General Question

frankielaguna's avatar

How do you manage your time when working on multiple projects?

Asked by frankielaguna (256points) April 17th, 2009

So I’ve started working with this awesome web development company, and right now I am there only developer and they have me working on a lot of different projects. I’m finding it hard to juggle between all of them. I was wondering what tips tricks methods, pieces of software you use to help you manage multiple projects. I was using billings but it doesn’t really do what I want it to do anymore since I’m not freelancing and it’s a time tracking app not a time management app.

The company is a small team of about 5 people, 2 project managers, 1 designer, and a sales guy.

If that helps any :)
For software recommendations I’m on a Mac.

Thanks in advance!!

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12 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Project software can be helpful for some people.

My learning style is visual so I keep separate projects, their status and key steps on a board at eye level in my work area. I can then view where I am at a glance.

I also use lists. Every day, I look over what I need to do on various projects and prioritize the tasks.

cwilbur's avatar

Work with your manager to determine what your priorities are. Divide each project into smaller tasks that should take you no longer than a day, and preferably no longer than a couple hours. Figure out what milestone deadlines you have. And then work on the most important task first. And meet with your manager at least weekly to re-evaluate your priorities and deadlines.

Also, you waste mental energy context-switching, so switch between projects as little as you can get away with. But make sure you communicate this with your manager. “I’m dedicating all of today to the Foo project. I’ll spend tomorrow morning on Bar.”

Finally, be aggressive about eliminating interruptions. When you’re involved in the project, a one-minute interruption can translate into 30 minutes’ loss of productivity because it takes you that much time to recover the mental state you had when you were interrupted. You might have to take a hard line with your manager—“If you interrupt me every 10 minutes, it makes it much harder for me to get work done. Can you batch up all the requests you have for me, or email them to me, instead of interrupting me to tell me about them?”

sdeutsch's avatar

I have a really hard time keeping track of everything that needs to be done unless it’s on a list where I can see it all the time, so project software has never really worked well for me. I’ve started to-do lists in at least half a dozen different time management/project management applications, and every one has been abandoned within a week – I just have to have it on a piece of paper in front of me.

What I do is similar to Marina’s method – I have a separate to-do list for each project, and I keep them all on the wall behind my desk, so I can refer to them easily. Every time I sit down to work, I prioritize what needs to be done first, and how much I plan to get done in that sitting.

My husband also does a similar thing, but he uses index cards to make his lists on, and he puts them in a restaurant check holder, which allows him to easily move them around as things get re-prioritized.

If you have long-term projects with future tasks that you need to be aware of, I definitely recommend putting up a big calendar too – it often helps to be able to see the big picture, and not just the minute tasks that you’re working on this week. My favorite calendar system is to get a few small whiteboard calendars and put the next few months on them (ie. April, May, June). When you get to the end of April, you can just erase that board, put the July calendar on it, and move it to the end of the line.

Can you tell that I love organizing my projects even more than actually doing them?

frankielaguna's avatar

Thanks for all the answers @cwilbur I will give that a go starting on Monday.

noyesa's avatar

I had the same problem that sdeutsch is talking about—I have probably used every to-do list app on planet earth, each of which I gave up on within a week. However, I made a point out of making good use of one, so I settled on Things. Whatever your GTD app (Things, OmniFocus, Mail, a legal pad), you need to have something to basically tell you what to do and when to do it. Trust me, I hate making big master plans at the beginning of a project since they’re not elastic, but I’m not talking about a rigid, structured taxonomy of every character of code you’re going to type into your text editor; you can make an intuitive order of events that is reasonable to you, the developer, and makes sense to you, the developer. I share my task list with my teammates, but I also fill it with lots of technobabble so this isn’t the same kind of list you’ll find in the project’s master plan.

I personally find it excruciating to hop from one project to the other, but unfortunately that’s the nature of the business. Make sure you leave good hints to yourself in your code, and if you use a version control system like Subversion, leave good hints in the logs. When I first started working as a web developer, I wasted a regrettable amount of time trying to pick up from something that I hadn’t worked on in a day or two. The more descriptive you are to yourself, the quicker you’ll be able to change gears and get your flow back on that project.

Just a few IDE tips: if you’re using something like Aptana Studio or NetBeans, in addition to a myriad of other environments, TODO comments are incredibly useful. Not only do they help you find your place and get re-oriented with the project, but if your company ever hires another developer, they can collaborate with you on those todos. NetBeans, for example, has a dialog along the bottom with a list of the TODO comments in the current document.

Waste as little time as possible on bullcrap: the phone, e-mail, interruptions, etc. You need to marshall off your time and attention as best you can, since your time on the job is very finite, and distractions like e-mail and other people interrupting is significantly more costly than the minute or two that it takes to respond to each. Contrary to popular belief, you generally do NOT need to answer e-mail as soon as it’s received. Do yourself a favor, and set your e-mail client to only check for new messages every 30 minutes, or longer if possible.

This is a very general tip and my not sound like a time management tip, but it is: make use of open source code and frameworks. The goal of these frameworks is to boost productivity, yes, but also, they allow the developer to only concern his- or herself with the abstract of the program. Frameworks like CakePHP, Django, Ruby on Rails, Zend, jQuery, etc, these are all productivity tools that will help you spend less time entrenched in the details, and more time focusing on how our application is going to behave, which keeps you focused.

project007's avatar

The last reply by noyesa brings up a very important point, answering emails. I actually answer almost all emails at the end of the day, no matter when they’re sent, unless I receive an urgent call. When you answer emails at the end of the day, then you won’t have the “back and forth” chain of emails all day. You will receive your answer at the end of the day.

From what I understand, you’re a developer (not a project manager) yet you’re managing multiple projects? Odd! Usually I recommend reading about Project Portfolio Management but I’m not sure this will help you, as it seems your company is too small and the overhead for this is beyond your capacity.

revvp's avatar

You can try Replicon’s Web Timesheet
They provide a SaaS solution for web resource and time tracking software, and it supports most of the web browsers….
And as far as my understanding, Replicon’s Web Resource might be the best solution for your time management…
Hope it helps

HudsonHero's avatar

I am really curious what you ended up using.
I’ve used two great systems recently (for different jobs) that were excellent since our team is spread over the US. They’re similar but each has it’s own pros/cons. One is TeamWork Live and the other is Basecmp. I like that it doesn’t matter what system you use because they’re hosted off site. Just started using Google+ for conferencing. That’s great too.

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