In an ever-growing entrepreneurial world, more and more people are fervently taking up side projects or activities that actually better represent their intentions, needs or desires, and this is especially the case for people working remotely. Be it learning a foreign language, doing voluntary work or setting up a potential startup, a lot of enthusiasm is brought into a side activity – especially since it requires dedicating spare time to chase a certain objective regarding this activity.
Unfortunately, unless somebody has mastered timefreeze – in which case, please, take my money! – there’s only so much time in a day in order to balance everything you want to get done and not neglect family, friends or special occasions. For the past year, I have found myself in situations where having to work on several fronts daily to keep the ball moving towards partial objectives seemed more stressful than any of the activities themselves – but there are small life hacks which I have experimented that got me around without having to drop or neglect any of the projects.
Understand time and be aware of it
My professional background in the legal world put me in a mindframe where I end up being very alert to what happens with my time. For those of you unfamiliar with how lawyers work, you usually get paid by the fractions of work hours; clients are not easy to fool, so you have to be at all times on guard and very consistent with what work you do.
That’s how I’ve come to realise that the all-fabled time management may less be about learning what to do and when to do it in order to achieve most of your time, but more about actually, at all times, being aware of how you are using your time. How long have you been writing on this blog post? How much time have you been on a break? Are you efficient enough or could you achieve more in a shorter period of time?
Tracking time via tools like Toggl could help you get a real picture of how you’re spending time. My experience is that most are very surprised from seeing the results. Actually most people have an unreal idea of how we really spent our time, for example this study shows that we think we work more than we actually do.
You might not wanna track your time forever, but at least you should try it for just a short period of time, to get a new perspective on things.
Work in bursts…
After taking control of your time, you could end up realising that you have more time than you previously thought. One technique of using time that has worked for me is shifting from project to project in fixed bursts of time – be it one or two hours, or even as low as fifteen minutes if you’re really time-pressed. Use alarms on your smartphone if needed.
At first, it may seem like keeping your time is stressful, but it won’t be long before you achieve this kind of a discipline, whereby you are more aware of how time passes and what you have to show for a certain short period of time that just passed. Just like a driver knows when to shift gears by the sound of the engine without looking on his dashboard, you will be able to tell when to stop and when to keep going.
Setting off a specific time frame for working with different projects and working with deadline is super effective, because you just need to follow the plan you made and because you don’t have to argue with yourself in the situation.
Generally, working in bursts is highly recommended. I have found that one of the most effective methods for me is the Pomodoro Method. It’s based on research that shows we can only concentrate for a given period and then we need a break. The method suggests that you work 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. And trust me, it works! 5 minutes is enough to get a small break, but not so much that you break your flow. I have found that I work way more concentrated for those 25 minutes and that I simply have more energy at the end of the day.
A way to use the Pomodoro Method, when having multiple projects is to allocate a specific amount of 25-minute session to different projects doing the day.
…but don’t take a slice of each project every day
This piece by Hugh McGuire on Medium not only spiced my willingness to read long articles up until the very end, but also tackled a problem that people running multiple projects may deal with: intellectual exhaustion leading to bad results. The human mind is a great factory of ideas and creativity, but it’s righteously conceived so as to allow only a limited amount of activity before it mixes everything up and signals overloading.
Working in bursts takes its own toll on the way you will work, so you should try to shift between two, maximum three projects per day. Try setting up a weekly schedule, whereby you work even days on a couple of your projects, while other days are for the rest of your projects. Don’t forget to include time to spend with your loved ones or doing the things you like, as work-life balance is extremely important.
This is also super important, because there is a shifting cost. Each time you shift your mindset from one project to another there is some costs to that. It takes time to get really into a new mindset and focusing on a project, especially if you have to use your intelligence and creativity, so try to limit these shifts as much as possible.
Prioritize and put into perspective
Multiple projects means you must be always alert for any potential fires that need to be put off. That being said, it goes that you should have at most one project in advanced stages of evolution, while for others you need to come to terms that evolution will be slower but steady. Don’t delay solving any potential urgencies of your main income project, no matter how hard it is to solve a problem and how easy it is to turn your attention towards the other projects which may be running more smoothly.
