In the world of freelance being busy is great and having multiple projects to manage is much more of a blessing than a curse, but that doesn’t make it any easier when there are deadlines, client expectations and budgets involved. In my 5 years of running In Transit Studios I’ve learned some valuable lessons when it comes to time management and managing multiple projects. At one point in 2014, I had close to 30 projects on my plate (too many for one person) but I generally run between 10-15 projects at a time. Some are big, some small and some that have multiple layers or phases. Smaller projects may include ordering print materials or small website updates, which generally don’t take up too much time, but my larger projects may include full website developments and branding work that can take up to a few months or more depending on client responsiveness, planning, communication and revisions.
So, how have I managed to take on so many projects, keep clients happy and keep a full head of hair? Here are some tips on how to manage multiple projects:
Every client wants to feel that they’re a priority. It’s important to be very genuine on how much their business means to you, but there are points where you may need to put certain priorities above others. Ex: If a client has a website that has been in the works for 2 months and they’re wanting to go live, you may need to put some other new projects on hold in order to finish that one up and strike while the iron’s hot. Even if you’re not feeling the project that’s been lingering on, it’s important to buck up and do what you have to do. All clients are equally important and so are their projects but in your workflow you want to give yourself the freedom to prioritize what you want, when you want, in order to meet each client’s needs.
2) Create a Checklist
I firmly believe that organization is the key to success. So in order to complete multiple tasks, or in this case manage multiple projects, creating a checklist is a great way to stay organized and can be the very thing that keeps you sane while also giving you a sense of satisfaction when completing tasks. For me, many projects have layers of checklists. In the case of website design, numerous pages and graphic/code work can make for an exhaustive list of “to do’s” so I try to limit my checklists to major points and not minor, minute details. Either way, a checklist is a GREAT way to visualize your project’s goals and is also a very good way to see progress when a project is dragging on. You can also use checklists from a day to day perspective. Ex: Today, I’m working on project A, wrapping up project C and doing administrative work for 1 hour in the afternoon, etc. Even a simple outline style checklist of the day has helped me tremendously.
3) Set Realistic Deadlines
Maybe the most important thing of all when managing projects is setting realistic deadlines. A client is going to want their project done as quick, as professional and affordable as possible but that can be tough to achieve if you’re juggling multiple projects. It’s better to set realistic timelines then to over promise and under achieve and there’s nothing better than if possible, setting a longer deadline and being able to surprise the client a week early or something of the sort. It’s also very important to balance deadlines in the world of creative work. Graphic and web design are creative services which means every project is different depending on the needs of the client. These are also projects that don’t have set guidelines or instructions, so creative work can take longer or shorter than similar projects. There are times where I’ve been uninspired on a project for days or weeks, then all of the sudden, inspiration hits and that’s when the project can get done quickly. Sometimes though, the day to day actions of running a business (administrative work, meetings, phone calls, tax preparation) can absolutely drain creativity. There’s nothing worse than being on a deadline and having nothing in the idea factory, so leaving a little extra time for the completion of a project is imperative.
4) Delegate the Work
You may get to a point where you simply cannot take on any more work. Mentally, physically, emotionally you just cannot add on to the pile of work you already have. At the same time, you don’t want to turn away work because you may loose a potential client or job for good. I recommend delegating the work. This can be challenging in itself because in order to delegate you have to work with other people, assign tasks, manage other’s workflow, etc which can seem like more work. But if you can surround yourself with some talented individuals who are affordable and can represent you well, it’ll go a long way. The big lesson here…don’t be greedy! It’s very easy to want to take on a whole project by yourself and take 100% of the profit. But if doing that means you’re pushing other projects aside, getting more work backed up and stressing yourself out even more, it’s not worth it. I’d rather complete 10 projects a month and sub some of the work out if need be than to take everything on myself and keep 100% while only completed 3 or 4 projects. The other issue when doing everything yourself is that if you’re working 100% FOR the business, that means you have no time to devote to working ON the business.
5) Use Project Management Tools
Who doesn’t love a desk full of scattered papers, post-it notes and reminders? I don’t. Though I still take notes on paper and use post-it notes, most of my project management happens on online platforms. There are two in particular that’ve revolutionized the way I do business and manage my projects. (Wish I would’ve been using these from the start.)
These 2 programs have literally cut my project management and administrative time in half. With Basecamp, you can manage multiple projects, add team members and clients without loosing messages and communication in email threads and you can keep a visual representation of the projects you have on board. 17 Hats is an incredible, one-stop-shop style platform for managing projects as well as invoicing, contracts, time tracking, etc. There are numerous tools out there now a days and there isn’t really a right or wrong way of doing things, but for now, these programs come highly recommended and are far better that having papers everywhere.
6) Learn to Say “NO”
This can be very hard if you’re a people pleaser like myself. If you’re like me, you love making people happy and seeing clients light up with glee. That’s not a bad trait to have when running your own business but it can also drag you down and wear you out if you try to please everyone who wants to work with you, particularly if they’re wanting work for free or cheap. There are going to be times when you simply can’t take on more work and meet every deadline a client asks for. You need to learn to protect your time and your sanity which means sometime’s saying no. Now as mentioned above, I don’t advocate turning down work and making yourself unavailable but if a client asks for an unreasonable deadline on a project that isn’t worth it financially and you’d have to put all your other projects on hold, you may have to say “No, I can’t meet that deadline”. Projecting a deadline a few weeks out may work out great and clients will typically respect your time. If they don’t, I’m not so sure you’ll want them as your client anyway.
So there are some tips on how to manage multiple projects. These are lessons that I learned the hard way so I hope that these have challenged you and that you can apply these to your business or day to day workflow!