The Art of Juggling: 4 Methods for Managing All Those Projects
Back in high school I went on a mission trip to Brazil. Everyone in my youth group had volunteered to do various things on the trip with the kids we'd be working with (soccer, crafts, music, etc). What did I sign up to do? I signed up to be a clown. So that ultimately meant making balloon animals and juggling...both of which I had to learn how to do. I never got all that great at balloon animals, but I can still juggle pretty well to this day.
Unfortunately juggling physical objects (balls, bowling pins, rubber chickens) has zero correlation to juggling life.
Being a Maker of Internets™ means I have my hand in a lot of things, and pretty much anyone with even the tiniest entrepreneurial bone in their body is the exact same way, especially if they've got some development chops.
So, how on earth do I juggle all of these things? And how on earth can you juggle all of your projects?
I've tried a number of things and some work better than others based on the number of projects you've got, the amount of free time you've got, etc. So I'd encourage you to give them all a try and figure out what variation of these works best for you.
The ultimate goal of these methods is to push multiple projects along on a consistent basis. That way you don't end up with a project going weeks or months without getting any love.
One Project a Day
Method: Devote one full day a week to a different project. It doesn't necessarily limit you to 5 projects a week, but the idea is to work on them in a consistent order, so if you had 3 projects, you wouldn't loop back around to the first until you'd spent 3 days of work total.
Pros: You can get a surprising amount of work done when you put all of your effort for a full work day into a single project.
Cons: If you aren't able to finish up the feature (or whatever) you were working on that day, it could be any where from a few days to 10 days before you get to loop back around and work on it again.
Method: Like the One Project a Day method, but divided into half-days instead of full days.
Pros: Where this method really shines is when you're doing consulting while trying to build up your own products. So every morning you might work on client work and then after lunch, spend the rest of the day on your own personal projects.
Cons: Progress on your projects will move slower.
This typically works better when you've only got 1-2 side projects.
Sliding Scale: Money
Method: The amount of time spent on a given project is proportional to the importance of the project, as defined by money. The project that makes you the most money, gets the most time and the project that makes the least (or no) money, gets the least.
Pro: The projects that bring home the bacon get the most love so said bacon keeps gettin' brought home while you're still able to make some progress on a regular basis with your other projects.
Con: There's no major con here. It really just depends on what your long term goals are. Obviously the projects that make the least money will move along more slowly, but that might be just fine for you.
Sliding Scale: Future
Method: Like the previous sliding scale, the amount of time spent on a given project is proportional to the importance of the project. But in this case, "importance" is not defined by money, but rather by what you want to be working on in the future.
For example, say your current big money maker is the Widgetizer 3000. But while it rakes in the cash, it's also becoming really monotonous and uninspiring. But this new side project, a social network for mobile phone users who love chili dogs and Mountain Dew, really does get you pumped.
So, with this method you let your cash cow (Widgetizer 3000) keep bringing in the money but you start putting the bulk of your effort in to what you want to support you in the future, while just putting in the minimal effort needed to keep the current money maker afloat and bringing in cash.
Pro: You work towards your own personal happiness and make serious progress on the thing you love.
Con: Risky. The project that doesn't make any money right now, also might not make any money in the future. But then again, if it was easy then everybody would be doing it.
So what am I using? I haven't been as disciplined lately as I'd like to be, but I typically do the Half Day method, with the bulk of my time going to PopSurvey and the rest divided up between my other projects and consulting work.
These are just some of the methods I've tried over the past 8 years or so of juggling more projects than I probably should.
Which does beg the question, and it's something I'll write more about in the future, but all projects are certainly worth looking at and asking, "Is this really worth my time?" A yearly purging is absolutely a healthy thing to do.
Give these methods (or some combination of them) a try for a while and tweak as needed. I think you'll find that at least one of them will help you manage things a bit more efficiently.