How to juggle multiple projects

In the first Academic Crisis Line session, I talked about tips and tools which help organizing your work time efficiently so that you can manage multiple projects without getting overwhelmed. You can rewatch the video here:

Here is a mini summary:

  1. Day to day business (microlevel managing)
    • Tools: timetable, calendars, planners, spreadsheets, post its, Google Tasks, Trello,…
    • Make a week overview with all the regular events to see which blocks of time you have available to work on your projects. Don’t forget to insert private events to see which evening you can realistically work longer and which not.
    • Your week will now be chunked up into smaller and bigger time windows. Try to get two entire days of uninterrupted work without meetings, lecture series or other obligations (1 full + 2 half days will do, too). These are the days on which you can work on more challenging or demanding tasks or for writing, developing new ideas etc. Protect these days! This is where you get the important work done!
    • Use all the smaller chunks for smaller tasks which can be divided into small units easily like admin, emails, meetings with students.
    • Don’t waste your time. Do things when they are fresh and you are on top of things (e.g. write up your analysis and results during or after analyzing). When you have to go back to things weeks after you did them it costs you much more time to do it.
    • Review your progress weekly and reassess tasks and important next steps. Make a plan for the coming weeks!
    • Avoid micromanaging! It feels productive, but don’t let it fool you. Organizing should save you time, not eat it up!
    • Procrastinate efficiently: Ask yourself why you are procrastinating (Overwhelmed? Waiting for feedback? Unclear were to start? Too much of the same type of work for too long?). Take immediate action to find a solution (Ask for a meeting with adviser. Look for help online. Send the email.). If your problem cannot be solved immediately (Yay Google! Someone had exactly this problem and wrote about it!), leave this problem for now and work on something else. Most importantly: Don’t allow yourself to get stuck!
  2. Organizing multiple projects over months (and years)
    • Tools: progress charts, calendars, spreadsheets, OSF, Trello,… (whatever you do, stay consistent!).
    • Be clear about your role and workload in each of your projects. Plan realistically how much work it will be (plan buffer and downtime!!!) and when work intense periods will occur (e.g. data acquisition, deadlines for conferences).
    • Avoid having too many projects in the same progress stage. Ask yourself which tasks can go in parallel and which not. Plan some downtime after each step in a project to allow yourself to reflect about it before moving forward. In addition, plan some buffer time for certain phases in the projects where things can go wrong (e.g. data acquisition taking longer than expected, technical hiccups, etc…).
    • Take a few minutes to write up new ideas and store them in a central location for when you have time o start a new project.
    • Regularly rethink priorities and project progress (what are the consequences if a task does not finish on time) and adapt your plan if something changes. Even with the best planning, things can go wrong and you have to be flexible in finding a solution.
    • Accept that you cannot every variable which can influence project progress and that you won’t be able to give 100% at all times. Talk about it with people involved in the project and try to redefine priorities and find solutions.
  3. Don’t loose track of your big plan (macro managing to achieve your career goals)
    • Tools: 5 year plan, 10 year plan, annual goals
    • Take sometime at least once per year (Christmas break?) to reflect upon where you are in your career, where you want to be, and how you can achieve this.
    • Write down what you want to achieve this year (publish this paper, submit these other two, apply for this grant, learn a new analysis technique) and keep this list visible. This will help you decide on priorities.
    • Make time in your schedule once in a while to learn new things, keep up with the literature, reflect on research lines and brainstorm new ideas.

If you have questions, please send them to me or comment underneath. I will answer but want to keep all in one place.

UPDATE: I now upgraded my project planning to a digital online based method allowing direct collaboration. Have a look: Upgrade to digital project planning. A follow up on ‘how to juggle multiple projects’.


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Dr Franziska Hartung

Cognitive neuroscientist researching how brains create meaning.

One thought on “How to juggle multiple projects”

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