If you juggle a variety of projects every day, you’re in good company. We have LiquidPlanner customers who manage anywhere between 5 – 25 projects on any given day! Multi-tasking has become a part of our work culture. Done well, you can move toward business goals faster. Done poorly, you can stretch yourself so thin that you underperform and under-deliver.
Using project management software to organize a multitude of tasks and projects gives a mass of work a sense of order. But being an effective juggler—someone who can keep a lot of balls in the air, and also get things done—requires some important skills. Here are seven habits to acquire to be an effective, productive juggler.
1. Have a positive attitude.
Don’t wrap yourself (and co-workers) in the story that you have too much to do and you’ll never get it done. Instead, look at your workload as a full banquet of multiple courses, and tell yourself you’re going to make one helluva dent in them. (And while nobody’s promoting overworking, having a lot to do is a good thing in a job.)
2. Create a plan.
Strategizing out a plan will get you focused and problem solving, and take your brain out of the trough of worry and defeat. An effective plan takes a 20,000 foot mountain and breaks it down into reasonable mole hills. Planning activities include estimating effort, identifying urgent vs important work items, and prioritizing tasks. If you have a project planning tool like LiquidPlanner, you’ll be one step ahead of the prioritization game.
3. Manage up effectively.
It’s important to manage up effectively to keep some order to those various tasks and deadlines. Check in with your boss just enough so that he/she is aware of what you’re doing, and you can be confident that you’re working on the most important items. If you’re juggling a few related tasks and don’t see the connection, ask. Use your co-workers for second opinions, check-ins and other questions. You don’t want to rush your manager; instead, prove yourself resourceful, and know what question to ask, when.
4. Don’t be a Yes Person.
If you’re already juggling your fair share of balls, is it wise to take on more? Learn to say “no.” It’s a common characteristic to want to please your manager and look like a “can do” person. But here’s the thing: In life, it’s always up to you to draw the line. So if your manager—or a co-worker—swings by with a last-minute task, don’t resort to an instant “Sure, no problem.” Instead, take time to think through what’s needed, turn the job drop-off into a larger conversation. Feel free to say “no,” but then provide an alternative solution: a more reasonable date or more resources, for example. This way you develop the skills—and reputation—as a thoughtful, reliable problem solver.
5. Know your perfect juggling amount.
It’s hard to escape multi-tasking. But overdoing it can result in an exercise in futility: doing a little here, a little there and never completing anything significant. We all have our way of thinking and working. Some of us like juggling a few tasks; others like to drop deeply into one task for hours (and some jobs require more of this). Pay attention to how you feel during your most productive days, and see how many tasks you get done. If three is about the most you can handle, then you know what you—and others—can expect in a day. Don’t overextend yourself (see No. 4). If the numbers go over that ideal (say 3), work through the top three, and get to the rest tomorrow.
6. Focus on the task at hand.
This is easier said than done, but when you’re working on one task or project, put your full attention there. It might take discipline—especially if you have a wily mind that wanders. If you’re used to interrupting one task half way through because a random thought about Project B darted into your mind, try to push it away and stay where you are. This is a focusing exercise that takes practice, and it will get easier over time. If you’re worried about losing a brilliant thought, write it down. If it’s a truly brilliant though, it will return. And have some rules around checking email and those other distracting websites. Make them work for you and use them as rewards!
7. Complete something every day.
Even though our jobs require that we mark projects done and meet deadlines, it’s easy for some jugglers to never get that sense of completion. Try this: Name one task or work item you’ll complete every day. Focus on it, stay with it and make sure you don’t leave your desk until it’s finished. Then savor it. It’s important to bring all those balls in play to a halt. And acknowledge a job well done.
If you found this article helpful, there’s more. Learn how to take your project management skills to the next level. Download the eBook, 5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.