5 Productivity Hacks to Help You Juggle Multiple Projects

5 Productivity Hacks to Help You Juggle Multiple Projects

Written by Kristin Wong

Topics: Productivity

“We should do a podcast.”

“I want to start teaching.”

Googles “photography as a side hustle”

“Should we write a script together?”

Readers, this is how I get into trouble.  There’s so much to do in life and I take massive, mouth-watering bites of it. Later, I realize I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

Like many multipotentialites, I always have a handful of different projects going on at once. Some of these projects pay; some of them don’t. Some of them are just for fun, and others are necessary for paying the bills. My goal is for them to all come together to create a holistic career portfolio that excites me.

But doing everything sounds lovely until you remember you only have so much time in the week. Whether you’re doing them for money, passion, or a combination of both, it can be tough to juggle all these different projects at once. Tough, but not impossible—I hold out hope that you can indeed be everything. Doing so takes some strategy, though. The following methods have helped me juggle multiple projects. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

1. Aim for “micromastery”

I’ve been trying to re-learn Cantonese for a long time. My goal was to master the language and become completely fluent, which I used to be, by the end of the year. But this never happens. Again, I bite off more than I can chew, become overwhelmed, and give up because learning a whole language seems impossible.

Perhaps I should start smaller. Instead of aiming to learn an entire language, I could focus on mastering ten new words a month or five new phrases a week.  Author Robert Twigger calls this concept Micromastery. It’s learning to be skilled at many small things instead of trying to completely excel in just one area, and it’s great for us big-bite chewers. At his blog, Twigger writes:

“A micromastery can be anything from spinning a basketball on your finger, doing an eskimo roll, or making a perfect daiquiri  — it is a small, contained and perfectable thing, an activity in a box that nevertheless points to greater masteries out there.”

In other words, rather than take on a whole project that you have to fit into your juggling rotation, aim to pick up one small skill, which is still satisfying but much more realistic. For example, instead of committing to learn photography this year, commit to taking a great picture of the stars. You’ll still learn photography, but you don’t have to commit a massive amount of time, which makes it easier to sample the project to see if it’s a keeper or not. Plus, I think this is a much more fun way to go about it.

2. Pick projects that bring balance

It’s easier to work on multiple projects if you have the right mix of projects to begin with.  If you have too many projects that require the same set of skills, you might risk burnout, like I did last year.

Last year, almost everything I worked on involved writing, from my paid work to my passion projects to stuff I was working on with friends.  I had to stop. Writing wasn’t as fun as it used to be because I was doing it all the time. So I took a break and jumped into other interests, like podcasting, coaching, and speaking. To offset the burnout factor, I made more time for pursuits that had nothing to do with writing. I even started looking for non-writing-related work to pay the bills so I had more energy for writing as a hobby.

With a career portfolio that includes diverse set of skills, you still have a lot going on, but it’s easier to juggle all of it because your portfolio is balanced as a whole. This might not be true for everyone, but it’s worked well for me. Curate a list of projects that use a mix of skills and allow you to tap different parts of your brain.

3. Batch your tasks

On the other hand, most projects include a handful of different types of skills and tasks. Let’s say you’re writing a book. Overall, this sounds like an entirely creative, intuitive project—very “right-brained.” That’s not entirely true, though. You also use the analytical parts of your brain for the table of contents, overall structure, and plot points.

Batching comes in handy here. Batching is a productivity tool that anyone can use. With batching, you plan your schedule according to tasks, not projects. So instead of checking email throughout the day (which steals your focus every time you do it), you would check it once in the morning, once at the end of the day, and never in between.

It’s a fun productivity hack, but I’ve found it especially useful for juggling projects. For example, in addition to writing that novel,  let’s say you’re also planning a small conference. This may involve some of the same tasks as writing a book. You have to outline the schedule for the event the same way you have to outline your table of contents. You have to write speeches for your sessions the same way you have to write your chapters. So you could batch these similar tasks on the same days so you can maintain your focus.

Remember, multitasking isn’t really a thing. When you switch between activities, you lose a little something in the process. Researchers call it attention residue. One 2009 study concluded that “people need to stop thinking about one task in order to fully transition their attention and perform well on another.” We like to have closure on one thing before we move onto another. When we don’t, we start to feel overwhelmed and we stop performing efficiently. This is another reason why tackling similar tasks at once can help you switch gears more easily.

