How to manage multiple projects and switch between tasks
March 22, 2021
If you are managing a team or running a company, you are likely dealing with multiple projects simultaneously. In that situation, effective management of the entire process is not an easy task, even for an experienced project manager. But it’s possible. In this article, we are describing how to effectively switch between different tasks and be on time with all your projects.
What tasks should be prioritised, how to manage the team’s work, stay organised and meet deadlines to achieve your goals? The following tips will provide you with answers to these questions. Using them will help you organise work on many projects. What’s more, they will make people aware of priorities and ensure the team’s proper workload. Keeping track of all your projects in one place at the same time will help you quickly and efficiently switch between your tasks.
10 steps to effectively manage multiple projects:
1. Define the goals and create a plan
Creating clear goals and a good plan is the key to success. It is worth establishing them in advance and for various scenarios, taking into account contingency plans. It avoids inconsistencies, wasting time and configuring new processes with each job. At a project level:
- define a detailed plan, processes, tasks to be performed and assign people to them;
- prepare opinions and approvals on time, leaving room for possible rejections and corrections;
- set goals and expectations at the team level that is to achieve them in the context of further plans at the organisation level;
- remember that expectations must be reasonable and take into account the depletion of your own and your team’s mental abilities, including in the break schedule;
- create conventions for the entire team and templates for projects that your team performs frequently. They will prove helpful in the upcoming projects each time, without having to rethink the individual steps.
- Critical Path Method (CPM) – this method allows to establish the order of tasks in the project from the beginning to the end and to designate such tasks (the so-called critical tasks) that determine the total duration of the project;
- PERT (Performance Evaluation and Review Technique) – the method is similar to the CPM but mainly shows the progress of each task and/or the entire project; it is also used to monitor the progress of the project;
- Gantt diagram – it simply and straightforwardly illustrates the duration and chronological order of tasks in the project but does not show the relationship between the functions performed.
2. Keep your plans in one place
If you’re managing a multi-product roadmap, it’s helpful to know precisely how many new launches are coming, what they include and when each is due. When plans are scattered across documents and spreadsheets, and the leader coordinates the programs via email and meetings, project management becomes time-consuming.
Modern management software generally comes with the features needed to manage multiple projects simultaneously. You can visualise all projects, track workflow and team progress and avoid duplicate work with them. More time is left to fine-tune the plans and make sure each project is successfully completed.
3. Create a project schedule
Even the most carefully planned project may fail if it’s not scheduled with the full scope of the team’s work – for a month, a quarter or even a year. Time is of the utmost importance in keeping projects running and helping your team to be maximally productive.
Setting the start and end dates can help prevent individuals from finishing five various projects simultaneously. Instead, they will be able to focus on one before moving on to the next. If the same task is found in two separate projects, consolidate them not to duplicate. [see point 9]
4. Prioritise tasks
Priority tasks are those that have the most significant impact on the organisation. And while the project leader/manager may be tempted to dissociate himself from the easiest projects initially, he should:
- prioritise individual tasks based on your knowledge of what projects lead to greater company goals;
- prioritise work strategically – both at the macro-level (e.g. postponing a project with little impact) and at the micro-level (arranging daily tasks so the focus is firstly on the most important ones);
- when your team is working on several products simultaneously, ensure that the more important ones are fully staffed before deciding who has time to work on lower priority projects.
If you want to give the most significant attention to priorities, you can group those repeating or similar in various projects. Another way to distinguish them according to preference is to assign each task a specific time [see point 9].
5. Make the plan and schedule visible for everyone
When managing multiple projects, there are always unknown factors that can change the plan and perspective. However, before changing anything, it’s a good idea to have regular review sessions to analyse the original plan. When your priorities change and you need to change your schedule, it’s best not to stop your work.
Flexibility is an important attribute here. The team should have an easy way to track changing priorities and reassign work. If you keep track of them in spreadsheets and to-do lists across multiple tools, it can be hard to figure out what your team and individuals are working on at any given time. Therefore, it makes sense to use special software and appropriate management tools that allow you to share status updates. Thanks to them, you can see the assigned tasks and their continuous progress.
Bonus: Priority Matrix (Eisenhower Matrix) – task prioritisation
The method was invented by US President Dwight Eisenhower, who said: What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important. Its structure resembles a coordinate system – the importance of a given task is required here, but its urgency is cut off. This breakdown is based on factors: personal priorities, emotional values, financial values, priorities, another rescheduling, and more. The essential thing in this method is the appropriate separation of activities into four groups:
- important and urgent – those that require immediate or quick action;
- important and not very urgent, i.e. essential, but they can wait;
- unimportant but urgent – e.g., those that we put off until they became extremely urgent;
- unimportant and non-urgent – routine and not influencing the environment too much.
6. Implement communication management
Effective communication is one of the most critical aspects of project management. And trust in the team allows you to quickly delegate and assign tasks when the work accumulates or becomes complicated. The team should know about potential problems and discuss them before they become unsolvable or cause delays.
