How to manage your time + energy when it’s split

This is a question I get a lot – and for good reason. Most people get their businesses started going as a side gig, so they have to manage their time & energy for their “day job” and their business at the same time, without letting either suffer; and if you’re running a service based business, once it’s churning along semi-smoothly, you then have to balance your attention between handling client work (which pays the bills now) and taking care of your business (which, if neglected, means you won’t be able to pay the bills in a month or three).

I’ve been working for myself for just over three years now, and the whole time I’ve been doing it, I’ve had more than one big project taking up my time & energy. First I was freelance writing and writing at Wicked Whimsy at the same time, then freelance writing and working on Let’s Radiate and with associated clients at the same time, and now I’m currently working on my business + handling client work + prepping for the relaunch in September. (Speaking of which, September looked so much further away from the other side of July. Yikes.) 

In that meantime, I’ve tried a myriad of ways to balance these projects without taking too much away from any of them. Some tactics have been more successful than others…and at the moment, I’ve got some that’ve been working well. Can I guarantee it’ll work for you? Nope, but if you’ve had that feeling of too many plates spinning at once (and the really unpleasant feeling when one of them shatters), it can’t hurt to take a look.

What’s worked for me:

  • Assigning categories to each day of the week. This way, I get to stay in the same mental ballpark the whole day, without any drastic shifts, which allows me to get into a really good groove. (Which, it is not an exagerration to say, exponentially increases my productivity.) My loose categories are as follows: Mondays are admin days for my business, Tuesdays & Thursdays are client days, Wednesdays are mostly content creation, and Fridays are biz-dev days for my business.
  • Aiming for scheduling appointments either at the beginning or towards the end of the work day. Obviously, if mid-day is the only time that works for someone, I can & will schedule an appointment for then; but in general I try to put appointments in either 9 AM or 10 AM time-slots  or after 2 PM. This way I can make sure I have a solid swathe of time to work without being interrupted by appointments for the bulk of my work day. And I try to schedule appointments roughly corresponding with the categories – coaching or consulting for me goes on Fridays or Mondays, client appointments are usually Tuesdays & Thursdays though sometimes Wednesdays.
  • Having a color-coded task list/calendar. This is probably the quirkiest item on the list, but having things color coded by client makes it incredibly easy to see at a glance if I’m spending the bulk of my time on one thing and possibly neglecting others. If my task list looks more like a rainbow across the week, I’m doing it right.

What has not worked for me:

  • Trying to work on multiple different big projects in one day. For example, splitting up one day between biz-dev & client work. It’s too big of a mindset shift for me and I end up making a lot of progress on one project and doing absolutely nothing on the other one.
  • Not making a distinction between work on my business & work in my business. Two entirely different things that require two wildly different mindsets and viewpoints. Working on my business (or your business) requires a really top-level, bird’s eye view; working in my business means taking more of a day-to-day, detail-oriented view. Learning the difference between those two mindsets was huge for me, because it meant I wasn’t wasting time trying to switch directly from one to another. Now, I know that trying to plan those two activities back to back won’t work & ends up more frustrating than anything else.
  • Attempting to split equally time-wise. Far more important than time spent is energy spent, and also important is if I’m actually feeling the project. If everything’s going well, I can get more done in 15 minutes than I’ve got done in an hour other times, so I don’t worry about dividing time up equally between important areas any more, I just make sure I’m moving forward on all of them.
There’s a lesson here – despite all of the productivity “rules”, sometimes you just have to do things by trial and error. What works for me might not work for you – sometimes I even break the golden productivity rule and *gasp* multi-task, though only when doing certain things on certain days. Sometimes listening to music makes me more productive, but only when I’m working on certain things, and only certain kinds of music. If you don’t feel like something is working for you, feel free to scrap it and try something else – even if it runs counter to traditional wisdom.

What about you? Do you have any specific tricks for working on multiple projects at the same time, without dropping the ball on any of them? Is there anything you do that makes you far more productive that goes against the usual productivity advice?

Photo Credit: Nick Wheeler

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