Staying Organized

By Patty J. Ayers

In the effort to take care of multiple client websites, staying organized is truly crucial. I’ve developed a system for keeping track of everything which works very well for me, and I’m sharing it here. You could implement my system if you like, or aspects of it.

Relevant
WordPress Freelancer Forms

08_Website Info Sheet
09_My Websites Sheet
10_Work Log

Sometimes I am asked “Why are some of the forms intended to be printed on paper? Why isn’t everything digital?” When I was in Mexico for two years and running my business while living in various places, I literally used no paper, so I know it’s quite possible. And it is pretty cool to do that. I just prefer to do some tasks on paper, because I’m usually in my home office, and I can. It means that I spend a little less time staring at a computer monitor and typing on a keyboard. This is why some of the Forms are intended to be printed.

Lots of people prefer to keep track of client and website information and log work hours using software designed for this, and you might prefer that. Bill Erickson has even created a CRM (customer relations management) system which runs on WordPress and there are some very handy-looking time-tracking offerings such as Toggl. The important thing is to have a system and use it diligently.

file_folder_diagramDigital Files for each client. On my hard drive, I have a folder titled “Website Files”. In that directory, I place a sub-folder for each website, named for the website. Inside each of those folders I place the exact same set of sub-sub-folders, and I’m fanatic about putting files in the appropriate place. Here’s an explanation and an illustration of the hierarchy:

website name – A name for the website, the domain or whatever makes sense to you.
site – This corresponds to the root directory of the website.
assets – A container for all files which are not part of the website itself (archive, docs, content, source files, etc., as shown.)
arch – Archive: Anything old that needs to be archived goes here.
docs – Documents: Business documents go here, like proposals and contracts for this project.
cont – Content: Text content to be included in the website.
src – Source Files: Graphic source files go here, as well as any original versions of images.

Be sure you are regularly backing up the hard drive where you keep these digital files!

Paper files for each client. I find myself using paper files less and less as time goes by, but there are always some. Simple enough: each client has a paper file folder where all related paper documents go.

Website Info Sheets. This may be the most useful strategy I have to share. These have become absolutely essential to my business; I don’t know how I managed before I started using this system. It’s simple, but needs to be used religiously to be of any use.

Here’s how it works. Every website gets a Website Info Sheet – not every client, but every website. I make one for every single website that I have responsibility for, even my own personal sites. No exceptions. And all pertinent information goes on them.

These are online documents; I make them into Google Docs and keep them in a distinct folder. Each website has one; none are missing, and there are no doubles. I name the Info Sheet after the website’s primary domain name.

The form that I provide in WordPress Freelancer Forms is an HTML document; you can upload it wherever is convenient for you. The important thing is to keep them all in a place where you can easily access them.

These sheets are all about the technical details of the project. Before I even begin working on a new website, I create an Info Sheet for it, and immediately begin recording everything that I may need to know later. The sheet starts with nuts-and-bolts information like logins, the database name, user and password, the FTP info. Then it continues as a “work journal” of what I do to the website. (Note that this is not a time sheet of hours worked, which I refer to in this e-book and in the WordPress Freelancer Forms as a “work log”.)

Keeping a work journal as part of each Info Sheet for each website has been like solid gold for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked back at my work journals for a website when I desperately needed to figure out how, or why, I did something. I make at least a brief entry in the work journal whenever I do anything to a website. When things are complicated, I write a lot more.

Again, these are only useful because I’m committed to writing in them whenever I work on a website. I allow myself no excuses on this. Sure, it takes a few minutes, but that’s about all. I don’t worry about making the entries all pretty; I keep the sheet only as neat as it needs to be so that I can find what I need later. The work journal part of the Website Info Sheet becomes one long, scrolling dated section.

My Websites Sheet. This is another HTML document in the WordPress Freelancer Forms set. I only keep 1 of these; as you’ll see, it’s designed to keep links to all of your websites in one place, along with a link to the appropriate Website Info Sheet. This is one of the first things I open each day when I’m getting started working. I use this sheet constantly. Sure, those links could be memorized or recorded somewhere else, but I find it extremely useful to have them all in one place.

No doubt there are fancier ways to keep the information that I keep in my Website Info Sheets and My Websites Sheet. There is software designed specifically for this type of thing, and you may prefer to use something more involved than Google Docs. For instance, the company 37 Signals has some excellent web-based apps for small businesses which could serve these purposes well.

Work Log. This is just a simple blank chart to be printed and used to track your hours working on a given project. (Note that I refer elsewhere to a “work journal“, which is different.) There are many ways to track hours, many of them digitally, and you may prefer such a solution. I like to print one of these Work Logs for each separate project and keep the stack of them on a clipboard on or near my desk. For me, this makes it easy to grab and jot down some quick notes on the work that I did and how long I spent.

For the first ten years or so, I tracked my hours on every project, including contracts where I was not being paid by the hour. This was immensely useful in learning how much time I was actually spending, and how much I was actually being paid by the hour! This can be shocking information to discover, but crucial for making sure that you are charging fairly. These days, I only track hours on projects where I’m charging by the hour, but it’s still crucial to have a system which is simple enough that I actually use it.