For this week’s Tea Talk, we spoke with Michelle Nickolaisen, the creator of the Freelancer Planner. We were obviously excited to talk to Michelle for several reasons, but we just can’t help but to nerd our over organization. It’s so crucial as a freelancer to stay ahead of all your client projects, deadlines and moving parts.

We were ecstatic to learn that someone has dedicated their work to creating such a product. Learn more about Michelle, the Freelancer Planner, and her tips for staying organized as a freelancer below!

Location: Austin, TX

Job: Freelance writer

Hobby / passion project: Do I have to pick one? There’s planners, the novel/trilogy and then a few other things that are in various stages of development

Life motto: I can’t pick one! (It works as both an answer and a motto. 😉 ) I do have this poster above my workspace and I love it.

Tell us about your freelance career to date. Why did you pursue a freelance career and what do you focus on?

For those in the biz, I usually say that I do B2B freelance writing and content marketing for tech startups and SaaS companies. For everyone else, I just say I do freelance business writing. Of course, I also have side projects that I mentioned above too (and a few things that are very early-stage and very back-burner while I work on the planner & the novel).

What inspired you to create the Freelancer Planner?

Two factors:

1) Most planners don’t really do anything to teach you how to plan better — they’re just sheets of paper with lines on them. If your planning processes are fundamentally flawed, buying a planner won’t help you get any more organized or work better. I created the Freelancer Planner to walk you through the process of planning so that you can improve your planning habits over time. 

2) There’s just not very much out there for service-based businesses — the only planners I could find that took business into account at all were meant for executive-type people, or just didn’t get much into the nitty gritty of which tasks meant what for this part of your business vs. that part of your business. Freelancers are a hugely underserved market, which is silly considering how much of the population we are and how fast that part of the population is growing.

Why did you decide to create physical planner rather than a digital one?

Partially because I don’t have the resources needed to create any kind of app or software (and the productivity space is so crowded, it’s probably a better idea to validate with a lower-risk product first, anyways). Partially because as great as digital tools are, there’s something special that comes from writing – it uses different areas of

What are your favorite tactics for staying organized and balanced as a freelancer?

I go over a couple of them in this post — my favorite out of those for staying balanced is what I call endcapping. I’ll spend the first 30-60 minutes of the day working on something that’s near and dear to my heart. Right now, it’s editing the novel (since most of the loose ends with the planner are tied up and I just have to ship them once I get them from the printer).

Spending some time at the beginning of the day on something that’s just for me helps me feel more balanced and usually makes me more productive the rest of the day, too.


Past that, the best habit that I can recommend is getting things out of your head. Always write down those notes or put those tasks somewhere — if you rely on using only your brain (or a cluttered email inbox) to keep you on track, you’re setting yourself up for failure!

What does your daily routine look like; how do you maintain work-life balance?

I get up and walk the dog pretty much immediately, do 15-25 minutes of yoga, make breakfast (and coffee, of course!) and try to do some Duolingo (I’m slowwwly learning German) before starting my day.

I like to start off with 30-60 minutes of work on one of my side projects (like I mentioned above). If there’s not time for that or after that, I jump right into client writing. My goal is always to spend the first 2-3 hours of the day on writing, since I tend to write best in the mornings. Then I move onto email, administrative tasks, social media, etc. Then I wrap up the day around 5-6 (depending on the day and if I have BJJ – Brazilian jiu jitsu – class that evening). I try to be in bed by 10-10:30 so I can get a good night’s sleep and be up and at ‘em the next day.

Maintaining work-life balance involves getting off the computer for me. Even if I’m just vegging out watching TV (which I refuse to feel guilty about, ‘cause hey, I work hard!), getting off the computer is a must.

When I’m not working, I pretty much never touch my laptop. I also started doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu in August and I love it — I spend about 5-6 hours a week doing that. Staying fit helps a lot with my depressive/anxious tendencies and it also keeps me out of my head. If your mind wanders while you’re sparring, you get squished (or arm-barred!).

Did you find yourself improving your own workflow and processes when designing the planner? Please explain.

Maybe to some extent — having something to keep track of client bookings and income (other than than the hacked Moleskine I’d been using) was super helpful, For the most part, I was designing the planner based on the techniques I’ve used that have worked for me, so there wasn’t much to improve on. I did really enjoy creating a monthly recap/postmortem section though, based on feedback from Kickstarter backers, and I look forward to making that a part of my monthly planning process!


What are your other favorite tools to help freelancers be more organized and productive?

I use Asana and Evernote to stay organized and keep all my tasks and notes together. I also put everything in Google Calendar (or I else forget about it). IFTTT is great for automating some tasks and freeing up your time to work on other things, too.

Finally, what’s your favorite cup of tea?

Cacao Chai from Zhi Tea is really good – runners up include the Chocolate Chai from Rishi, Numi’s Chocolate Pu-Erh (are we seeing a pattern?!), and Rishi’s Coconut Oolong. (Like I said – I’m not good at picking just one thing!)

If you have a question for Michelle or a suggestion for a future Tea Talk, leave it in the comments below!