Juggle multiple projects — without dropping the ball

I’m staring down a few deadlines for rather large projects. I took 3 weeks off from work between late July and Labor Day, and while this was great from an overall life optimization stand-point, I’m kind of paying for it on the work front now. So I’m trying to be strategic about my time. Fortunately, I have all kinds of time management tricks up my sleeve!

The key to dealing with multiple projects, I’ve decided, is that on any given day, I act as if I only have one. Each project gets its own day, scheduled now about a week out. Until 3 p.m. (unless I have a previously scheduled interview/phone call) I focus completely on that one project. I aim to get as much as possible done. Come 3 p.m., I can start picking up the pieces of everything else. This includes answering email, scheduling stuff for the other projects, travel logistics, etc.

The amazing part of this is that when you actually focus on one piece of work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with a break for lunch) you can get a lot done. In two nose-to-the-grindstone days, I cranked out a draft of my 10,000-word ebook. It’s not done yet, but in 7-hour chunks, you get a lot closer. In 7 focused hours, you can write and practice a speech, write a magazine article, do heavy editing on about 15 pages of text, etc.

Psychologically, this is easier said than done. For starters, the inbox is screaming to be lavished with its usual attention. Second, you have to trust that, even though you know the deadline for something is a week away, you cannot work on it until Thursday (or whatever the designated day is). If you attempt to sneak in some morning work time on it — and start toggling back and forth between projects — the miracles that arise from focus will not happen.

But once you start training yourself to really focus, the results are kind of addictive. I think I’ll try to keep this up when things settle down a bit. I’m also reminded how glad I am to work from home — I think it would be quite difficult to squirrel away for 7 hours in an office. How do you manage multiple projects?

In other news:

Modern Mrs. Darcy’s e-book on combining work and life, called Work Shift, will be released on Thursday. I’ll try to write more about it later, but I’m on the road a bit so I thought I’d give a heads-up now.

7 thoughts on “Juggle multiple projects — without dropping the ball

  1. “But once you start training yourself to really focus, ”

    I’d really like to hear how you and other really buckle down and focus, particularly on longer writing pieces. I’m struggling all of these at the moment.

      1. @WashGirl – unlike Cloud, I don’t have the discipline to focus on things I don’t want to do… 🙂 But with a project I do want to tackle, it’s really developing habits. I become aware of myself about to click over to my inbox and just force myself to come back. I find myself wandering around the house and send myself back to my office. It’s really not any more clever than that.

  2. OMG, 7 hours of uninterrupted work sounds divine.

    Of course, given my particular role at work (project management), to achieve that I’d have to hide from a large part of my actual job! But I miss the days when I was more technical and I could get lost in a problem for hours on end.

    @WashGirl, my tricks for getting focus when I need it are to break the task that I’m avoiding (if I weren’t avoiding it, I wouldn’t need to focus, right?) down into smaller components, and write a list of them. Then I get the happy feeling of crossing things off as I do them. I also set strict rules about distractions. For me, it doesn’t work to say “no internet.” Instead I say, “I can have a short internet break to cleanse my brain after I finish this component task on my list.” And I limit it to reading one blog post or something like that.

    There is actually research that indicates that short breaks like that can actually increase productivity. They certainly help me.

    1. I’ll work on this. It does depend on your type of job. I’m in sales and management and it isn’t the same as say being a writer per say. That said I think it is good to have experience in all types of roles b/c then you can get your brain used to it and flex all of those muscles, interpersonal, intellectual, solitary versus social etc. Our work culture (and prob our society) has become much much less intellectual and more fragmented so it seems more important than ever to get some space to have great ideas or push through great things on your to do list.

  3. I stumbled my way into my own bit of advice in my own life. I don’t have a structured 40 hour work week, but I do have one 6-hour block each week and several 4 hour blocks devoted to projects. I have been amazed at how much I can get done in that 6 hour block when I put my nose to the grindstone!

    Less important projects and weekly maintenance get shoved in the 1-2 hour blocks I can find throughout the week, but once I realized how productive that large chunk of time could be, I started guarding it.

    Love the tip, Laura! And glad to hear that first draft is complete.

  4. Hm, that sounds like the opposite of what Boice (psychologist who studies productivity) recommends. He recommends breaking stuff up so your subconscious can work on it while you’re being productive on other things. I generally try to work on two projects and one scut-work thing each day.

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