By Veronica Thraen / June 28, 2021
Managing multiple projects concurrently takes a great deal of organization, focus, ability to prioritize and quick decision-making. However, it can be challenging to keep focused if you have back-to-back meetings, a steady stream of emails and chat message alerts stalking you from the corner of your computer screen.
Some researchers suggest that multi-tasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40% due to constantly shifting your attention and focus from one thing to the next. But how can you avoid this when you have so many deadlines to meet?
Here are some tips to help you effectively manage multiple projects—and increase your productivity:
Tip #1: Understand your project threshold
Everyone has unique skills and work at different paces. Some may be more comfortable taking on 1 or 2 large projects and others might prefer to take on several small to medium-sized projects. It is important to understand how many projects you can successfully manage without it negatively affecting the outcome.
Ask yourself: Am I constantly working overtime to keep my head above water? Does it take days to respond to emails because there's no time during the workday? If you answered yes, then you either have too many projects on your plate or it’s a combination of factors discussed below.
Tip #2: Make sure that project workload expectations are clear
Scenario: You just started working at a new company and your manager is asking you to take on 6 projects since the other team members do not have the bandwidth. You realize that 3 of them are significantly large projects and the others are small in scope and complexity. Do you take on all of them in hopes that you can handle the workload?
First, find out the state of each project – you may discover that some of them have not started yet, and some may be already in progress. The start of a project usually requires the most time and focus, while monitoring requires less time. Still, having a candid conversation with your manager about any potential workload risk will set expectations up front.
Tip #3: Start each day with prioritizing projects and tasks
Start your day by reviewing the status of each project and determine which tasks and/or action items must be worked on that day. Then, prioritize the list to ensure that you’re working on the right task at the right time.
The list can be on Post-it Notes, calendar reminders, project management software or whatever works best for you. I have lists for my personal daily tasks/action items, as well as for the project team. Of course, new items will always crop up throughout the day, so those will also need to be prioritized.
Tip #4: Limit distractions as much as possible during the day
You may not get very far – even with a prioritized list - if you are constantly interrupted by phone calls, meetings, etc., etc.
To reduce some of these distractions, block out time slots on your calendar to catch up or take breaks, and change the status on your chat messaging app to “do not disturb.” Being logged out of email or chat for a short period of time during the day helps keep focus on a critical task. Just let your team know the best way to get a hold of you in case of an emergency during these times.
Tip #5: Delegate some of the tasks if other team members are available
Delegation is difficult for some if they feel it will take longer to explain what needs to be done…or they would just rather do everything themselves. Unfortunately, this mindset does a disservice to themselves and to their team members, especially if the team is being underutilized.
Are there interns on the team, junior PMs or someone in another department interested in project management? Why not enlist their help with some of the tasks on your plate? Start including them in your meetings to get them up to speed so that they can learn the ropes and eventually take on projects.
The ability to successfully manage multiple projects - and keep your head above water - not only ensures greater productivity, but it also sets you up for long-term success as a project manager. As management guru Peter Drucker once said: “Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.”
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