Like you, I rarely have just one thing on my plate. Between writing blog posts, working on branding projects, designing new items for the Library, and keeping up with administrative tasks around Elle & Company, I'm constantly juggling. Focusing on one thing at a time is easier than managing multiple projects and clients at once, but the reality for most designers/entrepreneurs/moms/students is that projects often need to be worked on simultaneously.
Successfully conquering multiple projects at once is a fine art and a balancing act. Project management can make or break you in business, hinder your success in school, and cause a lot of stress for those of us who are prone to saying "yes" to everything.
I don't know if I'll ever consider myself a pro at project juggling, but I've come across some tips that add order to my routine and allow me to stay on top of multiple projects, clients, and tasks at the same time. My way isn't the only way and it isn't super high-tech, but this project management system might be helpful for you too. Here are 5 tips that that have helped me juggle the many tasks and to-dos around Elle & Company.
1. Write out your process
Think through every step of your project from start to finish and write it down. Record every detail, big and small, so that you can account for it in your schedule. Once you've considered all the steps, compile them into a workflow chart. Workflow charts are especially useful if you're working with similar projects on a consistent basis (all you photographers, event planners, teachers, and designers can relate).
The workflow chart that I created to keep up with my branding clients has been a lifesaver. It keeps all of my tasks organized and gives me a visual for where I'm at in the scope of a project. My workflow chart streamlines my process and helps me become more efficient with my time.
2. Generously estimate your time
If you're like me, projects always take longer than you originally anticipate. To prevent last-minute scrambling and night-before-the-deadline panic attacks, get in the habit of overestimating the time it will take you to complete a project. Creating a buffer is a win-win for everyone: if a project takes you a little longer than you had hoped, you've already built in some extra time to complete it. If you finish early, you have more room in your schedule to get ahead on other projects (and you'll probably impress your client or project recipient, too).
3. Rely on your planner
Easy to say since I sell planners, right? But I designed the Daybook Planner because I've seen how fundamental organization is to productivity and successful time management. I would never be able to keep up with several projects at once if I didn't write down every single task in my Daybook and block off sections of time to complete them.
Once you've come up with your workflow chart and have generously estimated how much time each task will take, write down the steps in your planner. This is probably the most important step; you'll overcommit, fall behind, and miss deadlines if you don't account for each step of a project in your schedule (and I say this from experience). Save stress and block off time to get things done.
4. Categorize your weekly schedule
Having the same routine day after day works for some people, but I've learned that monotony in my schedule causes me to be less productive. I have to mix it up and add variation to my days so that they don't all run together. For example, Mondays and Fridays are designated for blog writing and administrative tasks, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are blocked off for client work, and Saturday mornings I work on new Library additions. There are some tasks like emailing and posting to social media that have to be done each day, but categorizing my week gives me something to look forward to and helps me plow through similar tasks.
5. Stick to the plan
Steps 1 through 4 are only the beginning; the hardest part about juggling multiple projects is finding the self control to stick to your system. I'm still trying to find a magic solution to this self-control dilemma, but I've learned two tricks that keep me on track.
Unplug. I'm certain that this isn't the first time you've been advised to do this, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate how distracting social media and incoming emails can be when you're trying to get work done. And again, I speak from experience. Turn off your phone, x-out of your email, and do whatever is necessary to keep from being interrupted.
Schedule rewards for getting work done. Because we all work a little harder when there's something in it for us. Your reward could be something as simple as a quick run through the Starbucks drive-through or an episode of the Office on Netflix.
Like I said before, I'm no project management pro and I'm still fine-tuning my system. I would love to know what tips you've found helpful for juggling multiple projects at once. How do you keep up with all of your tasks? And just for fun, what rewards motivate you to check off the boxes on your to-do list?