks lists that will be used to create smaller, daily or weekly tasks that are pulled off the main list.

Project Planning

Not long as ago I found that I’d outgrown Trello as a project planning tool. So I after hunting for a while and trying out several tools I found a free resource that has become a lifesaver for me. Asana is a god send! Each individual client gets their own “organization” and within that organization, there are various projects for each client. Then in each project there’s a list of step-by-step tasks and subtasks that need to be accomplished for that single project.

For instance, my web design project template has over 130 individual tasks that I work through each time I build a new website. Not only do I use Asana to keep track of my business projects, but it’s also great for keeping the rest of my life organized. I have a section for personal stuff, travel, grocery shopping, goal tracking, etc.

Idea Capture and Business Planning

I carry the X17 traveler’s notebook (with a beautiful walnut colored leather). Inside this book is a system containing four different smaller notebooks. Each notebook has its own purpose.

BOOK 1 – The first notebook is a week-on-two-pages calendar for planning each day by the hour. This is my most used notebook and handles all my daily planning and task management.

BOOK 2 – The second notebook is my “Book of Lists.” In here I’ve got a bunch of different types of lists – books to read, movies to see, websites investigate, courses or websites recommended to me by others, restaurant recommendations and any other type of list you can think of for keeping track of things. I’ve also got a section called “the measurement of things” in this List notebook. Don’t you hate it when you’re at a store and find the perfect piece of furniture or bookcase or shoe rack for a specific area in your house that you’ve been shopping for, only to realize you don’t know the size of the space you need to fill. This section helps me keep track of all the measurements of spaces in my house that need “something” to fill it with.

BOOK 3 – The third notebook in my X17 is my Commonplace Book. I love the way it’s described on Wikipedia: “Such books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they have learned.”  If it was good for Benjamin Franklin, I figure I should have one too.

BOOK 4 – The fourth notebook in my X17 is my business planning and brainstorming book. When I need to do planning for my business I need some blank paper and plenty of quiet time to just brainstorm those ideas and get them out of my head. So a dot-grid notebook works great for me in this book. I have a few sections up front (blog post ideas, brilliant business ideas for another season in my life, tasks related to my business directly (like designing myself some new business cards) and then a whole bunch of blank pages to just capture free writing when I’m out and about somewhere (usually at lunch on Sunday afternoon).

The Tools Don’t Matter

No matter what tools you use, it’s important to keep a system for how you work best. My system works great for me – a combination of digital and analog to make sure my brain is clear of clutter and able to process new ideas and projects easily. But the system you devise might look a lot different than mine, and that’s OK. We all need to find what works and sometimes the only way to do that is to experiment over and over with new ideas until you find something that sticks.