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4 keys to successfully juggle multiple projects

Today, few of us have the luxury of focusing on only one project. Multi-teaming allows organizations to share professionals’ time and brainpower across multiple departments and for multiple initiatives. And for individuals, there’s joy in contributing to multiple objectives and collaborating with a variety of people.

But the more we have on our plate, the harder it can be to stay focused. Switching between tasks and projects takes time and saps energy and focus, increasing propensity for errors. Research estimates that the human mind wanders nearly half of its waking hours. And in the “new normal” of COVID-19, with many of us working remotely, it’s more challenging than ever to juggle multiple projects.

While focus is an individual task, it can have a positive impact on everyone at your organization when you learn how to effectively juggle everything on your plate. Explore some key strategies to see how you can reign in your own focus — and inspire your team to do the same.

Keep your eye on milestones.

One of the trickiest aspects of managing multiple projects is prioritization. What should get done first in your laundry list of to-dos? Our brains see a long task list and become overwhelmed, so we have the impulse to start checking things off at random.

A study from Ohio State University found that this dilemma is no problem for a child. While adults easily solve cognitive challenges, they struggle to see the big picture. On the other hand, children notice what adults miss, explore everything and are more holistic in their perspective.

Before you jump right into your to-do’s, tap into your inner child and turn your attention to the big picture. Scope out the milestones for each project. Ask yourself what’s coming up first and what will need the most attention. With a new perspective of all the projects at hand, you’ll be better prepared to handle daily to-dos.

Go big after breakfast.

What is the first task you sit down to do in the morning? For many of us, it’s straight to the inbox. But the way you start your morning can impact the success of your work for the rest of the day. That’s why it’s important whether you choose to jump into the toughest to-do of the day or start with a few simple emails.

Your brain simply performs better in the morning. Studies that tested adults in the morning and afternoon found that the early hours activated brain networks responsible for paying attention and suppressing distraction.

With that in mind, give your brain the best chance for success and tackle projects that require the most attention first thing in the morning. While it might be tempting to clear your inbox right as you log in, your opportunity for success is much higher if you begin with what’s most important.

Build boundaries that prevent distraction.

If you’re pivoting your sales approach in a time of need and are working towards positioning your company for success, you don’t need distractions pushing your timeline back any further. Building the right boundaries can help.

Find yourself getting distracted just sitting at your desk? Research shows that simply seeing another person’s face display emotion is enough to distract you from your current to-do. When someone in your line of sight laughs or frowns, your brain automatically switches gears and prepares you for a distracting interaction. Set boundaries by changing your desk position, blocking your line of sight, working elsewhere when you need complete focus or simply closing the door.

Then there are the digital distractions. Pings from project management software, messaging platforms, social media, new emails in your inbox . . . the list goes on. While these tools help with communication, they can be an enemy in accomplishing goals (for both you and your employees!). Lead by example and set firm time frames when you will and won’t respond. For example, commit to silencing notifications between 8 and 10 a.m., and let your team know they can call if it’s a true emergency. And don’t forget about features like away messages and auto-responses to help!

Look for momentum.

A looming large project or two can decrease the motivation of an entire team. Without paying attention to progress, projects can seem hopeless. For long-term projects that don’t have a clear finish line, make sure to visualize momentum. As team members see the progress they’ve made, they’ll feel more motivated to keep pushing forward.

Washington State University discovered that seeing progress in round numbers makes people feel more accomplished than looking at the decimals. If your team has completed 23.2% of a project, round up to 25% and they’ll feel much more satisfied.

Milestones are just as important for prioritization as they are for motivation. The same milestones you create at the beginning of the project can help you and your team see progress as you push toward the end.

Staying focused can be a challenge, but with the right strategies, you and your team will find success. Start your own experiment and determine what helps you find your focus and achieve your goals.

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