How to Juggle Multiple Projects
Working on multiple projects at the same time is a great way to drive yourself crazy. Here are 7 tips to juggle multiple projects and still make progress on each.
There’s an insidious disease eating the world -- it’s our belief that we can do it all, and do it all at once. For women, it’s called the “superwoman syndrome.” For guys, it’s called, hmm, I dunno “being ambitious.” And if it has a name for intersex people, I’ve never heard it.
My client Autumn is a newly self-employed copy-writer. Autumn wants to build her business but doesn’t have a web site. This means hours each day are spent working on the site. But Autumn also squeezes in client calls every now and then. And when clients bite—as they’ve done—there’s project work to add on top of all of that.
The result? 60-hour weeks. And guilt. Lots of guilt. When working on the web site, there’s guilt about sales calls that aren’t happening. During sales calls, there’s guilt about the web site work. Or even worse, the attempt to work on both at once, which is a great way to give neither the attention it deserves. Plus, it turns your brain to mush.
Autumn’s problem is trying to do everything at once. The web site seems pressing. Getting clients seems pressing. So it’s easy to believe both must happen now. This is what leads to over-commitment.
Here are 7 quick tips for dealing with this kind of over-commitment:
Tip #1: Think Through Your Priorities
In Autumn’s case, there are three projects: creating the web site, prospecting by telephone, and working on current client projects.
The most important is current client projects. Failing to deliver quality results to clients will tank the business, period.
Next priority is making prospecting calls. The prospecting calls are already leading to clients, so we know it works. Bringing money in the door means there will be food to eat, “Life is Good” T-shirts to buy, and wallpaper paste for the world’s stickiest paper mache.
Lastly is the web site. After all, if clients are buying through word of mouth, cold calling, and so on, it may not be exactly pressing to create the web site.
Tip #2: Re-Examine Your Assumptions About What’s Needed
It’s just an assumption that a business needs a web site. The owner of a very successful consulting firm recently told me she’s never even tried social media because she’s too busy doing client work.
The need for the web site may be in Autumn’s imagination. Maybe a single page or two of text is all that’s needed. Maybe something more.
Maybe the web site should be dropped entirely until it is proven necessary by people asking for it.
Tip #3: Sequence Whenever Possible
Autumn is the kind of person who works best by focusing on one thing at a time. This is actually true of many people, even though we’ve trained ourselves to forget that fact. Rather than having all three projects going at once, Autumn would be less overloaded by doing them sequentially: First, client work, then prospecting, and lastly, web site creation.
Tip #4: Set Time Boundaries
“But client work could keep me busy forever!” cries Autumn. “I’ll never get to the other tasks!” That may be true. Frankly, if those hours are billable, I’m not sure it matters. But to keep the billable hours flowing in means some prospecting is probably wise.
To keep your brain happy, when you sequence projects rather than working on them all at once, set firm time boundaries. “I’ll work on nothing but client work all week this week. Next week, however, I’ll put in two solid days of nothing but prospecting.” By setting and keeping time limits, your brain can dive into one project and know that next week, the other project will make progress.
Tip #5: Set Boundaries at Different Scales
This works on many time scales. Do-It Days help you be productive by focusing in hour-long chunks. Speed Dating Your Tasks puts focus in 5-10-minute chunks. Here, I’m suggesting Austin focus on one project at a time, in multi-day chunks. This will give Autumn enough concentrated time to get into the groove and build momentum, knowing there’s a pre-set time when the next project will also make progress.
Tip #6: Set Boundaries at Maximum Motivation
Setting the boundaries that work for you is an art. You need time chunks long enough that you believe you’ll make real progress, but short enough that your brain doesn’t view it as a huge thing. If you think, “I’m going to finish my entire novel before working on anything else,” your brain will rebel! It will cry, “If you do that, you’ll never get any laundry done!”
But if you decide to do just three days of concentrated effort, your brain knows you can do laundry afterwards, and will help you focus. You’ll have to experiment to find the time horizon that works best for you.
Tip #7: Let Your Time Boundaries Guide Your Actions
Time boundaries have a hidden benefit: they help you make choices about how you’ll proceed. An open-ended “Build a Website” project could turn into endless explorations of HTML, Wordpress, and so on. A two-day “Build a Website” project will force rapid tradeoffs. Learning to code by hand won’t even be an option. Instead, Autumn would concentrate on services that have a website up and going in minutes or hours.
If you overwhelm yourself by working on several major projects at once, stop and reconsider. Review your priorities, withdraw from projects that don’t make sense, and use a sequential focus with time boundaries to motivate you into flow and force tradeoffs that will let you finish projects in the time you’ve chosen.
This is Stever Robbins. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I mentor successful people in building exceptional lives, business, and careers by helping them get clarity on their direction, aligning their commitments with their goals, and creating accountability to keep them moving. If you want to know more, visit SteverRobbins.com.
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!
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