The 80-20 rule is no fiction: it’s a paradox that many entrepreneurial-spirited people face, myself included, but you may only succeed if you acknowledge that prioritization is extremely important, if you enter that dreaded routine I mentioned about. Objectively speaking, you can only do so much over the course of one day, no matter how much you push your limits. Compromise on quantity and not on quality, because no amount of luck or other fortunate circumstances may compensate for the time you dedicate to one specific project over another. If you manage to achieve a sense of prioritization and set medium and long-term goals, chances are you will be able to focus on your other endeavors once your main project becomes a success hit.
When balancing multiple projects it’s super important to be aware that it’s not possible to do more than one thing at 100%. If you choose to have more than one project, you also say yes to compromising on this. You can do multiple projects at a really, really high level, but it’s near impossible to each of them 100%. You might be able to do multiple projects at 80% giving you an end result bigger than 100%, but having multiple projects causes a risk of neither of them getting the focus they need just to get up and running.
Therefore it’s super, super important to have a really clear prioritization, so you always know what is the most important and what you’re more willing to do with less energy and focus.
Doing a prioritization of your different projects is super difficult, because you probably decided to do multiple projects because you want it all. But it’s really, really key to being successful at running multiple projects.
The dreaded routine
Nobody likes it, and entrepreneurs, freelancers and other types of self-employed individuals probably loathe it, but we are bombarded with articles telling us that the lifestyle of the wealthy includes a lot of routine – apparently, this involves at least having the same activities in the first hour(s) of your day, each day. The same applies in case of balancing multiple projects, but with a certain twist. Once your schedule is set straight, try to dose your effort to what is needed to get done in a certain day. Aim to do three to five things for each of your project, and work to attain that in a limited amount of time.
Cherish sleep and breaks (again, the Pomodoro Method is REALLY good), and eat well, and set objectives related to both the projects, but also to where you want to end your day – see a movie with your girlfriend, spend time with your guys or anything that would seem as a reward for your activity. Routine is needed, but what “routine” actually means is different for each and every one of us. Craft it at your own pace, in your own terms.
You have to be aware about what works for you and prioritize to build your day in a way that suits this, so you get the most out of your time and thereby making it just a bit easier to manage multiple projects. Of course having some kind of routines is for everybody, but with multiple projects, you really need to remove clutter
Be reliable and rely on people
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard from an entrepreneur is that, in order to be successful at turning a great idea into an even greater company, you need to be able to extract yourself from the day-to-day running of the business and have great people in key positions creating added value for this purpose. Unless you’re working alone, all of the above points should be instilled in the work ethics of the people you’re running your multiple projects with. This is one of the most difficult tasks, and it takes a good bunch of knowledge of people and their traits especially in case of digital nomads and remote teams – and the situation gets even more difficult if the people you’re working with are also engaged in other projects of their own.
Of course for many it’s not possible just to hire motivated talent to run your business, but no matter how big or small your project is you can outsource and you should outsource. You can do this online with Fiverr or Upwork. The more you want to get done and do at the same time, the better you have to be at outsourcing and working with other people.
Set firm deadlines and talk with the people you work with to have clear goals from one meeting to another. If possible, have similar schedules when it comes to the days in which you simultaneously work on the project, so you’re able to communicate in real-time about the progress or hurdles each person is facing.
Working on multiple projects at the same time may only be achieved for a limited amount of time – that is, until hopefully one of your projects really takes off and you need to focus. Until that happens, follow these rules to keep the ball rolling on all fronts:
- Keep track of how long you have been working on anything, day by day and get a realistic picture of how you spend your time by tracking it (permanently or for a period of time)
- Split your time into short periods of time, for example by using the Pomodoro Method
- Limit shifts daily shifts between projects as much as possible.
- Have a 100% clear prioritization between your projects. Your number one project should be prioritized always. This is important!
- Start organizing your daily schedule and make routine a part of your life.
- The more you want to get done and do at the same time, the better you have to be at outsourcing and working with other people. If you want to balance multiple projects at the same time, this should be one of your key skills.
In the long term, it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to achieve a level of equivalent success for all the simultaneous ventures you’re a part of. Expect and embrace failure in this, as it is also part of getting the right formula working. All in all, until you strike lucky, there are ways of running several projects at the same time – it’s all a question of how bad you want it.
Any experience about running multiple projects at the same time? Let’s us know in the comments!
Editor's Note: This article was initially published on Refuga's blog