I was never able to master juggling. Apples, oranges, rubber balls – you name it, I was unsuccessful. I could launch one piece of fruit and then another, but when I tried to add more than that, I always failed.
I felt overwhelmed, quickly losing track of where each orange or apple was. I guess I just don’t have the hand-eye coordination necessary to keep multiple objects aloft simultaneously.
Fortunately, you don’t need hand-eye coordination to manage multiple ghostwriting projects simultaneously. That I can do.
Timing is Everything
As with juggling, working on multiple ghostwriting projects requires accurate timing. Keeping everything moving forward a little at a time works well for me, though being able to stagger projects helps even more.
What do I mean?
I’m not sure that I could start three or four book ghostwriting projects at the same time and keep them all progressing at the same pace unless I was willing to give up sleep for a few months (which I’m not, by the way). But I don’t know that I’ve ever had multiple book projects land in my inbox at the same exact time, all with the same amount of work required and due dates.
What does usually happen is that I’ll have one project start. Then I might have another to add to the mix a few weeks later. Of course, by that time we’re probably well into writing the first project when the second is focused more on finalizing the outline. The tasks are different and require different levels of involvement. If a third project comes along after that, I look at how far along my existing projects are and how soon they’ll wrap up before determining if I can fit a third one in. If there is significant overlap, I may ask if the third client can give me more time or start work on the book later.
Picture it like a Gantt chart. You know, those horizontal charts with color blocks to indicate when certain tasks are to occur? Here’s an example of what that looks like:
How Long Will it Take?
The trick is to be able to calculate how much time a particular task, such as a chapter, will take to complete. That’s the equivalent of judging how long you have until you need to throw another ball in the air.
Problems arise – with both juggling and multiple writing projects – when you misjudge your timing. If you estimate interviewing several sources will take seven hours and it takes 14, that extra time now impacts your current project and any others you have on deck. Just as guessing that a chapter will take eight days and it takes 10. You’re now holding on to two projects rather than being able to throw one back in the air. Miscalculations causes bottlenecks.
One preventive solution is to give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. Think a task will take two days? Promise you’ll have it done in four or five then. As I’m sure you’ve heard, it’s much better to under-promise and over-deliver. So if you ever finish a task early, you can impress your client with your dedication. Just try not to turn anything in late.
When you do fear you’re going to be late, the best solution is to find a way to catch up, which might mean working evenings and weekends, until you’ve completed your next deliverable and handed it off to your client. Then you can switch focus to book project number two, focusing on that until your next promised deliverable is done and turned in. Then you switch to your next client. And so on, and so on.
Of course, this switching between projects works best when you have varying timetables. That is, project one is scheduled to take, say, four months, and project two is on a more leisurely eight-month schedule which starts two months after you landed the first project, while project three will take six months. At that pace, you may have a few weeks where you’re holding on to three projects, but if you can start your third project when your first is nearly done, you’ll be back to managing two at a time.
Another tactic that has worked well for me is trying to do something, anything, to move all my projects forward daily. Sometimes tasks are as small as emailing a potential source to set up a phone interview or emailing a client to ask a question for clarification. But it can also be as large as investing several hours to hammer out the rough draft of a good part of a chapter or incorporating client edits into a draft I already shared and returning it for feedback.
Spending time on each project daily also helps reduce any feelings of overwhelm. Since you’re regularly checking in on projects, thinking about them and moving them forward a little every day, it’s less likely you’ll suddenly become panicked over looming deadlines.
If you do start to panic a little, a great trick is listing every single task that needs to be done to finish a project. Write it all down and then divide it by month, week, and day. I once used sticky notes with one task per note to break down all my action items and it really did help.
Seeing all the work mapped out and scheduled also helps you stay on track and feel in control of your workload. Because you are.