How to Manage Your Projects When You're Overwhelmingly Busy

Managing projects when you're overwhelmingly busy

The struggle of the freelance writer, classic entrepreneur, and handmade artist is that there are always seasons -- seasons like holiday season for product sellers, or summer fair season for artists, or engagement season for those in the wedding industry.

If there's one classic pain that we can all understand as small business owners it's the inability to know how to manage yourself when your life is overwhelmingly busy -- and then again when it's underwhelmingly quiet.

Before this year, I thought my busy seasons were spring and fall -- spring was onboarding for conference clients, and fall was actual execution and consulting around events.

But this year I'm noticing that, as I take on bigger and bigger clients, it's a full spring from April until Thanksgiving -- with very little breathing room. And then, December and January will come around and I'll be twiddling my thumbs again.

But how do we stay sane? How do we continue moving forward toward our goals when we know there is simply not enough time in the day to get everything done?

If you're a solo entrepreneur, or you feel like you have too many things on your plate today, I'm going to give you my best suggestions on how to clear away the crap, and really get things done.

#1 Create ACTION STEPS, not just a To Do List

The number one thing that takes away our concentration and attention is not knowing exactly what our next steps are for any piece of any puzzle. A lot of times, we come out of meetings with clients or customers (or ourselves!) and we have a vague idea of what we need to do, but we don't actually have the next real-time step to take.

When I work with my event clients, I'm ALL about action steps. Sometimes, people want to see an entire project plan from soup to nuts so that they know what exactly they're looking at. However, I've found that creating a high-level overview with specific actions is enough. Most people can't look at a piece of paper and realize how that translates into an entire project. So, less is more in this case.

My Asana project management desktop...pretty huh?

My Asana project management desktop...pretty huh?

What IS awesome is action steps. So, whenever you hang up a phone call, you should send an IMMEDIATE follow up email to your client and to yourself that has the next action step for both them and you.

This may sound like drivel, but when you have 100 balls in the air, breaking down the projects into immediate steps is going to be so much less overwhelming, and it will give your brain the chance to let go of managing those balls-in-the-air, and give you the mental space to ACTUALLY tick things off the list?

#2 Know that your clients won't be mad with a pre-emptive apologetic email

SO MUCH of the internal stress I create for myself is based on my clients' perceived notion of how well I am doing on their behalf (which is usually pretty dang good, or else I'd be far out of business). 

The truth is, we all overestimate the amount of work we can do and often, our clients are busy enough that all they need is an update on our progress.

When you're feeling stressed, it's easy to  let emails go unanswered and clients waiting for files. However, I find that the progress check-in emails are much easier to answer with an honest assessment about where you are in the process.

Some clients may be upset, but in my experience, the quicker emails are returned and the more the client feels like you're actually working on their project, the better the relationship stays, even if deadlines need to be moved (we all need deadlines moved sometimes).

#3 Go full speed at the things that are the most important

We all have the tendency to be perfectionists, right? Which is great for our clients who have a very high expectation, but can also shoot us in the foot when we're trying to actually ship things out and get things done.

When I'm really busy with client work I throw all of my weight at the most important things. Sometimes, if I have time, I'll market myself and keeping a blog presence (hence this post right here) and participate in networking events (because you know I love networking events!).

But the bottom line is that, the busier you are, the less you can take on that's not absolutely crucial.

My project management system helps me with that, because I can gauge my energy and say "Okay, well these 5 things HAVE to get done today, but right now, I only have energy for this one thing." Which means I can go full speed at that one thing for an hour or two, and feel accomplished when it's done.

#4 Mix administrative tasks and brain-heavy tasks

We all have tasks that totally take up way too much brain space. Blogging is one of those for me, unless I haven't been writing in a while. But if I have a very email-heavy day, I can't even think about writing a blog post, which means I need to write a post in the morning, and then do some planning tasks or make phone calls or organize tasks in the afternoon.

Find out what your "brain-heavy tasks" are and limit them to one or two per day. Beyond that, it's a win, as long as you can do your administrative tasks and stay on track.

Your turn! What are your tips for staying calm under all the work pressure during your busy season?