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Why do you need to learn how to manage multiple projects ? That’s what we’re looking at in this article.

I’ll share the 3 main reasons why you need to develop a range of skills – beyond what’s taught in the project management books – to help you meet the real demands of the job: multi-project management.

What does it mean to run multiple projects?

If you are managing multiple projects it means you have more than one project on the go at the same time.

You’ll have different project teams (even if the people on them are the same people). You might have different sponsors or customers.

Each project has its own timeline and you have to manage your time to keep them all moving forward to hit the planned deadlines and milestones.

The hardest thing, in my experience, is managing the expectations of the different stakeholders because they all expect their project to be the most important.

That’s what it looks like to juggle several projects at the same time. But why is any of that important? Let’s look at why you need the skills to manage several projects simultaneously.

1. Because most people manage multiple projects

If you are (or want to be) a project manager today, you’ll most likely be managing multiple projects at the same time.

Multi-project management is the norm. In a survey of project professionals , only 15% are running one single project. Everyone else is running more than one. Between 2 and 5 projects is the most common range, but 26% people are leading more than 6 projects at the same time.

pie chart showing how many project people run

Part of your job description as a PM today is to run more than one project at the same time. Simultaneous multi-project management is what the job is all about.

2. Because it’s expected of you

Your manager might not say it, but more projects are coming your way! It might not be written in your role profile, but your boss expects you to juggle several things at once.

That’s partly because more and more work is project-led. There’s more knowledge work, there are more change initiatives to get done. And partly because we’re expected to have the skills to cope with a greater workload.

Efficiency, project management tools and streamlined processes help us deliver more with less time.

At least, that’s the expectation.

When those things aren’t in place or aren’t working efficiently, you still might feel overwhelmed with it all! Managing multiple projects with competing deadlines takes it out of you, and that’s why Reason 3 is important.

3. Because you need to get home on time

Ready for the truth of it? Without the skills to manage multiple projects, you’ll crash and burn.

I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve been on the verge of it myself (fortunately I managed to change my situation before it became crippling).

When I first started getting more and more projects added to my workload there were two choices: do the extra work and work more hours, or don’t do it and take the career implications of being seen to not deliver.

Neither of those are great choices, to be honest.

Having the skills, tricks, processes, experience, knowledge – whatever you want to call it, and it’s a blend of all of those – to keep multiple projects happening, moving forward, being seen to deliver AND get home on time… that’s the secret to being able to meet your manager’s expectations and avoid the burnout.

Protecting your mental and physical health (and that of your team) should be one of your key priorities. It was something I didn’t realize until much further along in my project management career. I figured I would always be able to do it all, but actually I couldn’t.

Whether you want time to go to the gym on a work day, or time to spend with your family, or time to unwind with the TV and a glass of wine at the end of the day (instead of doing emails until 11pm and then rolling exhausted into bed), you need to make that happen.

Juggling multiple projects is a challenge and a skill. And when you get it right it’s rewarding. You get to meet more people, deliver more value and have variety in the day to keep your job interesting. But it does come with the risk of overwhelm, which is why going home on time should definitely be on your ‘must do’ list.

What if you can’t leave on time?

Time for another reality check: It’s not always possible as a project manager to make it out of the office on time every day. In fact, the more senior I got in my job, the more likely it was that there was some kind of crisis to handle or a request from a director that couldn’t wait until the next day.

However, you should get to leave on time some of the time. The more you can manage your own diary, prioritize your workload and make progress during the normal working day, the easier it is to manage your time to at least get away from your desk at a reasonable time, some of the days.

Next steps

To reach your ultimate career success goals, it’s normal these days that you have to manage multiple projects. It’s part of the job – despite most textbooks only teaching you about how to manage a single project.

Learn how to manage multiple projects. Watch my free training on the 3 skills you really need to know to learn how to juggle your workload effectively and get all your projects done (yes, even the low priority ones).

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Managing Multiple Projects: How Project Managers Can Balance Priorities, Manage Expectations and Increase Productivity is a book that offers a comprehensive framework for juggling your workload and still leaving the office on time.

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This article first appeared at Rebel’s Guide to Project Management

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