Every person in our agency is managing multiple projects at one time, we are all Project Managers in one way or another - even if it isn't our official title. With this comes a whirlwind, and if it isn't handled correctly, can lead to burnout.
I am a Project Manager by trade, meaning that I manage multiple projects of different size, scope, and involvement on a regular basis. On top of my task list, it is not abnormal to have back to back to back meetings that involve prep at the front side and follow up at the back side. How on Earth is one to keep with it all?!
Here are some helpful tips I have picked up along the way that if used properly, will make it a little easier for you to manage multiple projects at once.
The first thing I learned is it really helps to prioritize your 'to do list'. If you don't know what is most urgent, you may end up spending time on the wrong things and then end up feeling like you are falling behind. Not to mention missing those important client deadlines. It might take some work up front, but if you figure out what is urgent, versus important, you will be able to deliver the right things first which will lead to feeling accomplished at the end of the day.
Then move on to the important tasks. It is best to work first on the tasks that have the most impact. If one task is to write a blog for you director, but another task is to organize a timeline so that the team can get started on a project, the latter would probably be your best bet. But you also might want to throw in a couple quick tasks throughout the day, it just feels good to be able to check things off.
Plan your time
I'm not sure I have ever met anyone that is truly successful at multi-tasking. Designating a certain time to certain tasks will help increase productivity, helping manage multiple projects. When you are concentrating on one task at a time, you get into a flow where you can be more efficient and effective.
I use my calendar for this. I take my prioritized list to plan out each week, and then review at the beginning of each day. That way, I have an idea of what my day is going to look like before it begins and it boosts my confidence to know that I won't miss anything. When something new comes in, I readjust if needed and add it to the list.
For those times you are working on the urgent tasks, it helps to snooze notifications and to let your team know you will not be available. I know, it's hard to ignore those emails coming in, but it really does make a big difference when you focus all of your attention on one thing at a time.
Don't forget to look ahead. You need to keep track of what is coming down the road so you can allocate time appropriately. Be proactive in your planning.
Be flexible and adaptable
Because life. You know things are going to change, and usually at the worst possible moment. Don't let it freak you out. Just take a look at your list/calendar and see what can be moved around. Just remember to stop and think, "Is this urgent?" "Can it wait until tomorrow?"
When managing multiple projects, you need to be flexible and adaptable, but you can't let every email or Slack message that comes in distract you. It's good to stop once in awhile to check your email, but you have to be able to quickly determine what is urgent and worthy of interrupting your focus, and what can wait a couple hours. It has taken me years (and I'm still not perfect by any means) to learn how to not be reactive and to not get caught up in the whirlwind of it all.
I don't know what I would do without my project management software! I can look at each project individually, or my team's task lists over all projects. However you chose to be organized, make sure that you have easy access to everything you need for each project and all communication around the project (a central location to keep everything).
Even if you are reviewing your project timelines daily, you likely won't know every detail of every project all of the time, so part of staying organized is just keeping open communication with your team. A weekly cadence to do a quick status check will help you stay on top of it all.
Manage your stress
Constantly having a large task list can cause too much stress and it's not healthy for your body or your mind! Implementing the above ideas can help reduce your stress, but if you are still struggling, take action! I find myself needing to take a deep breath and say "OK, let's re-prioritize this list." probably once a day. It's a lot to manage, but if you get caught up in it, you will likely not feel accomplished at the end of the day.
Take small breaks often throughout the day, even just getting up to fill up your water bottle. It will also help you focus, allowing for you to concentrate on getting all of those tasks checked off every day.
And if you need help, ask for it! As a leader of my team, I sometimes feel like it's up to me to figure it all out. But that's silly, we're a TEAM! Luckily, they do a good job of reminding me that and I'm getting better all the time at leaning on others.
This is so important! When you are managing multiple projects, chances are you aren't going to be able to get everything done all the time. Just be sure to be communicating with everyone that might be affected, keeping them updated with your adjusted timeline. If you let people know a deliverable will be delayed a week ahead of time, they are likely to be less disappointed than if you wait until the day it is due to let them know. Again, be proactive!
Finish the things
You will not feel good about your day if you get to the end of it and are leaving everything half finished. If there is no clear progress, you will be left feeling demoralized because you aren't able to check things off your list, or complete those tasks. Believe me, I know those pain in the butt tasks are easy to keep pushing (how long has it taken me to write this blog!?) but if you just power through them you will feel so good about yourself when you can check it off. I'm always most proud of myself when I finish those tasks that I was dreading. I like proving to myself that I really can do it.
And this goes back to focus and planning your time. Make sure to give yourself enough time to finish the task at hand so that you can check it off and move to the next one. Chances are, someone on your team is counting on you to finish your part to keep the project moving.
There will always be some stress with managing multiple projects, but that keeps life interesting, right?! However, you don't want to get burned out. Hopefully following these steps will reduce stress, boost confidence and make you an all around bad ass project manager.