The Freelancer’s Guide to Staying Organized and On Track With Design Projects

Being your own boss is awesome! You get to make your own schedule, pick the projects you work on, and charge whatever price you want. There surely couldn’t be any bad part about working for your self — says every person who hasn’t actually started their own business.

What people don’t realize about being your own boss is not only do you have to complete the projects, you have to manage them. From start to finish, freelancers manage their contracts, meetings, deadlines, timesheets, invoices, and more. It’s laborious, monotonous, and quite frankly, overwhelming at times.

Anyone who has had to manage their own work has probably searched for a solution to help them stay organized. Whether it is a color coded notebook, a calendar with post it notes, or an excel sheet, we’ve all tried to ease our workload and increase our productivity. When those don’t work, we resort to the internet and look for programs or products that might help. When looking at Project Management Software on the popular technology site, Capterra, 1,173 results come up. Even Capterra’s shortlist has 25 different project management softwares. Anyone already overwhelmed by their workload is going to be even more overwhelmed when they have to choose between 1,173 options and find the one that works best. That surely isn’t saving anyone time, money, or effort.

Well, you’re in luck because I have spent too many countless hours trying too many of these softwares, and I’ve finally found one that actually works –Notion.

The 2021 Capterra Shortlist: Project Management Software
The 2021 Capterra Shortlist: Project Management Software

“But I’ve already tried ______ app”

Notion is available as a web app, a desktop app (Mac or PC), and mobile app (Android or iOS)
Notion is available as a web app, a desktop app (Mac or PC), and mobile app (Android or iOS)
Notion is available as a web app, a desktop app (Mac or PC), and mobile app (Android or iOS)

You Don’t Need All Those Folders and Accounts, Anymore

Like any new software or app, you may not know where to start when you open Notion. The app will guide you through some of the basics but there are many other resources available, too. One of my favorite things about Notion is their extensive online library of Guides & Tutorials. Their guides are broken up into categories based on what you want to achieve: Project Management, Notes, Documentation, Design, Product, etc. This makes it straightforward for users to build out their workspace specific to what they’ll be using it for. Even better, most of their guides include video and text explanations, making it simple for both auditory and visual learners to learn.

Notion’s website and Youtube channel offer many great training resources for setting up your workspace

You don’t have to start from scratch with Notion, like you do with most other apps. The app uses a template system where you can import any of their templates or other user’s templates into your workspace. Along with their Guides & Tutorials, Notion provides a Customer Stories section of their website. Here you can find case studies from some of the biggest companies and startups and how they use Notion in their workflow. I really liked the way that Codecademy had set up their project space and I was able to sync their template with my own workspace and use it for my workflow.

Templates are my favorite part about Notion, and my second favorite part is how customizable it is. How you organize and structure your Notion workspace is up to you and should be done in a way that makes the most sense to you. Notion combines the traditional file structure on a computer with the hyperlinked structure of webpages, creating a user interface and design that is intuitive and easy for users to navigate. Notion’s templates make it effortless to get started and let you spend more time on customizing your workspace to increase your productivity.

This Is How I Use Notion

1. Project Manager

Notion roadmap gif
Notion roadmap gif
Example of the different views Notion offers for pages

Project management was the main reason I tried Notion and was where I started with the app. As I mentioned before, the templates they provide are extremely helpful to get started and I started with their “Roadmap” template for my projects. This template allowed me to input my different freelance projects and categorize them by due date, priority, status, etc, while also customizing it to my needs. I didn’t need the Assignee category since I am the only one working on the projects, so I changed that to be a Client field instead to categorize my projects by client name.

Another great aspect of Notion is their view options. As you can see in the GIF above, the user is switching between different views of their project board. Notion automatically creates different views of your pages based on the different categories and tags you use. These can all be customized even further to what works best for you. You aren’t tied to a certain page structure with Notion; the app allows you to build out your projects in whatever way best suits your workflow.

2. Individual Project Pages

notion individual project page gif
notion individual project page gif
Example of an individual project page in Notion

Individual project pages are a part of the overall ‘roadmap’ I talked about above. When browsing through your ‘roadmap’ or project manager page, you can click on the individual project to get more information about it. The individual project page is where the bulk of your information will go. This is where the blocks I spoke about earlier come into play. Almost anything you think of can be placed onto these pages or embedded into the Notion page. Individual project pages can be used for business plans, timelines, to-do lists, source files, research, etc. They can even be used to create Brand Guidelines to share with clients or collaborators. Notion’s hyperlinking structure allows the user to easily link different pages together, so everything you need is only a click away.

3. Resource Library

Gif of a Notion workflow going through resources
Gif of a Notion workflow going through resources
Example of a resources library in Notion

As a designer, I am constantly finding online resources that can enhance my projects. Whether that be typography, PSD actions, image textures, inspiration, or tutorials, my bookmarks bar was completely out of control before I had Notion. Not to mention all the random folders I had on my desktop of images saved for ‘inspiration’. Now, I use Notion to organize all of these resources in one place. I can keep hyperlinks, PDFs, images, videos, all in one place. I am able to tag items according to their topic, type of resource, theme, platform, who sent it to me, etc.

When working on a creative project, I don’t want to stop to look for a font or image and ruin my creative flow. Notion allows me to keep working with minimal interruptions because all of the information and resources I need are in one place and easily accessible and discoverable.

4. Everything Else

Example of Notion being used as a weekly agenda

Above are just three of my use cases for Notion in my freelance work. However, I use Notion for everything in my life. I love how versatile it is. I can be working on a huge freelance project one moment, the next moment I might go to my address book to get my Nana’s address to send her a greeting card, and after that I might update my habit tracker for the week. I use Notion to house all of this information and when I need something important I know exactly where it is and can access it on my phone, desktop, or the web.

Save Your Time, Money, And Effort, Oh My!

New apps and new habits can be daunting, but once you get the basics of Notion down, you can reap the benefits too. If you’re nervous about getting started, I recommend checking out the Reddit and Facebook community groups. I have spent much time scrolling through these groups and being endlessly inspired by the workflows others have created. On top of all the great templates Notion offers, other users are also able to share their Notion pages as templates, too. So browse on, get inspired, and find what works best for you. Visit Notion to download the free app and let me know what you think!

Designer | Creator | Entrepreneur | joellerush.com