ProductivityProject Management

How to Stay Focused When Assigned to Multiple Projects at Once

In theory, if you involve a person with specialized expertise in multiple projects, that person can “share the love” and sprinkle some genius across all of them. And that is true, but a lot of risks and friction come with that task-switching. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Heidi K. Gardner and Mark Mortensen describe how you can more safely and effectively manage your time across projects.

Focus in Chunks

First, you should prioritize work. This means not taking on work just because it is “urgent,” but rather because it is genuinely important and is pertinent to approaching deadlines. You need to take a holistic approach to how you choose to spend time across all projects. But when you do have a definite task on your hands, the authors say to commit completely to it and not allow interruptions. Set a “must-achieve outcome” and do not stop until it is met. Approaching your work in this way ensures that each task receives its deserved attention, even when you have competing obligations.

Another thing you must do is set and communicate your expectations as it pertains to working multiple projects. Toward this end, the authors recommend setting up an automatic email reply when you are engaged in deep-level work, one that tells them you will not be responding to email until later in the day. This lets people know you are paying attention—but not right this second. In fact, just letting people know at all that you have seen a request and intend to act on it in the near-ish future is good enough to satisfy most people.

Lastly, as you work, you need to be thinking about ways to further your own personal development. In many cases, this could be as simple as learning something new from your fellow teammates. The challenge is just to find the time for it. But the authors say to force yourself to make the time:

After identifying your development goals, block out time for actual learning. Research shows that a critical determinant of learning is time spent reflecting on and integrating new information. This is a challenge, because multiteaming forces us to jump between projects with the express goal of reducing downtime. Therefore, you need to intentionally and explicitly schedule time for reflection. Obviously, you can’t go overboard and become a bottleneck just to carve out contemplation time, but make sure team members see reflection as “real work.”

You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2017/11/how-to-stay-focused-if-youre-assigned-to-multiple-projects-at-once

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