Compartmentalize and Get More Done

Recently, I was talking with a client about how to manage multiple, large-scale projects simultaneously, and still make progress on each of them. While it’s not an easy task, I’ve stumbled on a compartmentalization strategy that is helping me do just that.
About a month ago, I realized I needed a better way to organize my time, not only to help me to got more done, but also so that my mind was clearer and more focused. In the time leading up to this change, I felt like me efforts were scattered as I flitted from project to project, and like I wasn’t making real progress on any of them. Yet I was preparing to add two more to my plate. I knew something had to give.

First Step: Set Days for Set Projects

I had several main projects that were most important to me at the time, so I decided to reserve certain days of the week for each of them. Here’s a rough overview of how I set up my week.

  • Mondays: Project A
  • Tuesdays: Projects B and C (since they’re closely related)
  • Wednesdays: Writing and Project D
  • Thursdays: Projects B and C
  • Fridays: Project A

Second Step: One-Stop Organization

It was important that I had one way of tracking what needed to be done, rather than using five different tools to manage bits and pieces of my schedule and to-do list, so I started condensing things down until I was left with just a couple of tools to keep me in line.

I started using Tom’s Planner (which I also use for managing my editorial calendars) for organizing my recurring weekly schedule: those things I have to do every week on a set day (for example, write my WebWorkerDaily article every Wednesday).

At the start of each day, my first stop is Tom’s Planner, which gives me an overview of the “big rocks” that need to be moved that day.

In addition to Tom’s Planner, I use Google Calendar (s goog) for managing set appointments and events (for example, phone calls and birthdays), and I try to only book phone calls and other set appointments during specific time frames on certain days of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 1:30 to 3:30 PM, for example). This makes me far less likely to overlook something or get my days mixed up.

Great News, It’s Working!

Immediately, I can say that my mind is a lot clearer lately, but there are several other advantages I’ve found so far for compartmentalizing my days.

  1. I’m focused and staying true to my priorities. A quick glance lets me know what my top priorities are, as well as the rough percentage of time I’m giving each one. If I want to take on a new project, I quickly think, “What do I have on my plate right now? Well, Mondays I have…, Tuesdays I have…,” which keeps me from over-committing and straying from my top priorities. If I want to take on something new, something else has to go.
  2. I’m not constantly shifting gears. Before I started using this method of organizing my time, I jumped from one project to another and felt like I wasn’t giving enough time to any of them. Now, I don’t worry about not giving enough time to any one project. I know, for example, that I will work on Project A tomorrow, so there’s no rush to take my attention off the project I’m working on today.
  3. I’m getting more done. At first, I was worried that this strategy might leave me working less on my top projects, and while that has proven to be true in terms of the absolute amount of time I spend on them, I’m actually getting more done for each project, since I’m a lot more focused.

I’m also way more particular about the things I do for each one. On a given day, I know I have to pick the top tasks and hustle to get them done, since I’m not going to pick this project up again for a few days. I’m a lot less likely to get distracted by email, lower priority to-dos, or other things vying for my attention.

The proof is in the pudding. In the past three weeks, here’s what I’ve accomplished.

  • Designed a new logo/banner for a new project
  • Created a business plan for the new project
  • Built a website for the new project
  • Wrote and published 13 articles
  • Created and published seven audio pieces
  • Created and published two newsletters

In the three weeks prior to starting this strategy, here’s what I accomplished.

  • Wrote and published 12 articles

Big difference! Plus, I’m spending far fewer actual hours working on any given project, and I feel like I’m working less, even though I’m getting more done.

So, what’s your strategy? Do you have a set way of working to help you move more rocks in less time?

Photo by Flickr user Helico, licensed under CC 2.0

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