Attacking the tasks: How to keep up with parallel projects?

Sometimes 140 characters are not enough to express myself,  so I decided to write a reflection on motivation, organization, tasks, projects, and how I keep up with everything as reply to your questions, rants on Twitter.  It’s summer time and most of you are on vacation, but some of us still work.

Many of you asked, complained on Twitter how one keep up with parallel projects, tasks, many of you fell overwhelmed, stressed out, etc.  Some of you asked how do I attack tasks, and what does it mean. Just to let you know you are not the only one in the multitasking/parallel projects/tasks executing. But somehow I found my way to keep up with many projects that I face every day (no rocket science). Here are simple things I practice in order to attack my tasks and not vice versa, and they work for me so far.

What I’m practicing lately is to see just few relevant emails per day, not zillions as it was in the past.
I managed to teach my inbox to behave. How? I’ve filtered emails within topics or subjects and labeled them. So only important emails I receive on daily basis from the people I expect emails, others skip the inbox and end in labeled folders, I check them once or twice per week. This way I put off less pressure on checking incoming emails or seeing emails I don’t want to see. It’s such relief. My inbox at this point is two unread emails, in the past was over 1900 emails [Flickered that]. This also refers to social network sites messages or notifications: if you send me e.g. Facebook message, I am ignoring that. It’s true I have several hundred unread FB messages, but please use email to contact me.

Smart Phone.
I’ve set up my smart phone to remind me on tasks, meetings when I’m not working on computer and when I’m on the run. Those are usually tasks, and meeting memo’s related to my work. Off work,  I use to-do notes that remind me on what I have to do or buy. I am not yet on Alzheimer’s, but when I go shopping I like to see the list. There are too much things in my life that at least I can have PDA on my phone. Also, I like analogue post-it task notes. All my 2009 I’ve planned in 2008 post-it wall with different colors schema [seen on Flicker].

Regarding the scheduling the meetings I usually set up 50% of the schedules and other 50% I am scheduled. For the second I prefer to have heavy mental work in the morning hours after 10 am (not a fan of early morning meetings) and they should be brief, right to the point (if they are not presentations that require an hour or so). I respect other people’s time and I want mine to be respected. My meetings attention span is short and I am advocating that in 10-20 minutes you can have perfect meeting if you get straight to the point(s).

I’m not perfect in this department. I go to the extremes: I’m either before deadline or after (few days), but what I do is always let people know in advance that I will be late, and ask for some extension. It’s simple as that.

Parallel projects.
Many of you complained “oh how am I going to do several things at the same time, I am overloaded”, etc. The thing is you cannot (read: can not) do several things at the *same* time, it is physically impossible and can be very stressful. What I do is I set up the priorities through the day of those projects I’m currently doing. For those at my job,  I am lucky because I usually work with a person on consultations and this helps me alot. I always want to hear second opinion and to see if I’m going in the right direction. I handle things much faster and better if I am communicating with someone on certain issue and then I withdraw and do the rest on my own.
If some of the data or outcome depends on the others (group of people or institution(s) ) – you have to learn how to make people to do things you want them to do. I make them do things by saying what I expect from them or saying directly what they should do, usually I suggest social media tools to facilitate their work that reflects my projects. I cannot tell you how I do this – I guess it goes with practice and time, being tactful with people, but for those who don’t meet my professional needs or not being prompt, I am ruthless here and use TCP/IP slapping device ::smile::
If some things become critical and are not done because of the non promptness of the others, in that case I don’t have time to loose or wait for them. I either ask someone else or simply take things into my hands and got my task/project done. I am happy, others are happy.
Great deal of tricks I’ve learnt and have to thank to my supervisor who taught me how to enjoy my work, deal with different kind of people [story on crocodile and the chick] and if needed to torture them ::giggle::
I wouldn’t accomplish all alone for some grande projects, esp. those that requires consultations if i didn’t cooperate with my lovely colleagues (call me lucky and blessed to work with fantastic people), and people from my area of work from world wide institutions.

When dealing with lot of projects, it is important to communicate and what is the most important to be honest and state what you can or cannot do or accomplish at certain time. I always analyse situation before I accept something. I talk to people. Face to face. Emails. I tell them what I think, show them my concerns, ask for their opinion.

One more thing to finish with: I am not perfect. I have six grande “projects” to accomplish before fall (October 2009), one book included – the one I didn’t start to write yet and I have due soon. How I am going to handle all that? I don’t know, I just follow my schedule and do one thing at a time at that certain moment. It is true I don’t party every night,  yes- my personal time management is pretty messy, yes – I don’t have time for workout, yes- I have to improve my nutrition system, yes- I need to start to do yoga again, yes -many times no free weekends, but what really keeps me going on here is the awareness that I’m doing/creating good things that have great future on the longer run plus I’m interacting with interesting people, and I’m getting more and more experienced in life (not only work) – which is the greatest asset. Above all – I am trying to enjoy myself.

I would like to read the feedback from you: what works for you and what not? How do you keep up with all the tasks you have? What part of your life suffers? What would you like to change?


  1. The need for organizing is more demanding nowadays, but it’s also easier than it used to be, I use Evernote for many things to keep my life organized, so I clip important emails into Evernote and tag them as well as interesting sites, part of text etc etc. I also use it as a journal to keep me up on my activities, and now about two weeks ago I started to write a book also in Evernote. So for me Evernote is both a lifesaver and kind of like an “swiss army knife” but for my online activities.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Great thoughts and strategies on how to be more productive Danica. I especially agree with you that working with someone and getting a second opinion is motivating and makes you do work faster.

    One other thing I’ve learned recently from reading Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, is to start the day without checking email. Do some productive work first than check email. It’s better not check email all the time (or leave the email on standby on the computer) but to have regular times (2-3 times a day) where I will check it.

  3. Maja says:

    Great text Danica!

    I have struggled with same issues as you, multitasking, million of small projects together with a few very big important tasks. I used outlook at work and filled the calender with tasks that had to be done. The most important is to get things out of one’s mind. That is not thinking about all projects at once.

    However the nature of my work was constant “suprise projects” that had to be solved in very little time. If possible I did this immediately as to get them out from the calender. The issue i’ve been dealing with is to estimate the time of things, how do you do this? It’s easy to plan something and perform it but hard to decised how much time it’ll take.

    Dealing with e-mails is a huge issue for many these days. I got a great tip from my colleague to have 3 folders in the mailbox.

    One is tasks that need to be solved, next one is tasks that need to be done but are more “timeless” or long run projects, the third and last one is for more “un-important” things. In this way I scanned the mail as I got them and them put them in the right folder.

    Thanks for all the tips that you gave here Danica!


  4. Danica says:

    Anders, didn’t use that tool.

    Elizabeth, didn’t read Pausch, but it’s hard for me not to read email first thing in the morning, not even during lunching (Italians though corrected my bad habit).
    I check less email now when I set up my rules for incoming emails.

    Maja, I agree on working one project at a time, but when you have tons of them – I still do one at a time but continuously during the day, so I don’t miss a thing

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