Part of my job is to juggle. Have you ever felt that way? Because I work at a planning intelligence company, I get to let our software manage a good deal of my workplace chaos. But each workplace has its own special form of randomization, and I find myself split between tasks like every other working person.
It’s even more important to learn to juggle projects when you split your time between strategy and tactics. Are you one of the people who has to plan the work, then be responsible for delivery of those projects? Add cross-group dependencies and work between teams, and the complexities can get quickly hard to track—or determine which task to work on next. Let alone the juggling of several simultaneous workstreams.
10 Tips for Managing Multiple Projects at Once
So how can we be successful when we’re managing multiple projects at once?
1. Prioritize What’s Urgent
First, make a list of what’s most important. Without this foundation, you can spend all day working at top speed and still feel like you are falling behind if you haven’t worked on the right things.
Your projects will have different priorities, and tasks within those projects will also have different priorities. What is really important and what’s just a nice-to-have? Identify that right away. Then, you can plan your time and your team’s time around the most critical tasks for a project.
2. Block Your Work Time
Successful multitasking? It’s a myth. Try successive multitasking instead, and block your time to get stuff done. Layering those tasks one after the other (not at the same time!) ensures successful completion, and time blocking is how you do it. Time blocking is a worthy technique 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. Start by booking time for one client, or one project, or to do one task like return phone calls or process invoices, then branch out from there.
Just make sure your team knows not to interrupt you too often!
3. Create Space for 100% 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 – just know what works for you. 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 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, but I know plenty of developers who swear by dim lights, caffeine, dance music and snacks for their focus time.
Everyone is different. Learn what works for you and make it happen.
4. Weed out Your Workload
Watch out for your workload. Plan for what you know, because business is excellent at randomizing your day. Especially on Mondays.
Go through your To Do list or project schedules on the day of the week that focuses you (Fridays, anyone?), reviewing critical tasks and how long they are going to take. If you’re using LiquidPlanner, keeping your Tasks updated with Estimated Time is the easiest way to do this, but wherever you keep your workplace tasks is a great place to start.
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. Even if not, cheer up – if you can’t delegate the whole, carve off parts of projects. It still means it’s not on your To-Do list (even though have to check up on it, instead of doing it yourself)…
Don’t forget: 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 Planning
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 plan for pinched schedules.
Tip: Make sure those major deliverable dates are in your work calendar. I sometimes add project milestones to my daily 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. Know What’s 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
Planning is great, but so is staying organized across your tasks.
Notice what’s working for you and discard old habits. 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 Others’ Expectations
We know you can juggle, but don’t forget to be a good communicator. 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. Planning intelligently also means communicating intelligently, so don’t forget to be a collaborator.