Welcome to Asked&Answered, a career advice column from METRO's Career Development Consultant Ellen Mehling. In need of advice regarding your life at work? Submit your inquiry.
Q: Any suggestions on how to manage multiple small projects at once? Sometimes keeping all the balls in the air is tough, especially when job duties are diverse!
A: Here’s what I recommend: be acutely aware of deadlines and priorities. Regularly review your calendar for the next four to six weeks so upcoming due dates for projects or status reports or deliverables stay fresh in your mind. Note each day in writing what must get done that day and refer to that list frequently.
What works for me is focusing mostly on the next two things I have coming up. Those get most of my attention, and things beyond them get less, but I remind myself regularly of what later projects will entail, regarding both my time and effort as well as input or approval that may be required from others. Along with the due dates on your calendar, it is a good idea to schedule time to work on each project, and give yourself more than you think you'll need, just in case something unforeseen occurs. As soon as one project or event is done, review briefly what went right and what you might want to do differently next time, and then focus on the next two things coming up.
If there is a task on your to-do list for today that you are dreading, do it first or at least get started on it. Just grit your teeth and begin. Tell yourself you’ll work on it for just an hour and see how much you can get done; you may end up getting more done in that hour than you thought you would, or you may not want to stop once the hour is up. At the very least you’ll have accomplished part of the task. Not having an entire unpleasant undertaking ahead of you can help you to sidestep procrastination and feel less overwhelmed.
Use your diverse responsibilities to your advantage; when you've had enough for the moment of a certain activity or project you can work on another to keep yourself engaged (always keeping in mind those deadlines). Some people are comfortable switching frequently between different tasks while others work best focusing on one thing for longer periods of time, so you want to take into account what's optimal for you when deciding how often to make a switch. Another benefit: doing something else for a while can give you fresh eyes when you return to the previous work; you are likely to spot errors and ways to improve what you've done.
Rest and breaks are important too. Avoid working through lunch unless it is truly necessary. Take brief work breaks throughout the day to stretch your legs, have a cup of coffee, or perhaps even go outside for a brief walk. These won't take a lot of time away from productive work and can serve to recharge you.
This article on working multiple jobs may be helpful too.