3 Productivity Tips & Tricks for Handling Multiple Projects
June 15, 2016
As a digital marketer, we’ve got a lot on our plates. From managing different tools and to-dos, to working on emails and follow-ups on behalf of different brands with unique objectives, different projects involving disparate teams, and of course the research and technical know-how needed to effectively strategize, our role involves a lot of switching gears and multi-tasking. Managing between such different tasks is no easy feat, but there are a couple of different techniques that make managing such a challenging workload just a little bit more manageable. Below, we outline three productivity tools and tricks that can help anyone get a little more efficient when navigating multiple tasks, competing priorities and deadlines.
I’m unsure of where I first heard about the benefits of the Pomodoro Technique, but it continued to pop up in blogs that I read that focused on everything from productivity, improved performance, to increased creativity and satisfaction. However, our company got to a place where we were all tracking time on projects to better manage our output, and to ensure that the company time being spent was best aligning with our high-priority projects and objectives. Since I’d read so much about using the Pomodoro Technique, I figured it was a good way to test a new productivity technique while implementing something that would be supportive of a company-wide goal: Tracking time on priority projects.
The Pomodoro Technique is fairly simple in its implementation: Work for 25 minute bursts on a single project using a timer. When the timer goes off, give yourself a 5 minute break to reset, use the bathroom, refill your water glass, or step outside. Spend some time reading something for pleasure, or check push notifications on your phone. Once the 5 minute break ends, the timer resets, and you engage on the single project in bursts of 25 minutes until your project is complete.
The idea itself is steeped in science. In a tremendous post by Belle Beth Cooper, the process of resetting and refocusing comes under the magnifying glass. Cooper says that “on average, our brains are only able to focus for 90 minutes, and need at least 20 minutes rest thereafter, if we consider our natural ultradian rhythms.”
In this sense, taking breaks throughout the day can actually be a great way to help enhance productivity, by ensuring that the time you’re spending at your keyboard is when your mind is focused, sharp, and ready to be productive. The Pomodoro Technique helps enforce these breaks, allowing you to reset periodically and makes sure you never burnout.
I had a similar reaction to the Pomodoro Technique as outlined by Kat Boogaard in this post, in that I anticipated that I wouldn’t like timing my work nor stopping after short bursts. Instead, I’ve found it invaluable. It’s been eye-opening to notice that I am decidedly more productive when I’m actively implementing the technique, and it’s also a good way to catch projects that are taking far more time than initially expected.
To-Do List Limitations
Tasks taking far more time than anticipated can also lead to another productivity paralysis: Your to-do list is far too ambitious, and inadvertently leads to far more frustration than it does completed tasks. The simple explanation here is that people often take on more than what they are capable of doing.
To limit what goes on your to-do list and make your daily agenda work for you, try keep your to-do list from just acting like a wish list. Below, I’ve outlined some of my favorite tips to keep a to-do list from being a little too ambitious.
Evaluate Priority Tasks
The biggest thing you can do in order to keep things moving in the right direction is to try to evaluate your priority tasks. Identify the most-important items on your list and ensure that there is a schedule in place to accomplish these items. In this post by MindTools, they offer a whole repertoire of different ways to effectively schedule your day, but some of my favorites include the following:
- Schedule High-Priority tasks and identify the time of day where these are most-likely to be accomplished. I tend to put high-priority tasks in the beginning of my day while big projects are reserved for the afternoon, after most of my meetings and phone calls are over.
- Schedule Contingency Time: Realize that things are going to go wrong. It’s often the case that even an aptly planned day can go awry when mandatory meetings or unplanned emergencies become priority projects. As a result, it’s important to pad your day with some time reserved for these disruptions so that you can still accomplish everything you have set out to.
ZenHabits mentions identifying your Most Important Task (MIT), and scheduling your MIT to be the first thing you do each morning when you arrive, while other suggestions might include breaking down your list into categories like “Must, Should, and Want.” In any case, it’s important to be decisive about your priority tasks and build these into your calendar for the day.
Break Big Projects Down to Smaller Tasks
I mentioned leaving bigger projects for the afternoon. In some cases, it’s inevitable that a big project (or at least a sizable chunk of it) needs to be completed in one sitting. However, more often than not, it’s incredibly important to simply make progress on big projects by taking on only one piece at a time.
“Favor close-ended tasks over open-ended tasks,” says Nagesh Belludi. It’s inescapable that some tasks will be larger than one sitting, often calling on different departments, different personnel, and different skillsets. However, identify the small victories within the bigger complex tasks, and split these projects up into small, close-ended tasks with attainable results. This way, you can signpost progress on some of your big projects by doing something each day. As a bonus, managers will see the benefit in this technique as it often opens up opportunities for delegation and cross-training.
Use a Post-It to Limit Your Tasks Each Day
While I haven’t tried this tactic personally, I have adapted it to work within my own system. Mark McGuiness recommends only taking on daily tasks that will fit onto the size of a Post-It Note. “Because my day is a limited size, I figure it makes sense to limit the size of my to-do list. If I can’t fit the day’s tasks on the Post-It, I’m not likely to fit them into the day.” This is a good rule of thumb for identifying what’s likely to take up the bulk of your time throughout your work day, and what needs to be scheduled for another day during the week.
The Post-It method helps you “close” your to-do list for the day and understand how to navigate scheduling non-urgent tasks for subsequent days to ensure that you stay productive and avoid letting arising issues keep you from completing your most important projects for the day.
Another fairly simple productivity tactic, Workstation Popcorn is a way to group tasks together to help you work alongside your body’s rhythm and attention span while staying on-task and on-priority. Created by Joel Runyon of Impossible, Workstation Popcorn works like this:
- Identify your To-Do List
- Use the tips above to identify the tasks that you need to complete for the day
- Identify your most-important tasks
- Assign the amount of time that you think it will take for you to complete each task (this can be a rough estimate)
- Group a big task with a couple of smaller tasks to chunks of work that needs to be completed
- A priority project that might take an hour or two of focused work
- E-mails or follow-ups that might only take 20-30 minutes each
- Reconciling your own organization systems / to-do list
- Complete each of these groups of tasks in a different location
If you work in an open office space, this can be a breath of fresh air and a good excuse to try working from that room you’ve never used before. Try completing the day’s most important task from your desk. Then, do the next group of tasks in a shared conference room or workspace, and maybe finish the day on a couch. Joel’s initial plan involved more movement–becoming physical in your movement to offer a chance to internally meditate and physically use your body to switch from one task group to the next. However, I’ve noticed increased productivity regardless of how far I travel. The change in scenery helps to reinvigorate the mind and offers the same satisfaction of small breaks and increased intensity as the Pomodoro Technique.
What are some ways that you stay productive? Let us know in the comments below!