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How to Balance Multiple Work Priorities

By Daniel B. Kline – Apr 3, 2019 at 7:03AM

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Having a lot of tasks on different deadlines and schedules can be a major challenge.

Not everyone has a single job, or even one priority a time at their job. In many cases, workers have to balance multiple priorities across different employers, projects, or bosses.

That can cause all sorts of challenges, which can be daunting. Before you get discouraged, however, it's important to take stock of the situation. Do you have enough time to meet all of your competing priorities, or is your plate full beyond your capacity?

Can you do this?

Before you make a plan to handle all of the various tasks on your list, it's important to figure out whether you actually have enough time to complete them all. Do a rough overview: Map out how much time each job should take, and compare that to your available hours in the day.

You may find that you have overcommitted. If that's the case, you need to bring in the important stakeholders and make some decisions. If all the work comes from one boss, then sit down with that person and discuss what can be delayed or taken off your plate. If you're taking on tasks for multiple bosses or employers, then you may have to take a more active lead in saying what you can or can't do.

A spiral notebook showing a page headed "This year I will...," with a pen and a pair of eyeglasses

The keys to managing multiple priorities are a clear list of tasks and a time line. Image source: Getty Images.

You can do this

If you've done the math and actually have the time to do all the work on your list, then it's time to get organized. Make sure you have a clear calendar for deliverables. It's important to know not only when things are due, but also what goes into those tasks.

You might have set aside the time needed to complete a task, for example, but not have secured relevant information beforehand. Make sure you have a plan for each deliverable that includes all the little things along the way.

Plan meticulously and make sure you start the hardest tasks first. If you need something from someone who's not easy to get hold of, start the process early. Check yourself against your schedule and time line. Don't let a small setback delay you from an overall goal.

If you can't move ahead on one task because another moving part hasn't yet fallen into place, move ahead and finish another. Make sure that every hour you plan to work takes you an hour closer to your eventual goal.

Be open and accountable. Share your progress and time line with important stakeholders. This can also help keep them accountable for any contributions they need to make to keep things moving.

One step at a time

To get multiple things done on a variety of schedules, know your goals and keep moving forward. It's generally fine to switch your morning tasks with your afternoon ones, or even to move days around, as long as you keep checking off boxes on your list.

And, if projects do fall off schedule -- maybe through no fault of your own -- it's important to communicate that with all stakeholders early. Adjustments can often be made when a problem is identified weeks ahead of time. When it's pointed out 15 minutes before deadline, the results can be disastrous.

Handling multiple priorities -- all of which may be equally important -- requires discipline. Make a plan and a schedule, and refer to them often. Make adjustments as you go, but try to keep the time commitments you lay out. Be flexible but don't accept excuses, from yourself or others.

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