A Penmonkey’s Planner System

I talked recently about planners, and using them to get organised, and I mentioned quite a bit about what I found worked well for keeping my freelancing brain from exploding, and what became rage-making far too quickly.

What I didn’t really mention was how I make a single book that lives beside me actually work for freelancing that involves events, reviews, and research.

This is what my freelancing life looks like: I get a call asking if I’m free on a day, and I need to quickly check, and decide if I can juggle enough non-work stuff around so that I can say yes. Having really clear, obvious signposting that I have stuff on makes it so much easier for me.

My brain responds to colour better than it does with other systems, so that’s my overarching way of keeping track. I figure, maybe it’s easier to show you what I mean. Warning: dodgy photos ahead (I’ve had no time to organise pretty ones- sorry!)

2016 planner

This is the planner I’m working with at the moment, which I got from Kikki K because I have a thing for teals and blues at the moment. The planner before it was leather, which was beautiful but useless in a handbag.


I just used the stickers that came with the dividers, so I could easily see what went where. The Planning section is my general calendar, the Work one holds notes I need to remember for working with the different publications (quick style guides and the like) as well as a monthly view calendar. Notes and Expenses are pretty self explanatory, Projects is notes on things I need to be keeping an eye on or working on in my spare moments (story notes, research reminders, and the like). The Personal section is where I keep track of presents I want to buy for people, or things I want to tell others about. To Action is my to-do lists for while I’m out, so if I find myself in a spare moment (waiting for a bus, usually) I can keep track and actually be productive.

A week into living in my bag, my dividers were already looking a bit worse for wear, so I’ve laminated mine in hopes they’ll last the year. Below the ‘Planner’ section divider is a green bit of pattern- that’s one of the old planner dividers that I’m using to try and stop the papers getting so knocked around. It had writing on it, so I covered over it with tape to make it less ugly.

Colour coding and Post-It fetishes

colour coding and post its
I have a thing for colour. It’s why I have a ridiculous number of pens and notebooks in my office space. But as much as I love gel and felt tipped pens, because the planner refill pages I’m using are thin, I’m using coloured ball-point pens.

I need as much help as possible to pay attention to things, so colour works for me. I decide what colours represent what (red: freakin’ urgent, purple: writing, blue: business, pink: family and friends, green: Peta’s stuff, and orange: general) and I make sure to write each event or appointment in the right colour. Because I want to know roughly how busy I am over the longer-term, I also add a post-it flag to the top of the page. Yup, in that colour. I have a thing for Post-It notes. It’s a little sad, really.

I also use Post-It notes to keep track of events that have a habit of changing times and days. Marina and I meet up as often as possible to talk about our businesses and try to figure out what it is we’re actually doing. But we’re both victims of randomly intense schedules, so more often than not the day gets changed at least once. My perfectionist tendencies mean I wouldn’t cope with crossing things out so often- it’s too messy. So a note I can move around stops me pouting over messy bits of page.

Keeping track of reviews owing

review notes
I used to scrapbook, and I still art journal. It means I have an epic stash of pretty stuff lying about, taking up space. I’ve started adding useful bits and pieces, so I can keep track of what reviews I have to get done.

I use little journal cards to keep track of reviews. You can find knock-offs at cheap stores pretty easily, or go to craft stores and nab some of the various brands there. I have a piece of old planner paper to use as a template, and punch out holes so I can add them in and move them around easily.

Each month has two of those cards. There’s the stuff due that month, of course, but there’s also stuff that I want to try and read ahead if I have time.

Keeping track of multi-day events

taping off events
Sometimes, I’m a lucky little penmonkey and get to review multi-day events like Cons (yay for me!), and it’s good to be able to see at a glance what’s happening when.

I will admit, I go the washi tape. It draws my attention really quickly, and generally it can fit in the margins of the pages I’m using without too much trouble.

Oddly, this has nothing to do with my colour coding for smaller events. I just go with whatever I like in that particular moment, as long as it’s bold enough to show up. If it blends into the page, I won’t use it for this.



I am terrible with keeping track of tickets. I always have great intentions, but sooner or later I’ll walk out the door and leave them sitting on the table. So with the printable sort at least, it’s easier to just cut them down to get rid of the unnecessary guff that fills the page, punch some holes in, and add them into the calendar.

Business Cards

biz card holder

I actually have two seperate cards: my fic writing card, and my freelancing card. Generally, both come with me when I leave the house. In the last planner convo, I talked about cannibalising old planner stuff to work in your new planner, and this card holder was from the tiny planner I tried earlier this year. Some washi tape over the original holes, a moment with a hole punch, and it fits into the new planner easily.

Daily jobs

We all have those daily to-do lists that feel terrifying. I use a post-it note that sits beside my laptop when I’m working from home. Again, colour coded: black ink for the stuff that isn’t urgent, and whatever colour takes my fancy to show off the really important stuff.

This also has an advantage: there’s only so much you can really write on one, so you have to be realistic about what you’re going to achieve. If I write out my list on a piece of paper (or worse, in a notebook) it’ll go on for pages. This way, I’m more honest about what I need to take care of.


blog prep
Because I’m prone to bouts of busy, I’m trying to be better with blogging by actually setting up some of my posts in advance. That’s where the ‘work’ section of the planner comes in- it’s got the specific info I need when working for different publications, but it’s also got a monthly view calendar where I can just add stickers to remind myself of whether there’s a post prepped or not. Whenever I schedule a post, I add a sticker, and a Post-It in my general calendar section if I need to add links or images.

What I’ve learned

Time planners, where they have the hour by hour lines to keep track of appointments? They’re useless to me. I just need space to write notes.

I really don’t love it when the weekend sections are half the size of the weekday ones, but that’s pretty standard, unfortunately. I don’t get it though, because if you work, you’ve got to cram heaps into the weekend, right?

One planner is my limit. The more places I need to go for information or reminders, the less likely I am to actually do it.

Size matters. Too small, and I don’t have enough room to write everything into it. Too big and it becomes too heavy to take with me.

If it lives in your bag, it’s going to get knocked around. Leather won’t generally last as long because it’s more fragile than the plastic covers. Also? Those cute dividers are going to get really, really knocked around. Consider laminating them if you’re going to get frustrated with them tearing, or covering them with clear contact. Or, just buy an extra set or two.

Punch some holes in a piece of cardboard (or if you’re changing dividers, use one of your old ones) and add it to the back of your planner to keep your papers straighter. It gets knocked around in place of the back papers, so they last longer.



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