When working by yourself on multiple projects by yourself it can be difficult to juggle them all, keep yourself accountable and work efficiently and effectively to ensure you deliver to the client to the best of your ability and on time.
It is possible to do this without missing out something vital or risking burnout, so how do you do this? Here are five tips I’ve put together on how to manage multiple projects when you work by yourself. Let me know if you have any favourites!
Tip 1: Planning with a Project Pipeline
The first tip is part of planning, which is key to being prepared to start any project. My suggestion is to make sure first of all that you have a project plan in place. You can read more about putting together a project plan here.
This will help you in terms of creating a plan from the outset and will make sure that you’ve planned all your time or your resources ahead of time. This is really important, because if you don’t plan ahead, things can easily run away from you.
If you haven’t planned ahead and something goes wrong, you might find yourself behind on work, with deadlines missed and no time to fix things properly. Without a plan you can promise too much and struggle to deliver due to other commitments, lack of resources or time.
Put together a project pipeline within a system such as Trello or Asana. If you already use one of these tools, you can create a board system by following the instructions below:
Proposal Sent > Won > Waiting on Info to Start > In Progress > Waiting on Feedback > Completed > Invoiced > Signed off and Archived
This means you can move individual projects around and along the pipeline as it progresses and review it on a regular basis. You’ve got a clear overview of all the tasks in each project, and you’re less likely to miss anything out.
There will be more information required for each project as they progress, but this gives you a great overview of what projects you have in progress, how many and what stage they’re at. A system like this allows for flexibility and changes.
At Claire Jenks Design, I use project management systems, and you can read more about those here. You can use some of the small project manager systems such as Asana, Trello, or Teamweek to manage your time.
What’s particularly good about these tools is that you can tick project tasks off on a checklist as you go, allowing you to see the progress that’s being made. Overdue jobs will be highlighted for you too.
It also means that you can communicate effectively with your clients when they ask for a project update. You can quickly and easily call up the relevant project, check where you’re at, and identify the next steps to get it finished.
Tip 2: Keeping Yourself in Check
One of the tips that I use when I’m working on projects for myself or if I’m travelling on my own, is to set mini milestones and compile checklists. This is something I put together for all project plans, whether they’ll be completed individually or as a team.
When you’re working by yourself, this is probably even more important, because these little goals can help you be less overwhelmed by the overall bigger picture. And they can give you some much-needed focus.
It’s quite easy, when you work by yourself to lose that accountability and that focus. But if you’ve got lots of little goals mapped out in your diary, these serve as reminders for tasks to do.
I set reminder for the day before, and I’d also set a reminder in the morning of that day to make sure that the goals coming up aren’t overlooked if something else happens. Doing this keeps you accountable and increases your likelihood of hitting more of your deadlines.
Tip 3: Communication is a Two-Way Thing
In this context, we’re looking at best work practices when you’re on your own. You’re not communicating with a team and you haven’t collaborated with anybody else, but you do need to communicate with your client. You need to give them updates so they know exactly what they’re getting and when.
It also covers communication throughout the process as well. Things might change, or a problem might crop up which may change the deadline, such as the client requesting changes. It’s important to make sure that communication line is open at all times between you and the client, both ways.
Set clearly-defined stages within the project and share these with the client so they can expect an update on the project at specific times, which will make sure that they don’t feel in the dark.
This could be a call, or a video of the stage the project is at to give them a teaser. It’s also important they know how to get in touch with you, so give them a contact number.
Make sure, though, that you get the client to agree the catch-up times and explain that you’re going to be working on other projects too, so you may not be able to answer them immediately.
Having things like this in place gives you the option to move the goalposts, change any timelines and manage the client expectations, while making sure you’re both happy with how the project is going.
Tip 4: Prioritise and Avoid Multitasking
Multi-tasking always sounds like the best idea when you’ve got lots on, but when you’re dealing with multiple projects, focus on one job at a time. This is especially important if you’re a creative, as you’ll be far more effective and productive.
Focus on one task and move onto the next. Distractions yourself by moving from project to project will make make you feel like you’ve worked on lots of tasks, but not you’ll find you haven’t got any further with overall assignments.
There are many different ways to prioritise your tasks, depending on what you’re working on. You may choose to concentrate on the most urgent deadlines, small wins or other time-dependent tasks.
The most important thing here is to quickly prioritise and focus solely on what you’ve put top of the list. I select my four Most Important Tasks and add these into my diary each night.
The next morning, I will focus on those four before I look at anything else or start other tasks. This is part of the Getting Stuff Done (GTD) methodology, as described by time management expert Dave Allen. It’s a great methodology for productivity and organisation.
Also, it’s a good idea to plan your day so that there is some flexibility in case the unexpected happens, but don’t allow new projects or demands to take priority over what you’ve already set. Doing so will throw you off any projects you’d previously managed quite easily.
I also switch my phone onto silent whilst I’m deep in project work. This means I can focus on that one thing, and not have my mind diverted to another situation or project. I will call them back once I’ve finished that task, but add a reminder somewhere if you think you’ll forget to check messages!
Tip 5: Stop. Get Some Fresh Air
Managing and working on multiple projects should not mean you have to work from morning till night. Schedule in time for a break and some fresh air which will allow you to refocus, get a fresh perspective on things and helps to increase your motivation, productivity and creativity.
Take the dog for a walk, pop to the shop or even sit in the garden if it’s nice. A change of scene and time away from your work will rejuvenate you. And that’s very important and useful as a creative!