Working in a consultancy can often mean juggling multiple projects and media at once. This work style certainly keeps me from ever getting bored, but if not managed properly, it can also cause some unwanted stress.
However, if I plan my days well, they can be perfectly curated to keep me focused and get the job(s) done. Here are my tips for creating that balance.
1. Prioritize Your Tasks
Invest some time prioritizing your upcoming tasks. Often enough, when we have a lot to do, our instinct is to immediately jump in and get our hands dirty. However, it is crucial to take a step back in order to ensure that you’re spending your time on the right tasks, at the right time. Otherwise, you might end up spending eight hours on Project A on Monday, when Project B has a feature due on Tuesday morning.
The first thing I do when I get into the office on Monday morning is to sit down and make a list of all the tasks that need to be completed during the upcoming week. I typically do this on index cards or Post-it notes—one for each project/client.
Pro tip: Be sure to include non-client tasks, too! If I don’t prioritize my internal goals for the week, I simply won’t get to them.
2. Schedule When to Work on What
After I’ve completed my prioritized list of tasks per project, I get to work on figuring out when I will work on each item. This is when things may get a little messy. Project A might have a task that is the highest priority, but Project B might have one due immediately after that. In a perfect world, I would block off one entire day for Project A, one for Project B, etc. The reality is that this just typically doesn’t jive with the priority order, so I end up splitting each day between multiple projects.
Estimate to your best ability how much time you need to complete each task. Then, begin blocking off time in your calendar for the highest priority items. Make actual calendar events for these items. It will encourage you to stick to your schedule, and also give your co-workers an idea of what you’re working on when (which might influence when they decide to send you a meeting invite).
Pro tip: Change locations in the office when you switch to a different task, or alternate between sitting and standing. This helps me feel in control of the constant context switching.
3. Put Everything in a To-Do List
Checklists are your friend. I typically make a to-do list for each day, so I can cross off items as I complete them. I create my daily to-do lists at the start of each day. Anything that I didn’t complete from the previous day’s list will get moved over to the current day. After that, I reference my weekly priority list to fill in the rest.
Lately, I’ve been making analog to-do lists. Something about physically crossing off each item and then being able to throw away the entire completed list at the end of the day makes me feel more accomplished. There are great digital tools for this too—my personal favorites being Asana and Trello.
Pro tip: Break your tasks down as much as you can. If you need to wireframe a dashboard, include a sub-task for each component. This will help you stay on track and give you a sense of accomplishment as you check off each item.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
I know you want to be all things to all people, but the harsh reality is that you can’t. Saying “no” is extremely difficult for me, but I have learned that sometimes it is entirely necessary. If you spread yourself too thin, you will not be providing the best value that you can for each project or task you are working on. If you’re already feeling stressed when a co-worker asks for an hour of your time, don’t be afraid to say no (and offer to meet at a different time). It will be worth the wait, since you will be in a better headspace.
Pro tip: If and when you say no, be sure to explain that you are doing so in order to better meet the inquirer’s needs. Don’t make it about your mental health, but about the quality you will deliver.
5. Give Yourself a Break
Don’t forget to breathe, and give yourself a break when necessary. Sometimes looking at a list of all my priorities for the week leaves me feeling a little overwhelmed. After all, here is a large list of tasks to do, for multiple people. Multiple people I could let down.
That’s when I take a step back and reflect on the large sum of tasks I completed the prior week. It’s okay to give yourself a pep talk. It’s encouraged to give yourself a break when you need it.
I’m one of those people who typically works through my lunch, but on a day when I’m feeling anxious, I stop and give myself a break. I might seek out a fellow Atom for a pair lunch, take a walk, or simply pull my eyes away from the computer for 15 minutes. I always return to my work feeling calmer and ready to conquer the next task.
Pro tip: Try stretching when you need a break. It’s a great way to release tension. However, be sure you don’t stretch anything too hard—you’re probably not warmed up enough for that.
6. Do What Works Best for You
There’s no right or wrong way to manage your multiple projects—as long as the job gets done, the client is happy, and you are still sane. What works for me might not be what works for you, and that is okay. However, if any of these tips are new to you, I encourage you to give them a try! I’d also love to hear what isn’t on this list that makes your multi-project life easier.