Top 5 ways to manage multiple deadlines

When I was a kid, I took dance lessons. One thing my dance teacher liked to say was “if you want something done, ask a busy person.”

As a contract technical writer, I’m often working on more than one project at a time. Sometimes things get a little crazy. But if you work alone like I do, you need to learn to manage multiple deadlines. Here are some of the things that work for me.

1. Make a list.

Sounds obvious I know, but when my mind is filled with the hundreds of things I need to do and I’m starting to panic, writing it all down on paper helps. Pen and paper. Yes, you read that right. Writing my list down on paper clears a little mental space. I don’t have to remember everything, because it’s there in front of me.

2. Prioritize.

What’s my next deadline? Usually that’s the thing I start with. From there I look at when things are due and how long they’ll take to complete. Is it something I can do quickly and cross off my list? I like to do those things first so I can cross off many things, quickly. Breaking things into small chunks helps too.

3. Focus.

Sometimes I have so much to do, I can’t think straight. I start something, and then get distracted thinking about another project. I know I need to focus, but how? I use the Pomodoro technique. I set a kitchen timer for 25 minutes and I work on one task. If my mind wanders, I make a note to myself, and then get back to the task at hand. At the end of 25 minutes I take a 5 minute break. And then I set my timer and do another 25 minutes. The critical thing is the tick tick tick of the timer. The ticking keeps me focused and gives me permission to do just one thing.

4. Done Done.

In Agile development, there’s the concept of Done Done. When something is Done Done, it’s ready for production. I find this is particularly effective for writing Online Help. When I’m documenting a new feature, I write the topic, and I proofread it. When I’m finished the topic, it’s as ready for production as I can make it. If I had to generate the help file tomorrow I could, knowing I haven’t left any notes to myself or half-finished topics in the project. It’s Done Done.

5. Deliver.

When I’m finished a project, I deliver it, usually with an email saying “this is the final file for the project”. Once it’s delivered, the only reason to edit it, would be if the client requested a change. And then I cross it off the list.

What strategies do you use for managing multiple deadlines?


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  1. Thanks! These are good tips for any task. While I believe free association is an important part of the creative process, there are times I would deninitely benefit from a loud kitchen timer!

    • Jenny says:

      Thanks Ray! I use a Pomodoro app on my ipod or Focus Booster on the computer since I tend not to carry a real kitchen timer with me at all times;-) The ticking really does help you focus.

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