Overall, you just want to consider the tasks associated with each of your projects, then schedule them in a way that allows you to work most efficiently. This will save you time and energy, two things most of us could use a lot more of.

4. Consider outsourcing

Maybe there are tasks associated with your project that you have absolutely no interest in doing. I’m all for learning new things, but sometimes you try those things and you know they’re not for you. For example, I’m terrible at web design, I don’t enjoy it, and it takes me five times as long as it takes a professional. So when my publisher asked me to build a website for my book, I outsourced that task.

You might outsource the audio editing for your podcast so you have more time and energy to focus on interviewing. You might outsource the email marketing for your online course so you can focus more on teaching.

Outsourcing typically means hiring someone else, and you can find independent contractors on sites like Upwork or Guru (or just tap your network). However, you might also be able to automate certain tasks required for your projects. Look into tools like If This Then That and Zapier.

5. Know when to quit

Quitting never seems like a good thing, but sometimes it’s what you need to do to get ahead.

When I quit my drama class to join the journalism team in high school, my drama teacher told me he “always knew I was a quitter.” He was right—I’m a strategic quitter because sometimes quitting is crucial to success. After quitting drama, which I wasn’t really passionate about and had no future plans to pursue, I became editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper where I wrote a monthly column and learned skills that I still use in my career as a journalist today. None of that would’ve happened if I wasn’t a quitter. Sometimes—a lot of times—you have to say no to something if you want to say yes to something else.

If a project is dragging you down or going nowhere, then it’s actively stealing time from other things you could do.  So how do you know when it’s time to quit? Sometimes the answer is obvious. Other times you have a long stretch goal with ups and downs, and you’re not sure if you should push through it or just let it go.

My colleague Stephanie Lee answered this question in an insightful New York Times piece. One tip was to weigh the cost of the goal against the benefit of reaching it. 

Of course, sometimes you don’t know the benefit of reaching a goal until you get there. It might feel better than you think, or it might be lackluster. You could commit to reaching a small milestone with your goal or project  — getting a small award at a drama competition, for instance — then follow through until you get there. This will give you sample of success to reference before you commit to quitting.

It also helps to know which season you’re in with the project. Maybe you don’t need to quit altogether. Maybe you just need to take a break to make time for other things.

Finally, don’t forget to take a step back and look at the big picture, and do this regularly. Check in with yourself and with your projects to make sure they still matter to you. It’s great to focus on the process when you’re trying to reach a goal, but a narrow focus can make it easy to forget why you’re taking on the project to begin with.

Slowly back away from the work and ask yourself the question, “is this still worthwhile?” Maybe the answer is yes, or maybe it’s time to let it go so you can make room for something else.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do some strategic juggling.

Your Turn

Multipotentialites, how do you handle working on multiple projects at once? Do you have any specific methods or strategies for finding the time (and energy) to do them all?

Could you use some personalized, multipotentialite-friendly support as you juggle your multiple projects?

neil_2017_2Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, NBC News, and Glamour magazine. She’s the author of Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford. Kristin is a writer, but she’s also an amateur photographer, speaker, podcaster, and recovering workaholic. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @thewildwong.

12 Comments

  1. Alma says:

    I’m a meditation teacher and an artist. I’m involved in several projects. My strategy is to meditate on between projects. When you meditate your mind rests from conceptual thinking. In that moment goals don’t matter, you find peace and happiness in the present. After your meditation focus on the project you feel more excited about. When you finish or when you feel you can’t do anymore of that, allow yourself to go into savasana posture, do a mindfulness of breathing Meditation, 24 min is good, but it can be shorter, longer would be excellent. then repeat the process. Try to mantain a continuity on your mindfulness so you can enter easily into a state of flow in your best activity. in my blog peaceandmind.org I offer more tools.

  2. Rafa says:

    I haven’t got to try or do everything on that top 5, but a lot of this is true. I tend to take too much on my plate, get excited by a lot of new things, then once it’s not new anymore, I lose interest and jump on the next thing. I feel it might be a case of FOMO… My cousin, who studied management, told me to make a list of all the projects I wanted to do and to list them in order of priorities, then, to tackle them 1 or 2 at a time.

