Q+A: How do you handle multiple client projects at once?

I love Q+A time. It's almost like show and tell. Today's question:

I am a one-man-band also developing a web design biz and I recall you talked about how you deal with the happy(?) problem of having multiple client projects on the go at once. I believe you said you had developed a system that allowed you to successfully meet your deadlines. Can you elaborate on your strategy?

Well, now I deal with it by having a staff. But for years, it was just me. And there was one year when I constantly had over 15 projects going on at once. Successfully. (And by "successfully", I mean that everyone else was happy; I really don't recommend single-handedly taking on 15 client projects at once).

It wasn't magic. And it wasn't because I was especially endowed with get-it-done powers. I was a desperate slave to cash flow, and in order to keep the cash flowing, I did my thing. Which included:

Becoming a GTD junkie

David Allen's Getting Things Done changed my life. I love having my task list comprised only of small actions. I love having an empty brain. His system has empowered me to see all of my "to-dos" as a list of possible choices, any one of which is leading me to where I want to be (which is often right here). It takes away the dread and fear and avoidance. Which has a funny way of increasing the amount that you're able to get done in a day.

Becoming a Basecamp advocate

If you're going to run more than one project at once, you need a project management system of some sort. I use Basecamp not because I particularly love it, but because it's easy for my clients to use (if it's not easy for my clients, they won't touch it). Since we've always got a lot of projects going on, it's helpful to be able to look at the milestones for every project all in one place.

Breaking milestones up into things that can be done in a two-hour period

That way, even if I had five deliverables due in a day, I knew I could get them done. Otherwise, I'd inevitably end up having to code a test site, design a concept from scratch, and input 15 pages of content all in one day. Which is clearly impossible.

Block scheduling combined with diligent use of the timer

Now it makes me feel too hampered in, but scheduling blocks of time to get specific tasks done really helps you not to commit to too much. Once you see that your work day can't stretch to fit an endless amount of tasks, you'll start to think twice before promising the moon. I also used to use a timer to at least get me started on a task. I would promise myself that I could stop after 15 minutes. Usually at that time, I'd be sufficiently into the project that I wouldn't want to stop.

Communicating way too much

If I wasn't going to be able to submit something on time (which is rare, but happens), I would warn the client a day or two in advance (rather than hope to squeeze it in). It's kind of like calling someone if you're going to be late to a meeting. Once you've gotten it out in the open, you can relax and not risk your life driving like a maniac. And then if you do get there on time, it's a bonus!

Knowing that I couldn't have it all

If I was going to have 15 client projects at a time, there was no way I could also keep up with my marketing and business strategy tasks. Social media had to be put on hold. My blog had to suffer. My house pretty much stayed a wreck. But that was okay with me because the bills were getting paid (when you're coming from a place of having to use credit cards for groceries, you'll do almost anything to get out of that situation, even if it means having a messy house for a year).

Did I miss anything? What do you do to successfully juggle multiple client projects?