Seeing a project through from start to finish is incredibly demanding.
Proper planning takes an obsessive attention to detail as well as an almost preternatural ability to predict roadblocks along the way. Implementation requires superhero leadership and team management skills.
And once the project is finally underway, you still have to watch it every step of the way to make sure it’s meeting timeline and budgetary goals, not to mention quality benchmarks as well.
To make things even more complicated, you’re likely to have multiple projects occurring simultaneously.
And as a certified project manager, it’s up to you to effectively juggle all of these tasks at the same time – without losing your sanity.
But luckily, there are a number of different techniques at your disposal to help you both keep your cool and ensure the work is done on time and under budget.
We’ll take a look at a number of these techniques below.
They range from strategies you can employ on a personal and mental level down to more concrete programs you can use to, say, keep accurate tabs on the progress of your many different projects.
At the end of it all, being successful in this career is all about using your project management skills to get the work done right, no matter how many balls you have in the air at the time. And these strategies will help you do just that.
What Is Project Management?
Every successful business depends on completing numerous tasks that vary in both complexity and duration. And in order for these projects to be completed on time and according to budget, it takes a significant amount of planning, oversight, and leadership.
That’s where project management comes in.
An effective project manager must have the vision to see the big picture at all times while still having the technical knowledge to dive deep into the weeds when needed. They should be exemplary at planning the execution of the project while also maintaining the leadership and inspiration necessary to keep team members passionate and dedicated.
Project management, then, requires a bit of a jack-of-all-trades skillset when it comes to how to manage multiple projects at work. And if you have the right tools and strategies to do so, you’ll be an invaluable part of the team.
Find Your Flow
When you’re working on multiple projects at once, your time is precious. A wasted minute on has the dual detriment of stalling progress on one project while taking valuable time away from another.
That’s why as a project manager, you have to be absolutely adept at maximizing your worktime productivity – and that means tapping into your “flow.”
Do you ever get so wrapped up in working on a project that the outside world just seems to melt away?
You’re 110% focused on the task at hand and the questioning, self-doubt, and indecision that so often holds you back is gone entirely.
This is “flow.”
Despite the new-age connotations of the term, flow is actually a well-documented state of mind that researchers have been studying for years. The Harvard Business Review traces its physical roots to “a complicated cascade of five neurochemicals… [namely] norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin.”
And the benefits of working in this state are, well, astounding. A decade-long study from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that senior level professionals reported a productivity increase of around 500% when working in a flow state.
While the science is still out on exactly what’s required to get into this coveted state of mind, McKinsey found that there were three common environmental factors among high-level business professionals that allowed them to tap into their flow: role and workflow clarity, true collaboration, and a sense of excitement about the work being done.
The first two are typical project manager goals – to make everyone’s role (including your own) as clear and straightforward as possible while facilitating effective and respectful communication between team members along the way.
The third, however, can be a bit tougher to tap. This one is about feeling inspired – like the work actually means something. And that will take leadership and passion, both of which can be tough to teach.
But rest assured, if you recognize the importance of flow in your workplace, you’ll be well on your way to higher productivity and stronger project management as a result.
Ditch the Multi-Tasking
Perhaps the best way to manage multiple projects at once is to, well, not do it.
Don’t read this one the wrong way – it’s critical to your role to consistently keep an eye on all your projects.
But trying to do too many things at once can be absolutely disastrous for your productivity and, in the end, may result in you and your team falling behind.
In fact, studies have shown that multitasking (even for those that claim they’re gifted at it), more often than not, results in reduced task performance as well as higher inefficiency.
What’s at play here is the fact that the brain takes a while to truly start performing at capacity for a given task.
When you continue to switch back and forth between tasks, your brain doesn’t have enough time to get into the groove, so to speak. And when it finally does, it isn’t long before it’s diverted to another task entirely, causing the whole process to start over again.
Think of it like trying to fry an egg.
But instead of heating it up in a single pan, you keep switching back from one pan to another.
In project management, if you keep jumping between tasks before your brain has time to acclimate, you’re just going to be left with one lukewarm and runny project after another.
Look into Adopting an Agile Methodology
Organizing multiple projects at work can be overwhelming. There are often a variety of moving parts for each project and keeping track of who’s working on what, whether critical benchmarks have been met, or if there are any roadblocks along the way can be tough, especially when multiple projects are involved.
While there are a variety of project management methods you can employ, an agile methodology can be instrumental in both picturing the progress of your project load as well as keeping your team clear on what’s expected of them.
Favoring flexibility over linearity, an agile approach to multiple project management typically utilizes a physical or digital progress board that includes the various stages of project development and implementation, sometimes called a scrum board. This helps to add a visual element to project progress and lets you take a high-level account of managing multiple projects.
It’s considered by many to be the best way to track multiple projects at once.
Take Advantage of Time-Saving Resources
Project management is all about optimizing your time for maximum productivity.
That’s why it’s important to utilize all of the already-available tools for managing multiple projects that you can.
And while these platforms can be great for streamlining your processes, even taking advantage of pre-made project management templates can significantly cut down on your workload and give you the time you need to focus on getting the job done.
Learn How to Prioritize Projects at Work
Knowing how to prioritize multiple projects can be one of the biggest differentiators between a year in the black and one in the red.
Efficiency isn’t just about getting projects done quicker – it’s also about recognizing which projects are time-sensitive and should be tackled first.
And that takes prioritizing.
Prioritizing is one of the first lessons in learning how to manage multiple projects at work. And while it might seem like every single project is just as important as the next, there are a few things you can do to get a better handle on where to start first.
The first thing is to do a project audit. That entails listing out each of your projects and ranking them by both their importance and their urgency.
Separating these two from each other is absolutely critical when it comes to prioritizing as the more important tasks, though they have a longer timeline, may overshadow the more trivial yet time-sensitive projects.
Ranking your projects by urgency instead, then, can help you gain a bit more perspective on which tasks should be completed first.
Learning How to Manage Multiple Projects
The role of a project manager is a tough one. Not only can it be difficult to juggle all the moving parts of a single project, you also usually have a number of different projects on your plate all at once.
And if you don’t know how best to stay on top of each, something is likely to slip through the cracks and cause problems down the line.
That’s why it pays to know how to manage multiple projects at work. And by utilizing the techniques above, you can rest assured that you’ll be keeping a firm grip on each and every one of your team’s tasks.
Yada is not just the leader of the Project Management Training Institute (PMTI). He helped to write significant portions of the project management standards worldwide. He is helping PMI right now in reviewing, directing, and leading the development of the 7th edition of the PMBOK(r) Guide to incorporate the most monumental changes to project management standards in 35 years. He shares his wisdom with readers via the PMTI blog.