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Some Tricks For Managing Multiple Projects

Depending on how old you are…you might have grown up watching Ed Sullivan on TV.  One of the frequent performers on this variety show was a guy named Erich Brenn, who would set up long poles on a table and then put plates on them and start spinning each one.

University of Arizona Archive

They had to keep spinning, or they would fall.  So he would run between one and the other and keep rotating them.  He’d have a bunch of them going at one time.

He’d end up running between them as they’d start to slow and risk falling.

I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen.

The guy was terrific.  The plates never fell.

Is that the way you feel when looking at the list of projects you need to complete?

You start with one project…get it spinning.  Then you get another one and get it spinning—a third….a fourth.  And just about the time you started project 4, the first one needs a spin.

Exhausting.  And maybe you aren’t as good as the plate guy, and some might fall to the ground.

Managing multiple projects is a skill.   After all, we all have 24 hours in a day, and we can only do so many things.

But the projects keep coming at us.

If you want to be a master of spinning the plates, you need to have a plan for how you keep them all moving.

Do you have a list of each project – what they mean – what you need to do – who needs to be involved, and the deadline?

I keep such a list in Evernote, but you can do it on a piece of paper if you’d prefer.  You just need a list.  And you need to know what steps you need to take to complete the project.

I might want to launch a new advertising campaign, but I need to check my budget to see what I can spend.  I need to involve my creative team and give them direction.  I need to review and approve designs, and eventually, I need to work with a media buyer to get the ads placed.  Later I will need to check the success of the effort.   These are all individual tasks within the project.

Those tasks will be on my ‘to-do list so that nothing falls through the cracks.

One of the things I’ve learned over time is that I can’t do everything myself.  And neither can you.   This is why you need to know to delegate.  Yes, it takes a little time to teach someone how to do a task, but the time you invest in that training will save you time down the road, especially if that assignment is repeated over time.

You have to keep track of the things you’ve delegated as well.  I maintain another list of things that I have delegated along with the information I’ve shared and the deadline.  A master list of these items helps me see what is pending, but I also add those projects to the agendas of meetings that I will have with the person working on the project.    Let’s say I’ve asked my business manager to pull together a report on ads that we have placed in the last year, where we placed them, and for how much.  The next time I meet with that person, I will ask for an update and add that update to my status report so that If I forget, I will have a record of what we have discussed and agreed to in previous discussions.

The third and final point I want to make about managing projects is the understanding that you can’t do everything at once.  There is a limit to how many plates you can spin at any one time.  That means you need to establish a timetable for how you will meet your deadlines.

If I am assigned a multi-layered and difficult project, I know it might take me a solid week to work on the item.  I need to block out time on my calendar to work on it.  If I have two major projects that need to be done right away, I know I can’t take on another.  So If I am approached with a third project, I have to schedule it for next month or finish one of those that I’m working on.  Let’s say your boss comes to you with another big project, and you know you can’t do it plus the other two, it is time to have a conversation about priorities.  Explain to your boss what the other two projects require.  Tell your boss that you will do your best to get done what is important but ask for help in prioritizing your time because you only have a limited of hours every day.

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