Balancing Act: Juggling Multiple Projects
This week has been hectic, with multiple projects running simultaneously and new ones popping up. As I look at the work accomplished (and what’s still left to do), it seems a good opportunity to apply the recent lessons learned toward one more project—this blog post. Here are my tips and tricks to maintain your sanity as you meet your competing deadlines, things I’ve reminded myself as I balanced this week’s robust workload.
Keep a Running List
Every Friday, I jot down what’s on the docket for the following week. For me, it’s often a mix of regular weekly deadlines and ongoing, longer-term projects. The list is fluid, with new projects being added as they crop up throughout the week, but it helps me prioritize the coming days. For example, I start with the usual suspects—in my case, my weekly editorial cartoon and spot illustration for Charleston City Paper and this blog for ShoutFyre. Then I add any other projects that I’m actively working on; for example, reviving my indie comic Boondoggle, my sci-fi comic for an upcoming anthology, etc. Even having just a rough skeleton of the projects at-hand gives you a baseline to work with and some idea of the what’s on the horizon. It also lets you know what time you have available to just draw or write for fun or personal development, which is also important to factor in!
As you knock items off the list, be sure to check them off as Done. Seeing the list of things left to tackle winnow down over the week not only helps keep it from feeling overwhelming, but there’s also a nice sense of accomplishment in checking that box.
Set a Schedule
Once you know what’s on the agenda, plan out when you’re going to tackle each project. In setting your schedule, it’s a balance between deadlines and the size of each effort. If you’re familiar with the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s About A Boy, there’s a scene where Hugh Grant’s character talks about how he views his day as a series of 30-minute blocks, and he uses this unit of time as a measuring stick when he plans his daily agenda. This sort of “timebox”—how many 30-minute (or whatever unit of time works for you) intervals a project takes—is a good way to judge the size of a project and plan out your week.
Depending on what’s on your docket, some projects may take less time than others. For example, I can knock out the weekly spot illustration or blog post in a few hours; the editorial cartoon can take a bit longer, depending on the panel count; a full-page strip or comic book page, even longer. Knowing even a t-shirt size of the effort—S, L, XXL—can help as you line up the work. Having decent estimates of the time each project will take enables you to judge when to start and end each, and identify potential conflicts vying for your time.
Once you set your schedule, do your best to stick to it and make at least some progress each day. At the same time, be ready to adjust and pivot based on what life throws at you. Other obligations—time with family or friends, the day job, your personal health—may toss a wrench into your otherwise best-laid plans. Or, better yet, other projects may crop up unexpectedly.
For example, this week I got a text from the Art Director at the alt-weekly asking for a cover illustration for the upcoming election issue. It wasn’t on my radar when I set up the list the previous Friday, but by shuffling the schedule around some, I was able to successfully fit it in. In some cases, shuffling the schedule may mean just moving projects around on the calendar, “punting” lower-priority—often more personal—projects to another week (sorry Boondoggle revival, I’ll return to you before too long.) Or, based on your workload, having that schedule mapped out may confirm whether you can truly take on unexpected work. But by having the agenda planned, you know the players on the board, which ones can be moved around, and which take priority over others.
What are some ways you keep both your sanity and deadlines in working order? Share in the ShoutFyre forum!!
Editor, Artist, Letterer, Colorist Steve is the long-running cartoonist at the Charleston, SC alt-weekly Charleston City Paper, where he skewers politicians and criminals (and criminal politicians) alike with editorial cartoons and police blotter illustrations every issue. Steve was best known his indie comic book (and subsequent webcomic) BOONDOGGLE