    So far, it’s been working okay. Doing this makes me feel like all the other projects are equally important and that I’ll just give them more time later. I tend to stay focus on #1 but for #2, it’s a bit more difficult to keep focus on just one more project. I’m trying to be more patient with myself. It’s like anything else, you gotta learn how it works, what works for you and what doesn’t.

    • Kristin Wong says:

      Oh yeah! There was a great Warren Buffett story about this in which he asked his pilot to make a giant list of everything he wanted to do in life. He then told the pilot to circle the two things on that list that were most important to him. Everything else on the list was now the “Avoid at All Costs List.” So you have to avoid all of the uncircled items until you complete the 1-2 items you circled. I love this tip.

      Part of it seems to go against the concept of multipotentiality, but then again, you can still do all the things, it’s just about focusing on a couple of them right now. It’s an awesome tip when you’re struggling to focus.

      • Marianne says:

        Hi Kristin! Thanks for your article. In the last days, I was (and I am still) very confused about this theme focus X multiprojects. I am really a multipotentialite person, but I am now at a moment that I would like to reach a higher result in my professional life. I started to think if it was not better to focus more in order to achieve this result (after I saw a video from Warren Buffet about focus), but I am still in doubt if I quit some projects, it will bring a higher performance in those I chose to continue. I started to quit some as a experiment. But that is a question I always had to multipotentialite persons. I undestand the benefits of being a multipotentialite person (I think we can have a more creative solution to different problems), but if we want a higher performance in something, are we capable of?

        • Kristin W says:

          I think you can still be a multipotentiliate and focus on one thing at a time! It just depends on how you work best. I think the most important thing is to just curate a list of current projects that work well together. So if you’re starting a blog but you also want to dive into photography, maybe you do a photography blog. Or use photos to accompany your blog posts. That way, you’re still focused on one project but using other hobbies and interests to support it, if that makes sense. I don’t know, this is just my two cents and what works for me. Maybe other readers have different ideas?

          I would also check out Emilie’s post on the four work models, you might find it helpful! https://puttylike.com/how-do-you-make-money-as-a-multipotentialite-and-im-looking-for-case-studies-for-my-book/

  3. Joe says:

    Learning from the masters of the Puttytribe who have been the great inventors of the past, I have developed a way of prioritizing my life based on the biography of Ben Franklin and the writings of Thomas Edison. Each day i track what is accomplished, plan goals for the next day, and set goals for each week. In this way not only do the goals coalesce, but a record of achievement is available to reference so that no feeling of being at a lost or out of focus can occur. With that being said remember to set 15 minute time each day to be mindful of your physical condition and 15 minutes to be mindful of your mental status. Clear the body of tension with stretching and the mind by calming it by letting it run wild with no boundaries, no theme, no reason. oddly enough this time has become my most productive idea producing time. When you become so absorbed by the projects you are working on spend some time with an animal or with nature it will reset your mind.

  4. Taishi says:

    The first advice is really healpul to maintain the focus on a project. I also get overwhelmed when it seems to me that the goal is very far to achieve. So breaking them into small tasks is a nice way to liberate endorphins that help you keep the motivation.

    • Kristin Wong says:

      Totally! And I’ve found that there’s so much less pressure when you do it this way, that it makes it a lot easier to be creative and just enjoy the task at hand, which then makes you want to keep going.

  5. Yunzhe says:

    Just stumbled across this article and so glad I came across your writing Kristin! Awesome tips, especially the ones on micromastery & balancing. Here’s another one that you may find interesting: A couple of years ago when I was overwhelmed with a lot of interests and found myself either stretched too thin or just not following through with anything (the last 10% resistance is so real), I started doing monthly experiments. Each month I would do explore one project and then reevaluate if it’s something I wanted to continue with. Time bounding it really makes it easier to intentionally quit, as Stephanie also pointed out.

    What’s cool is that over time, a lot of these monthly projects turned into habits, which makes it easier to pick up even more projects! *music to our ears as multipotentialites*. This is how I was able to become all these things that I didn’t know was possible…a writer, dancer, career coach, videographer, and maybe future yogi (just finished 30 days of yoga with Adriene last month).

    • Kristin says:

      Yes, I love this idea! Kind of like a 30-day challenge. I also love the idea of framing it as an experiment, which alleviates the pressure to be successful at it so you can just have fun with it.

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