How To Juggle Multiple Instructional Design Projects
It’s 2 a.m. You still have another 10 pages to write on a storyboard that’s due in six hours. A few tears have fallen, and more than a few expletives have escaped your lips. You swear it’s not your fault! The dates have shifted and now you have two Instructional Design projects with overlapping deadlines.
Whether you are in house or a freelance Instructional Designer, a learning curve you’ll absolutely face is how to effectively juggle multiple projects, minus the tears and expletives (mostly). How do you keep your head on straight when timelines can shift and things are moving in myriad directions? Here are some tips to help you navigate your workload from someone who’s “been there and done that” with many simultaneous projects and initiatives.
Let’s first dive into what falls under the umbrella of “the planned” and knowing thyself. I truly believe that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” when it comes to planning your workload. Therefore, most of my suggestions fall into this category.
1. Know your work style and how long it takes you to do things.
You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew, and you do want to provide adequate and accurate estimates for your work effort. For example, how long does it take you to create a first draft of a detailed design document for a 20-minute course? How about a storyboard, or building the course in Storyline? If you’re not sure, start recording your time for individual tasks to help in planning future projects. Search online for industry standards on various Instructional Design tasks to give you some ideas. Here’s one resource.
2. Consider your writing time and the time to attend meetings.
As you schedule your calendar, block out chunks of time to write content and work on your projects, and group your calls and meetings together. It takes a few hours to really dig into a project. I know I write best first thing in the morning, from about 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. I’m clear headed and the copy flows. Therefore, on most days, I try to block out this time for writing and avoid scheduling appointments within this window. If you have a lot of writing or emails to get through, it’s hard if you’re constantly interrupted! To optimize your time, group your calls together. Using my own example, at times a client can meet only first thing in the morning. No problem! I then group other calls and meetings around this time, and then chunk out the better part of the afternoon for writing and project work. Check out my recent blog on productivity.
3. At the end of the day, plan your next workday.
Clean your desk and have your to-do list ready to go so you’re uber-efficient and hit the ground running the next morning.
4. Learn to change it up.
Stop for at least a 30-minute break to eat lunch and step away from the computer. Stand up and walk around during your calls! Sitting in the same chair for eight hours straight is just not sustainable for anyone. You can also get creative with changing your workspace. Grab a pen and paper and go to the coffee shop or the park. Changing your environment, as well as your mode of writing, opens you up to new thoughts. And a bit of fresh air might do you some good, too. See my blog on the Four Cs of Brainstorming for more ideas.
We’ve looked at a few ways to plan your work and stay balanced. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. The untamed gremlin of “the unplanned” can lurk behind every corner! Not everything can be prevented. Subject-matter expert availability, budgets, holidays, contracts, and even the annual flu virus each throw a monkey wrench into our plans. These all have an effect on when Instructional Design projects get started and when work can peak for you.
So here’s my number-one suggestion on navigating the unplanned:
5. Ask for help and be honest when you need more time.
In today’s fast-paced world, the same rules of strict due dates—like when we were in school—don’t always apply. Every professional has encountered these same challenges during his or her career. In good times and in bad, you should consistently communicate with your manager, project manager, or go-to person about your project. When it gets rough, ask for help as soon as possible. I have managed or partnered on many projects when the unplanned has occurred. After an ID reached out to me, we teamed together to prioritize work, reassign certain tasks to another ID, or talked to the client about shifting things out. Be sure to not only tell your manager about your quandary, but provide solutions. Give options that will work for you. Maybe moving a deadline out just two days would allow you enough time to complete a deliverable with your standard level of quality.
Navigating “the planned” as well as “the unplanned” in your Instructional Design projects will help minimize tears and other late-night emotional outbursts… Just don’t ask your manager for help at 2:01 a.m.!