How to Manage Your Freelance To-Do List While Keeping Some Shred of Sanity


A day in the life of a freelance web designer can be a real whirlwind. Without ever leaving your desk, you might be working on dozens of sites, communicating with lots of clients, writing several proposals and still find time to network on social media.

This is my 18th year of freelancing. Last year, I was as busy as ever. The project to-do list is long and my inbox is full. The only things that are low are my energy levels and free time.

My point is that, in this career field, you’re going to go through times where you are so busy that you aren’t sure how you’re going to get it all done. The challenge lies in finding a healthy way to manage your to-do list while keeping some shred of sanity. But how?

Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to better manage those busy times.

Use a System

It used to be that I could simply keep track of all of my projects by memory. But as the number of projects grew, some items started falling through the cracks.

You definitely need a system to keep track of both what you need to do and when you need to have it done by. Being able to track progress is also important.

This can be done in any number of ways. It could be as simple as writing things down on a piece of paper or even using a whiteboard. There are also a number of online services that can help with this as well. I ended up using Trello’s free service and have been very happy with it.

Trello’s UI is made up of a series of "boards" that allow you to categorize your tasks. Each board allows you to add any number of "cards", which are essentially the tasks that you need to take care of. You can include notes for each card as you make progress and set due dates. When you’ve completed a task, you can simply archive it or drag it over to a "Finished" board, as I do. There’s something oddly satisfying about that!

Regardless, any system that you are comfortable with and helps you keep track of your projects will make a big difference. You will no longer have to rely on memory alone. For me, it has certainly brought a higher level of organization to my day.

Make Time For Each Project

Sometimes the hardest part of managing multiple projects is figuring out which one to tackle first. Now that you have a system in place to keep track of what needs to be done and when it needs to be completed by, you can prioritize a bit.

Still, we live in a world that expects us to multi-task at all hours of the day. Most of us are unable to simply focus all of our time and energy into a single project from start to finish – then move on to the next one.

That’s why you will want to set aside some time each day (or every two days, or every week, etc.) for each project. Set a goal of what you want to accomplish that particular day with each one. Small, realistic goals will help you make real progress and also boost your confidence and give you a sense of achievement.

You’ll also want to be as forthcoming with your clients as you can when it comes to how long a project will take. When mapping out time requirements, make sure to take all of the other projects you’re working on into account. It doesn’t hurt to consider that there might be something unexpected popping up (there always is) that will take up your time.

The old saying of "under-promise and over-deliver" can really be a big help. For example, tell your client that a project will be completed by the end of January, even when you think you’ll be done several days earlier. They’ll be pleasantly surprised when you have completed the project ahead of schedule, while you’ll have some built-in room in your schedule for the unexpected.

Seek Professional Help

Even with great organization and proper time-management, there are times when you simply have too much to do and not enough time to do it. That’s when it is time to realize that you might need to seek the help of another freelancer.

Finding someone you trust to help out with various tasks on your to-do list can be of a great benefit, even if it may cost you a little money. The good news is that if you are really that busy, then you should be able to afford some occasional help.

Image Source: Direct Line.

This can really lift a burden off your shoulders and also keep your projects moving forward smoothly. In the end, your clients are happy because things are getting done on time. You’re happy because you didn’t have to stress out as much about the project. Everyone wins!


It can be easy to feel overwhelmed with work as a freelancer. After all, in many cases it’s just you sitting at that desk with a mountain of work to finish (or start).

While you can’t alleviate all of the stress and headaches that come with your business, there are things you can do to make life easier. Organize your tasks and manage your routine to the point where you can make time for each project. When that’s still not enough, don’t be afraid to reach out for a helping hand.

Then, you’ll get to enjoy that moment when you can officially remove a task from your list. And you won’t be in a panic when it’s time to add a new one.

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