How I Stay Organized and Still Sleep

First Published: January 29, 2018  | Last Updated: November 26, 2020

The gist: Time for the 2016 edition of my favorite post: how I stay organized with my own personal planning system! In this one, look inside my planners and notebooks to learn how to keep track of multiple projects at work, how I organize paper planners and notebooks… And how I juggled a day job, two side hustles, and multiple blogs without losing sleep!

There’s too much to do, always.

I know you know the feeling.

Between work stuff, personal stuff, and “other stuff,” focusing is easier said than done.

You’re always coming up with one idea or another. And never at a time when you can actually work on it.

You have due dates, to-do lists, plans, and outlines out the wazoo. For multiple projects, with multiple companies or organizations, involving multiple people, and with different priorities.

My best advice?

Don’t try to keep track of it all in your head. It’ll hurt.

Instead, become best friends with your own personal planning system. Your own set of notebooks, planners, folders, and other files. The tools you choose and the combination of them aren’t as important as the fact that you have SOMEWHERE to “back up” important info other than your brain.

Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. So if you decide to buy anything, I'll receive a commission. Most creators say something like "100% of this goes back into the business," but I'm not most creators. Some months it goes into the business, others it will be used to buy inappropriate amounts of chocolate. Remember, working brighter is about balance!

First, a note

I originally wrote this post back in January 2016 (when I was working full-time, freelance writing, and managing this blog as well as others) to explain how I keep track of multiple projects.

Obviously, my systems changed a ton when I took my business full-time, but it still follows this general structure, so I updated this post to give you more info! 🙌

Most of us have too much going on to remember it all on your own - here's how @thatbberg organizes it all in her notebooks.

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How I Keep Track of Multiple Jobs Using Multiple Planners

Writing my priorities down on physical paper is the only way I’ll truly focus on them. I know that about myself and build my business systems accordingly. 

I keep multiple notebooks for ideas, and a planner as the one central “home” for important dates and to-dos. That one’s the most important.

Once, in college, I left my planner at my parents’ after a visit home. And I missed SO many things – homework, club meetings, a freaking class – that I begged my mom to overnight it back to me.

pile of multiple. work notebooks with water cup next to them

While using multiple notebooks might make someone else feel scattered, I like using multiple planners and notebooks at a time. This helps me focus and compartmentalize.

For example, take when I was working on my side hustle before work in the morning. I wouldn’t see my day job tasks in the same planner reminding me that I only had an hour left before I had to switch focus.

With my business now full-time, I use one for my client work and one for my own business/brand's content.

Inside My Work Planners

First, there's my day job planner

horizontal layout weekly planner for work

Here’s where I list out my top priorities for the day.

I’m not doing detailed planning since there’s not a ton of room (and we all know how I love detailed and actionable to-do lists!) and for me, that’s best done online.

But the task of writing down what I’m going to focus on sets intentions for the day, and having the open planner sitting besides me creates a physical reminder of where my priorities should be. That’s a HUGE part of why paper planners still work, in my opinion.

If the task or project has multiple steps, that stuff has already been broken down in Todoist, Trello, or one of the other tools our company processes live in. The planner is for focus and prioritizing more than breaking down projects.

Then there's the planner for my side hustles

Since I’m doing so much more with blogging and freelancing than last year, I decided it needed the space of its own planner.

For this one, I use a vertical layout. I like that it divides things up since for this one, I will need to divide things. I normally label the 3 boxes for my 2 of my blogs and freelancing – my main focus these days.

vertical layout weekly planner spread

But what’s awesome about creating my own structure versus using a blogging or freelancing planner is that my planner layout can change with my to-do list.

On weeks where I’m 100% focused on this blog, I’ve done things like divide it up by blogging task: admin, content, social, etc. During a busy week of client work, I can dedicate one row to each client. Or I can simply have one box per project.

I also use the monthly view as an editorial calendar for this site and my book blog.

monthly planner spread editorial calendar

Finally, I’ll use the sidebar to jot down a few goals or things I want to focus on that month. 

Since taking the picture, I’ve also added freelance metrics, like my goals for income and number of pieces written.

This area serves to remind me of my priorities and what I need to be focusing on, because I’m not great at focusing.

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How I Use Multiple Notebooks for Notetaking & Brainstorming

Since I keep things pretty simple in my planners, of course, I need a bunch of notebooks (read: I want a lot of notebooks) to go into more detail.

Here, too, I divide things up a lot.

In addition to having different notebooks for different jobs, bigger projects within those have their own notebooks, as well.

For example, I’m almost at the point in planning my course where I’ll want a separate notebook for it.

In terms of how I take notes, for the past year I’ve mostly been doing my own spin on a bullet journal.

I’ll create an index instead of a table of contents in the back now. And while I don’t do the rapid logging part, it has influenced my old process and it’s now a lot more flexible.

I loved the system of creating different bullet styles for different types of notes, so I’ve created my own key.

And I don’t use the events part since I keep my calendar separate. What would normally go in the logs would be more likely to be in my planner.

