Hands up if you manage multiple projects? Yes, I thought so!
A while back in my career I had the luxury of managing a big project and that was all I did. I use the term “luxury” lightly because it was hard work, but at least my brain was always in the same space each day.
These days, like many of you, I manage multiple projects. Some of them are actually quite big in terms of budget and duration, but not so much in terms of drain on my time each week. That means I’m juggling different deliverables, stakeholders, schedules, task lists, and more.
Often, when we are manage multiple projects, we’re also taking a larger role in doing the work as well. You may have several smallish projects on the go at the same time and have responsibility for delivering a fair amount of the tasks yourself.
Sometimes it feels like I’m all over the place. My day starts with a meeting about one project, I take a phone call about another, switch to helping a colleague with something urgent on a different project and then end the day with a meeting about something totally different. There’s a lot of switching going on!
If that sounds familiar, here are some suggestions to help you better plan and manage multiple projects. These 10 tips are things that have worked for me and I’m sure will help you too.
First, know your priorities. Without this fundamental knowledge, you can spend all day working at top speed and still feel like you are falling behind as you haven’t worked on the right things.
Your projects will have different priorities, and tasks within those projects will also have different priorities. Make sure you understand what is really important and what’s just a nice to have. Then, if you are working with a team, you can better plan their time to deliver on the crucial stuff.
2. Block Your Time
I think it’s commonly accepted that successful multitasking is a myth. Time blocking is a technique that is used to increase productivity and it works beautifully with multiple projects.
It works by forcing you to carve out time for a particular reason during the day and then sticking to it. You could block your time for one client, or one project, or to do one task like return phone calls or process invoices.
Because you aren’t switching activities within that time, your mind achieves a state of flow more easily and you get more done.
Just make sure your team knows not to interrupt you too often!
3. Create Focus
What do you need to stay focused? You can be more productive on your projects if you use your time blocks wisely. And that means staying focused on your priority activities. No getting sucked into Facebook, just to check what’s happening. Stick with your tasks and save surfing for later.
For me, I need a quiet environment to stay focused. I know some people love working with music in the background, but that isn’t something I can tolerate. I also need bright lighting (or I start to doze off and get eye strain that stops me doing my best work). So frankly, working in a noisy, dimly-lit coffee shop that has music pumping through the ceiling speakers isn’t going to give me the headspace I need to get on with my work.
Everyone is different. Learn what works for you and make it happen.
4. Review Your Workload Regularly
Watch out for your workload. Plan what’s coming up and sense check that you will be able to do it all. Go through your To Do list or project schedules, reviewing critical tasks and how long they are going to take. This is a simple thing to do at the end of each week when you are updating your project schedule.
If you can get resource allocation reports out of your project management software, then that’s even better.
Got too much to do? Delegate! If you have a team, or access to trusted colleagues who are available to help, then make the most of them! You might be able to delegate whole projects. You may only be able to delegate parts of projects, but even that means they are off your To Do list.
Remember: delegating doesn’t mean that you absolve yourself of everything to do with the task. You still have to provide some oversight to your colleague so that you give yourself confidence that the work is being done effectively and to the required standard.
6. Overlay Your Project Plans
This is easy to do with project management software. You can roll up your major milestones or phases of work and see what the implications are. Look for weeks where several projects have key deliverables due or where you can predict that you are going to be stretched and stressed.
Knowing that this is coming up can help you better prepare for it. You may be able to shift some work around to smooth out the busy times, or you can do some work in advance, get in extra help or whatever. Personally, I like to book a massage as a treat for when a busy period comes to an end. I also try to meal plan so I don’t have to make too many decisions at home when I have been making decisions all day at work.
Tip: Make sure those major deliverable dates are in your calendar. I add project milestones to my personal calendar as well as having them on a project schedule.
7. Track Your Progress
It is so easy to fall behind! Keep an eye of how much time you are spending on any activity. Using the time tracking features of your project management software or just keep a note. You’ll soon get a feel for if one project is taking up too much time and the others are suffering as a result.
Block out some time each week (book a meeting with yourself as the only attendee) to review your progress and take stock of where you are on each project.
8. Be Flexible
Some dates are fixed in stone and you know your project sponsor won’t let you move them. Others have a little bit of wiggle room. If you know which tasks fall into which category, you can flex your work more easily.
Let’s say you had blocked out today to do something on Project A. An emergency comes up on Project B and you’re called to deal with that. Your time blocking isn’t going to work today but that’s OK. A flexible attitude goes a long way to helping you deal with the ebb and flow that is working on multiple projects.
9. Stay Organized
The last thing you want is turning up to a project review meeting with the notes for a different project.
Use processes, systems and tools to stay organized so that you can always find documents and plans that relate to a particular project or client. Make sure that you have easy access to the project schedules and To Do lists that relate to your projects.
10. Manage Expectations
Finally, manage expectations. You have a lot on; you are juggling multiple projects. There will be times when you can’t get everything done for everyone. Let your project sponsors and managers know when you are available and when you plan to have work completed.
If, for any reason, you can’t keep those commitments, let the people affected know as soon as you can, along with a revised estimate of when you’ll be able to finish their tasks.
This keeps everyone in the communication loop and everyone knows what to expect at all times.
These 10 tips will help you manage multiple projects with the least stress. What other suggestions do you have? Let us know in the comments section.