Being truthful with your team is also a way to keep track of all the work done by everyone. By managing communication in the workplace well, you provide both the team and stakeholders with the entire working context. It should be done with the right tools that everyone has access to, thanks to real-time updates.
7. Observe the loads and balance them
Watching workloads and balancing them is a way to avoid random assignments and improve your entire team’s performance. Do you have a habit of relying on individuals to let you know when your workload is too heavy or too light? If so, their recognition, such as missed deadlines or the wrong people for the task at hand, may be revealed too late.
Therefore, managing all your projects in one place with load detection is a good step towards balancing them properly. This way, you can see all the work that one person is doing on all projects. When you can see all tasks’ workload at once, you can quickly spot discrepancies and reallocate work accordingly.
8. Create templates thanks to workflow tracking
Rather than re-inventing the process for each project, create templates and simplify the planning process. It will help speed up and develop your work more efficiently. Think of a template as a living document and update it with:
- fresh tasks or steps added to the process;
- new workflows that you create;
- best practices and new insights.
Make sure the template is in your team’s main feed so that everyone can access it and start your project efficiently.
9. Introduce time management
When working on many tasks or projects, there is a chance that there is some dependency between them, e.g. starting or ending one depends on the time of starting or closing another. These tasks can be of different importance – some are prioritised and others less so that they will seem distracting to the priority ones. They require extra attention and focus. That’s why you should:
- make cognitively demanding tasks less time-consuming;
- ensure which ones require the same type of processing and similar attention;
- schedule all tasks of the same type on the same days;
- group all tasks of the same type into time blocks.
Of course, some tasks have to be faced daily. If you, e.g., skip Monday emails entirely, you will likely be inundated with emails on Tuesday – something you would rather avoid. Instead, you can use the advice above for meetings, strategy planning and similar tasks on a larger scale. To move easily and quickly between tasks/projects, you can try out time management techniques.
10. Use time management techniques
There are many proven time management strategies. The approaches proposed here maintain the basic principle of working in specific blocks of time.
? Pomodoro Technique
It was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. This technique uses a timer (audio reminder) to break down time into specific steps. It consists of several stages:
- making a list of tasks and sorting it according to importance;
- setting the timer for intervals of 25 minutes (one pomodoro);
- 25 minutes of intensive work on a task without interruptions;
- abort a mission after 25 minutes.
The Pomodoro technique uses a timer to break down time into specific steps
The planning, tracking, logging, processing and visualisation stages are fundamental to this technique. During the planning stage, tasks are prioritised by saving them in a ”To do for today” list. It enables users to estimate the amount of work required for a given job. Completed pomodoro is recorded, which increases the sense of fulfilment and provides data for later self-observation and improvement of work quality.
There are many variations of the Pomodoro technique. It allows individuals or projects to adapt its rules to suit better their personal work style (e.g. popular 90-minute segments). This technique has been popularised by many applications and websites that provide timers. It is related to concepts such as Timeboxing and iterative and incremental software development adopted in program design – in pair programming contexts.
The primary aim of Timeboxing is to set a specific end date for the task and close the project implementation time in a particular block of time. On the surface, this technique is the same as blocking time, i.e. assigning a task to specific periods and working on them during those periods. However, while blocking time is designed to help you find time for priority tasks, time allocation is intended to help reduce time spent on secondary tasks.
In Timeboxing technique, when the time limit is reached, you move without regret to the next task
By assigning a given amount of time to jobs, you can focus on essential things, feel motivated to start, prevent fatigue and effectively use the period of shutdown. When you reach the time limit (30 minutes), move without regret to the next time slot or priority task – you can always come back to them later, when there is more time. It’s an effective way to get things done.
? Getting Things Done (GTD)
Its creator is David Allen. In his book, the author states that this is not a typical time management system but rather a method of organising working time consisting of collecting cases and managing lists of tasks and projects.
The main goal of GTD is to achieve high productivity in work and private life while relieving the obligation to remember all commitments and plans. The primary stages of GTD are Collecting, Analysing, Organising, Reviewing, Realisation.
The tasks in GTD are presented in 6 levels:
- current tasks,
- current projects,
- areas of responsibility,
- annual goals,
- a vision for five years,
- a vision for the whole life.
Managing multiple projects causes the necessity of frequent switching between different tasks. Inappropriate management of them can lead to unnecessary multitasking. This issue is known to managers responsible for several projects in the company as well as agencies and freelancers cooperating with many clients.
All the steps described above are based on the skilful division of projects into tasks and creating groups of similar tasks that we can perform simultaneously. However, it can be challenging to define the groups.
In that case, time tracking softwares can be helpful. They allow you to create reports at the end of the day, week or month that visualize what tasks you spend your time on. Thanks to the reports’ analysis, you can combine similar tasks and thus work more productively.