One thing the creative freelancers I help consistently struggle with is finding the time to manage multiple projects without losing momentum on any of them. Client work, marketing yourself, the administrative side of your business, and (dun dun dun) email. There’s a lot of overlap between these issues and the issues multipods struggle with on a daily basis, whether they’re freelancers, entrepreneurs or neither.
Being absolutely obsessed with just one thing at a time presents its own challenges but it doesn’t tend to make you quite as stressed about time management as juggling ten different projects or interests and once does.
Below, you’ll find my best tips and tricks for juggling multiple tasks both in business and general life.
Assign interests to days of the week
This is a super-simple trick which works really well, largely because it removes that background anxiety of “I want to work on X but I’m not sure if I’ll ever have time…” If you know that Mondays are dedicated to your pottery classes, Thursdays are your sketching evenings, and Wednesdays are when you meet with your friend for your writing date, you can relax and get on with the task in hand, confident that you’ll get to your other projects when the time comes.
Why it works: This strategy removes background anxiety because you know you have a plan. It also automatizes your approach – if something is a weekly (or even monthly, though weekly is definitely easier to maintain, in my experience) routine, you don’t have to think about it. You don’t have to “make time” for it because it just happens.
Batch your time
There’s always a “switching cost” when you move from one project to another. If you want to make sure you’re maximizing the quality of the time you get with each of your interests, dedicate bigger chunks of time to each project. You’re likely to get better results by spending an hour and a half on a project once a week than you would be working on it in three thirty minute bursts. Trying to work on too many things in too short a time span is likely to leave you stressed out and feeling like you’re not making forward motion on any of your projects.
Why it works: The aforementioned switching cost is a killer. It usually takes 15-30 minutes to get into flow state, which is when you not only get your best work done, but also reap the rewards of doing that work (flow state is similar to meditation in that spending time doing it has been shown to decrease anxiety levels). Therefore, if you work in thirty minute bursts rather than longer sessions, you’ll spend a maximum of fifteen minutes in flow state each time and switch focus just as you’re getting into your groove.
Use otherwise lost time
This is an oldie but a goodie. There are multiple times in your day when you could be learning or taking action on information related to one of your many interests. You don’t use this time because you think of it as being otherwise occupied. Here are some ways to better use that time:
- Listen to a podcast or audio learning materials during your commute (or any time you’re in the car or on public transport).
- Write, read, or work on worksheets during your commute (if you use public transportation, obviously).
- Listen to a TED talk, documentary, or podcast while cooking.
- Read an article on your phone every time you find yourself in a long line, instead of just staring off into space.
Why it works: We only have a finite amount of time in our days and we can easily feel like there’s no room for anything more in them. The solution is to look for places where we can “overlap” things – time where something can easily be added without replacing something else.
It helps to be prepared for such situations. Here are some tools and apps to help you make the most of your time:
- Pocket: This app lets you save articles and videos from anywhere around the web, with the option of sending those articles to yourself via email, or clipping them using your web browser extension. Once the article or video is in your “pocket”, you can access it from your phone, tablet, or the web interface. The best part? The app has an offline sync option, so you can pull it up and start reading any time.
- Evernote: Evernote is great for outlining projects or blog posts on the go. It seamlessly syncs your data between the app, the web, and your desktop, so you can flesh out those outlines later once you’re back at a computer.
- Feedly: Feedly is great for finding something to read during those otherwise wasted minutes of standing in line and sitting in waiting rooms. It also integrates with Pocket, so if you don’t have time to read something, you can save it for later.
- Dropbox/podcast: These tools enable you to access PDFs and audio files from your phone or tablet. iOS has a built-in podcast app, and AntennaPod and Pocket Casts both come highly recommended for Android.
- TED or Netflix: Netflix now has playlists of TED talks curated by theme in its libraries, but there’s also a standalone TED app. The average talk length of about twenty minutes makes these talks ideal for listening to as you cook. If you have a longer span of time to fill, Netflix has plenty of documentaries.
- A good task management app to keep you organized: There are so many options here that I can’t possibly mention them all. Here’s a post I wrote on options for visual thinkers, and here are my in-depth reviews of several options.
How do you keep multiple projects and interests going at the same time? What strategies and tools do you use?
Michelle lives in Austin, TX where she teaches creative freelancers how to be more productive and organized and also does writing and content marketing strategy for businesses.When she’s not working, she can be found hanging out with her Shiba Inu, reading about anything and everything, and consuming copious amounts of dark chocolate and tea.