Being a manager is somewhat like being a really good juggler in the circus. You have to keep multiple balls (projects) up in the air (on track) to demonstrate to your audience that you know how to perform. As a juggler, you typically start off small, with just two or three objects, and as your confidence grows, you begin to add more items into your juggling act. It s like that as a manager. At first you concentrate on only one or two projects or tasks at a time, and then over time, you add more or someone else adds more to your list of things to work on or accomplish in a certain time period. In the business world, this juggling act is known as multi-tasking. It takes a great deal of work to be successful at this process, but over time, you can learn to manage multiple projects at one time and accomplish your goals with each.
You probably know several examples of different managers. First are those managers that are great at setting out with a vision to start new projects. They give their attention to the project in the beginning, but after time lose interest or shift their focus to another new project and then another new project. After a period of time, they are viewed as never finishing any project or following through with their initial intentions.
Then there are those managers that are great at starting and finishing one project at a time. They are task oriented and are able to focus on that one project, as long as they don t need to work on anything else. They are for the most part one-dimensional thinkers, and while they do finish their task or project, it is often frustrating to other members, as other tasks or projects are ignored while they work on this single project, regardless if that is the priority or not.
The managers that are able to manage multiple projects and finish them with an appropriate application of priority are the most successful managers. Multi-tasking as a manager takes a great deal of practice and work to become good at working on multiple tasks (projects) at the same time. Here are some helpful hints I have found to help you become better at multi-tasking and be able to manage multiple projects at once.
Create a list. While not everyone is a list person, I am, and I find it helps me to remember those things I need to accomplish both long-term and short-term. Some people are great at using mental lists of things-to-do, but it s easier to forget something, unless you write it down.
Use a calendar. Whether it is an electronic calendar used on your computer or hand-held PDA or a calendar book, it is important to record meetings, or appointments, you have coming up in the future. This is especially true if you travel on a regular basis.
Create folders for each project. An easy way to track projects or programs is to place the material you are working on in a separate folder to help keep all your pertinent information in one place.
Learn to assign priorities to tasks. If you start your day with an average of 50 tasks, and you acquire or receive 20 new ones, where will you be at the end of the day? If you don t determine which task needs your immediate attention verses those that will wait, the chances are you will end up not addressing all of those needed in a timely manner and will probably end up with some unmet deadlines.
Schedule time to work. As a manager, you often have unexpected meetings or emergencies that dictate a change in your daily schedule. It is important to try to determine when you can plan to work on certain projects or programs in order to meet a completion deadline. That might mean closing your office door and not answering the phone for an hour or two. While you probably can t do that on a daily basis, you should be able to once or twice per week, which will allow you to have time to work on one or more tasks.
Timely communications follow up. In this day of instant communications, whether is it a cell phone, blackberry, e-mail or instant messaging, we seem to receive much more communications each day. Some managers get off track by answering every e-mail or taking every cell phone call as they come in. Since most are not priority communications, they tend to bog down the workflow every day. Not every e-mail needs a response. Not every phone call needs to be answered or called back. But in the cases of where you do need to respond back, you should make sure to do so in a timely manner. You need to determine the best system for you to address those communications in a timely manner and decide how you can make sure you don t forget to communicate with those persons that you determine can wait until later in the day or until the next day or two.
Delegate some of those balls to another juggler. Like a juggler at the circus you don t have to work alone. You can bring others into your act and give them some responsibility or assignments. Some of the projects or programs you are working on may be able to be shifted to another person in your organization. You can keep an eye out for how they re doing, but let them do the work or manage the task.
As a manager you are often distracted at work with interruptions that shift your focus from what you were working on. Don t let a new ball throw off your entire juggling act, just add it to your list and keep juggling. Keep working on getting better at managing multiple tasks, and you will find it gets easier the more you work and practice at accomplishing those projects.
Give yourself some applause now, and take a bow.