TAKING NOTES AT WORK

So this is pretty much the same as last year – I use a Poppin notebook for taking notes at work. But this year it’s infinitely cooler! Our U.S. team ordered notebooks and swag for our customers last year, and since clearly, I’m obsessed with this stuff, I got to do a lot of the choosing.

So, of course, we went with one of my favorite companies and a fancy debossed logo. 😛

work notes in lined notebook

My favorite things about the Poppin notebooks are:

  • The attached ribbon bookmark
  • The elastic band means you don’t worry about bending the spine until the notebook no longer closes
  • That the top margins and page layout make it easy to set important info apart from the rest of the page.

It could also be a great setup for bullet journaling.

For example, I note the date and sometimes a category in the top corners, then the “page title” in the rest of the top margin. Then I just write normally, but the size of the side margins is perfect for adding an asterisk to important lines.

BRAINSTORMING BUSINESS NOTES

My next notebook, I like to call my master plan for world domination: It’s my blog to biz strategy notebook. My “Blog Bible.”

I held out on splurging on one of these for a while, but decided it would finally be worth it for a few reasons:

  • I knew that with something really nice and fancy and that I would really love, I’d use it more. So it makes sense to use it for one of the most important things I’m doing right now, as a little subconscious motivation.
  • From the heavy-duty cover to the thick pages and strong coil for the spiral binding, these notebooks are made to last. I tend to be a little rough on my office supplies, and as a home for high-level plans and strategies, it needs to last long-term.
  • As always with Erin Condren supplies, the accessories take things to the next game. I have a monthly calendar added to the front, a dry-erase divider to separate different blogs and jot down notes, a pen holder, and lots of other things that make planning easier.

I normally use it during big brainstorming and planning sessions, so as-you-go bullet journaling doesn’t really work.

It serves as more of a guide, with a table of contents and different chapters for things like email content themes, future product and content upgrade ideas, and big picture product plans (stuff like outlines for the actual content would be somewhere that serves as less of a long-term reference).

work notes in spiral notebooks

The lists and outlines that go in here are ones that will take a long time to cross everything out. For example, this is my list of ideas for my weekly emails curating links for solopreneurs, and this is the third page of it.

It’s something I can refer to again and again, add to and edit, etc.

You might wonder if I’m crazy for putting such long lists on paper instead of keeping them digital. That’s a fair question.

But when I do big brainstorming sessions and try to spend a few hours on just ideas, disconnecting as much as possible works best for me.

I’d probably get distracted more if I were coming up with the ideas on a computer.

BRAINDUMPING INTO RANDOM NOTEBOOKS AROUND THE HOUSE

Lastly, there are a lot of other smaller, stray notebooks around the house for whenever I need to jot something down.

I like smaller, more affordable office supplies for things that are less permanent. Things like my day-to-day “idea dump” notebooks. They tend to serve as mostly scrap paper – for when I need to write something out, but won’t be referring back to it more than once.

I’m currently using 2 on the reg:

small notebooks

The unicorn notebook is what I’m using for educational notes. Ideas and to-dos I get from reading blog posts, taking ecourses, and participating in webinars and Twitter chats.

The second notebook is less interesting inside. It’s random lists of non-business things to do, bills to pay, rough blog post outlines from before I move them into WordPress or Google Drive, etc.

With such random notes, a detailed table of contents or index would take up the whole thing. So instead, I mark the pages by color-coded categories.

I highlight the edge of each page based on which category the notes fall into. This is the education notebook, and each ebook and ecourse I’m going through has its own color. This makes it easy to find all of the notes for a certain topic, without having to go into detail.

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

Sign up to get weekly tips and stories to help you create your OWN definition of productivity working better and brighter.

Supplementing Physical Notebooks & Planners with Apps

Now, paper is great, but your space is limited, and it’s not so fast. So as much as I love it, I tend to only use it for tracking projects versus individual tasks. If I wrote “check email” in my planner every time I had to do it, I’d want to light that thing on fire. 😂

For tracking tiny tasks and appointments, or anything that I want to automate, I keep it digital.

Related: The Easiest Ways to Save Time on Your Business: Scheduling & Automation

DAILY TASK MANAGER: TODOIST

Todoist is where I keep the detailed breakdown of my day for everything from business stuff. About half the to-dos are added through automation. I’ll use either through Todoist’s own advanced features or IFTTT and Zapier. It’s the only tool I liked where I can get as detailed as I want to, without it taking forever.

I have 3 main projects for…my 3 main projects, plus a “Misc.” one for anything else.

My lifesavers are task templates, recurring tasks, and Karma. It has a bit of gamification with Karma, where you set goals. But it also gives you a lot of data. That helps me notice patterns in my productivity to ensure my focus is where it needs to be.

PROJECT MANAGER: TRELLO

I use Trello less than I used to since I’ve started to do as much planning offline and away from distractions, but there have been some things I haven’t been able to let go of it for.

It’s always been really great for mapping out large content projects like ecourses, ebooks, and content pillars. Especially since it’s so easy to toggle between project lists and due date calendars.

Get Organized

Well, this post was way longer than I intended. Way, way longer. I must have, once again, underestimated how much I love organizing.

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