Saturday, 14 January 2017

How (not) to Juggle a Zillion Projects Simultaneously

It occurred to me again while trying to fill in the "Company/Organisation" field on a conference form that I have a problem. Here is a brief list of my current projects, to illustrate:

  • College (studying for a science degree is not easy)
  • Startup social enterprise (Science Fox Sandbox/Syndicalab/ARGH NAMES)
  • Spotlight ABR (my antibiotic resistance education project)
  • Blog (you're looking at it)
  • Freelance writing
  • Communications Officer for Youth Platform of European Talent Support Network
  • (opportunity finder website)
  • Speaking at conferences/events
  • Under-wraps project with AAT & Maater Makers
  • Nobel Physics and Chemistry History project (here)
  • Physoc committee
  • Other annual goals including read 15 science books, exercise
And here are some more that I'm not focusing on at the moment but have taken up a lot of time over the past few years:
  • Novel-writing
  • British Science Association Youth Platform
  • EmTech Global Youth Leaders project
  • Nanobiosensor research
  • Bacterial resistance research
And the thing is -- this list is after my New Year's recalibration, when I cut four items from my goals list because I wasn't making progress towards them/didn't care about them.

Almost any one of these things could be a job in itself. I could be Elle Loughran, student. Or Founder of Science Fox Sandbox. Or Director of Spotlight ABR. Or Blogger. Or Freelance Writer. Or Founder of Or Motivational Speaker/Science Evangelist. Or Novelist. Or Researcher. As it is, I'm just that girl who does several things and hangs out at these conferences why's she here again?

And you know what? If I was just one of those things, not only would I have a lot more time, but I actually might be a lot more successful. I know people doing the equivalent of 1-2 of these things who can introduce themselves just as "CEO of X" and are way more successful even with projects at the same stage of development as 1-2 of mine. I don't know exactly why this is, but I suspect it's because it's easier to network and be remembered, and easier to focus when you don't have to spread your attention out among 12 things.

Not all of my projects are given the same attention, but they're not too dissimilar:

I work on college, Spotlight ABR and Science Fox Sandbox (SFSB) nearly every day.
I work on the Nobel history project, and ETSN stuff most days
I work on the blog and freelance writing several times a week.
The speaking and under-wraps stuff varies wildly depending on season, from nothing for weeks to stuff every day. 

The point is: it's a lot of stuff to co-ordinate, and more to actually do

I nearly treat each one of them as a full job and work hard on all at once, all cylinders firing simultaneously.

Lately I've been caught by this urge to put a ton of work into longterm work for my blog, like design and coming up with tags and making a mediakit and more. I also have a bunch to do for the under-wraps project, plus SFSB has so much potential but needs lots of work, as does Spotlight ABR. Or I could throw myself into being a good student.

As it is, though, I can't just take a day (much less a week) to make big progress on one project, because then the others I'm juggling could fall on the ground. They are mostly just self-motivated and nobody's checking, so that wouldn't be catastrophic in all cases -- but I don't want their progress to stall. This means that on any given day's to-do list there are 10+ items, with usually no more than 2 from any one project.

So why do I do this? Several reasons:

  • I'm a workaholic and want something to work on (see: Nobel blog)
  • I care about a lot of things and when I care I take action (see: Spotlight ABR)
  • It's the result of my "throw crap at the wall and see what sticks" method when lots sticks
  • I can't pass up a good opportunity
  • ? ? ? 

What am I going to do? Here's my semblance of a plan.

The main issue here is not actually that there's too much work; it's that the work is so scattered, and requires so many different modes of thinking all in one day. I mean, okay, there is actually a lot of work, and I want more time in the day, but it's not the current main issue. (So much advice I see related to this topic is for people who have lots of ideas but can't get work done on any of them -- I have lots of ideas and lots of work but can't specialise).

To solve the networking/introductions/"Company/Organisation field" problem, I could combine SFSB, Spotlight ABR,, speaking and the blog into a loose organisation (Elle Enterprises - ha), something curiosity- or discovery-themed. If one of the projects - hopefully SFSB - blows up, I could call myself CEO of that and just leave the other stuff up on the blog for people to find eventually.

In recognition of the dawning realisation that I cannot physically work all the time, I've been figuring out how to prune some things while keeping what I care about. I already did most of this in the New Year Recalibration, but for example I might think about just finishing the Physics Nobel history blog project and then not doing the Chemistry one (since I just started these tasks essentially to have work to do). 

For the rest, I'm sticking to my goals. But I might experiment with blocking out half-days for each project, insofar as is possible (sometimes emails are urgent).


I care about a lot of things. I do a lot of work on many different projects, all of which I have to/choose to juggle and fit into my daily life. This is a problem because it doesn't let me devote enough time to any one of the projects, and because it's bad for straightforward career progression since I can't easily define myself. I can't prune much right at the moment, but I'm going to experiment with time-blocking, with switching less between projects in short spaces of time, with rebranding and with unifying.

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