A road map to help you set up for new projects. It contains several tools, tips, and reminders that I believe can provide a base for you. Each designer has their own organization system that they develop over time, so take what suits you from this list and feel free to add to it.

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘organization is key’?

Since this applies to most aspects of life, predictably, it also applies to freelance gigs. For many designers organization doesn’t come easy, however it becomes necessary with more work, larger projects, and collaborative gigs. Organizing your work helps you track your progress, juggle several jobs simultaneously, and allocate resources efficiently. Time is money and the less you spend it organizing your files, the more you can spend it creating work you’ll get paid for.

In this blog, I’m rough-drafting a road map to help you set up for new projects. It contains several tools, tips, and reminders that I believe can provide a base for you. Each designer has their own organization system that they develop over time, so take what suits you from this list and feel free to add to it.

1. Set up project milestones

Once you’ve agreed to the project deadlines with the client, make sure to insert them into your calendar. Start with the major deadlines (project milestones) agreed upon between you and the client then transition into personal deadlines that tackle what you have to do and with whom in order to maintain a good workflow. You can further break these deadlines down into daily or weekly tasks that are part of the work process. Remember to set realistic deadlines that take into consideration personal time, holidays, and a few extra days for unexpected events. You can also set reminders or alerts before each deadline, which can definitely come in handy at some point!

One useful twist for a milestones calendar would be to assign each milestone a payment percentage. This, not only helps reduce risk of no payments from clients, but it would also divide the amounts clients would have to pay at once which almost always makes them more relaxed when making a payment. If you’re using the Flan platform, you can make use of both the general and project calendars to set tasks, assign meetings with clients, or set deliverables’ deadlines.

2. Create a Folder Format

As you’re reading this, remember the times you named a file you’ve been working on as ‘final’ then ‘finalfinal’ then ‘realfinal’ and so on, until you get to the file ‘thisistherealfinal’? Well, you’re not the first or last person to do so! I like to think of this naming ‘system’ as an embodiment of a designer’s essence during deadlines: a bit of anxiety with some haste, and mixed with a willingness to live on the edge.

Although it can be most common at deadlines, many designers do this repeatedly throughout the progression of their gigs and end up spending a lot of time trying to organize their work and purge out unnecessary files.

To avoid such mishaps, make sure you’re creating an environment for yourself that makes it easy to be organized. Create a Folder for each milestone, include sub-folders that are categorized according to input or output status, file formats, or types of submissions. You can also include an ‘Archives’ folder in each file where you can dump all your previous files into, and a ‘Mail’ folder where you maintain copies of any files sent to you by your client or associates. Stick to a naming format; for example date_subject_version. These quick yet easy hacks simplify navigating your files and save you lots of time.

Although this habit can be difficult to break from, believe me when I tell you, it feels great telling yourself ‘kudos for being so organized’ when inspecting old project files!

This is how I usually organize my files. You can also group your folders according to your project milestones as seen here! Use the Mail tab to document what you receive and send to any individual or party involved in the project.

3. Create a Project Sheet

A project sheet is an excel sheet that identifies your project tasks and links them to time and costs, while including other important details as well. I learned to do this a few years back after repeatedly working for a client whom I never managed to remember how much I charged them and for how much work. As I developed my skills, the gigs became more complex and took longer time. Unfortunately I couldn’t reflect this progress on my invoices since I didn’t keep records of payments or descriptions of these payments. This resulted in two things: confusion at the beginning of each project since I wasn’t able to provide a fair price; and frustration because I felt I was underpaid by the end of a project.

A good project sheet adapts to what you need in a project and anticipates details you will later need when evaluating a project or pricing for a new one. This is usually one of those things that you develop over time, and keeps getting edited. You can see a snapshot of what a project sheet could look like below, or download it from the button below.

The project sheet is useful to document your gigs, describe them in detail since they contain deadlines, and provide insight into how you can better manage your time by providing time summaries for each task. It also documents payment amounts, payment issues, and discounts which is important for future gigs.

4. Save Invoices, Receipts, and Client Correspondents

Make sure that you have a place to store physical and digital copies of invoices or receipts. Do not skimp on any small bill and make sure it is filed appropriately; this is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, you might be able to claim these receipts from your clients as variation orders if they have not been agreed on previously. Secondly, it saves you a lot of time when you have to prepare for taxes since you have everything documented and in the appropriate place. On Flan, your ticket provides you with the ability to upload invoices and generate them once payment is made. You’re also able to download them in PDF format.

As for emails and client or associate correspondences, group your emails into inbox folders set for each gig. That way, you can easily track and identify each project correspondence and save yourself a lot of time.

5. Prepare your Hard Drive for Backup

Every designer has experienced program crashes, computer burnouts, and viruses, and we will continue to do so until technology solves this issue. Until then, ‘Backup’ is your mantra! Make sure you have a storage space at the ready, invest in a cloud service that provides ample storage space or a good hard drive, and backup your work after each working session. This not only saves you time, but tears and sweat in the process.

Organization is a skill that you refine with experience and time, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t have some or all of the above-mentioned points! Make sure you find your own rhythm and determine what works best for you and your project.

I’m hoping that by including these 5 steps, I can share some ways that helped me overcome organizational issues that hindered my creativity and output. If you have more tricks up your sleeve on how to up your organization and preparation game for a gig, spread the knowledge and let us know what you do by commenting below or emailing me at rasha@flan.design. Share and ask other freelancers on FLAN’s discord channel and stay updated for more about FLAN on any of its social media platforms LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram.