My sister is currently in the midst of her biggest year yet in her emerging art career. She asked me the other day for some advice on how to organise her to do’s when she’s handling multiple projects.
If you are in a creative industry or running a business, you will know about jugging multiple projects at once. In almost any career there’d be times when you either have several client jobs on the go, are balancing different roles, or have some personal projects running alongside work.
At one time I was running a solo business (let’s not go into how many roles that’s made up of), writing two non-fiction books, planning a series of business e-books, running workshops, and had roles in the organising committees of two business networking groups. I like to have multiple projects on the go, but there are definitely hard lessons I’ve learned that come with this kind of life!
While I’m still figuring it out for myself – being a person who hates routine! – there were a few tips I could share with my sister that have helped me keep all those juggling balls in the air.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
First off, be honest with yourself about how much you’re taking on. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed most of the time, you most likely have bitten off more than you can chew! Having too many projects on the go definitely ‘waters them down’, so that you have less time, energy and inspiration to give to each. I’ve learned the hard way: doing a few things really well is MUCH better than trying to do everything at once and not being able to give anything the attention it deserves.
At the end of one year, I gave myself a very stern talking to and made myself cut out 5 things that I just couldn’t handle. It helped me to think about what was most important to me.
WHERE DID I PUT THAT…?
Sounds obvious, but when I don’t take the time to organise my notes on different client projects properly, I end up kicking myself over the time I’ve wasted searching for that little scrap of paper with the vital information I needed to complete the job. I’m a paper and pen girl at heart, and the ideas fly fast so I’m constantly grabbing the nearest scrap of paper to scribble down a note. If this is you, please be better than me and take the time at the end of the day to put everything away in its proper place!
Practically speaking, I keep current client projects in manila folders on my desk, with their digital files on my computer’s desktop. Any outstanding ones to check up on (like pending projects or those I need to do a follow-up with after completion) are also on my desk, in the back section of the file rack. Business roles (Marketing, Business/Product Development, Financials etc.) are in separate binders along another part of the desk. They also have their digital equivalents in my business folder. Archives are kept in their particular sections too, in individual files in a cupboard and on the computer. And for the ideas flashing brilliantly across my mind at inconvenient moments… well I’m trying to reach for just one big notebook and store everything there.
I like to use the technique of setting an intention for a block of time and what I want to get out of it. For example, I might say to myself, ‘In the next hour I will write these two blog posts’. It helps me focus on only the task at hand and not feel panicked about everything else that has to be done, because I’ve clearly decided what I’m doing with this hour. It also means I don’t get distracted easily because I’ve got a clear priority for a short period of time, and it means I generally achieve the goal quickly and easily. After that I’ll take a quick break to stretch my body and brain before setting the next intention and timeframe.
THE POWER HOUR
We’ve all heard them: Just do it… Eat that frog… There’s a reason these sayings are so well known! Scheduling a Power Hour, a technique I picked up from a business coach, at the start of my day at least twice a week helps me feel motivated to get that tricky task done. It’s not always easy to make this time first thing (yes, even before checking email or Facebook!), but if you do, it will set your entire day up for success because you’ll feel so awesome.
THE EASIEST AND BEST TIP EVER
When you’re juggling multiple projects it’s easy to lose momentum on one when you’ve interrupted it to work on another. By far the simplest and most effective technique I’ve found to help me save time when switching projects is simply to stick a Post-it note to the top page when I leave a project, telling me what my next steps are. When I come back, it quickly gets my head back into the project and I can just go straight into the tasks written there.
IF YOU REQUIRE FLEXIBILITY, USE A SKELETON DIARY
Even if you hate rigid routine (and if you’re like me, it won’t help you to work creatively), you still need structure to feel in control of all those project deadlines. You can avoid the frustration and yawn-factor of an inflexible schedule by creating a ‘skeleton diary’: a bare-bones look at what each week should look like in theory. Then you know that if you missed your business development session this week because a new job came in you wanted to sink your teeth into, you need to find time for that area later.
If you’re a business owner with limited staff, this tool is an excellent way to ensure you are fulfilling your many responsibilities!
PLAN YOUR TO DO’S DAILY
If you’re like me and get bored the moment you’ve finished mapping out a whole week… immediately finding something to do that wasn’t on the list… you need to schedule in smaller chunks! Referring to your skeleton diary, you’ll have a rough idea of what should be happening every week. After a quick overview of set appointments for this week, use the rest of your time flexibly. Just create a (reasonably sized) list of things to finish by the end of the week, then take one day at a time. At the end of each day, review and decide what’s happening the next day.
DID I SAY THAT?
When working with a bunch of clients at once, you absolutely must be careful what you promise. Experience will tell you how long most projects realistically take, so don’t promise a shorter timeframe or bigger workload! Instead, aim to surprise them when the work is delivered early and at top quality.
Like I said, I am still (yes, 5 years into my business!) working these things out, so if you have an amazing tip please share it here!
Image: Our work for Allwest Uniforms