How to Handle a Ton of Work at Once

There are many articles out there that offer tips on how to get new business, attract new customers and how to make it through financial rough spots. But what about when you start getting the business regularly? What if the business all of a sudden just starts to pour in? How do you handle a large influx of business and still stay on track with your deadlines?

It has been my experience that business speeds up and slows down during certain parts of the year. During the fall/winter, freelance graphic business starts to slow down dramatically due to clients’ annual budgets running out and the holidays using up the last of everyone’s money. But, not so surprisingly work begins to pick up on January 1. Companies tend to look at the New Year as one of new beginnings. They want to update their logos and branding packages, or spruce up their websites. They want to run new campaigns and have a more optimistic view of the upcoming year. The amount of business continues to grow on into the summer, but especially around spring, work can grow just a little too fast.

Now I’m never one to turn down money. I want to be able to take on any job from any client that I choose even if it means working 12- and 14-hour days. But knowing how to handle all of that work is very important, especially if you want to remain timely. Here are five tips on how to manage a large workload.

1. Start the day off with a plan

At the end of the day, choose a list of projects that you will focus on for the next day. It may only be one large project or several small ones, but whatever the case write down the list of things that you will do the next day. You want to be sure that this list is realistic (not 15 things that can’t possibly be completed in one day) and all encompassing (make sure to include consultations, e-mailing invoices, making important phone calls or running business errands). Once you know exactly what should be accomplished, the list as a visual reminder makes it much easier to mentally and physically stay on track.

2. Cut out personal stuff
The phone and Facebook can be killers when you’re trying to be productive. If a personal call comes up, it’s OK to hit “ignore” and wait until business hours are over. If you have to answer, keep the call brief and let them know that you’re busy and will have to talk later. Be firm and don’t let them lead you into a conversation. As far as Facebook is concerned, let it go. I’m a Facebook user myself and check it every day. But when deadlines are hitting, I restrict my usage to after work hours or on break only. After you’ve checked everyone’s status and read all of your notifications and messages you’ve wasted about 20-30 minutes already! Leave it for after work.

3. Work on several projects at once
This one might be hard if your personal preference is to stick with only one project at a time until completion, but you’ll be surprised at how efficient you could be if you spent only two hours on a project at a time. I love when I’m in the “zone,” and I’m just riding a creative wave. But if I give half of my day to one project that means that there are several other projects that have to wait in line. If I devoted two strong hours to each project, I’ve made progress on four or five projects by the end of my workday. Even if I simply just “started” on them, if a client contacts me to ask about progress, I can honestly say that I’ve put in work on their project and know exactly when I’ll be finished.

4. Be honest with future clients
Like I said, I hate to turn away money, and I don’t think I’ve ever turned away a client because of my workload, but when the work starts piling up, there is nothing wrong with letting future clients know that it will take a little bit longer to get their project completed. Something to the effect of:

“Clients such as yourself have allowed me to have the kind of success that I’m experiencing right now. I want to be sure to show my gratitude by giving each client the attention that they deserve, and that takes time. I would be happy to design your thank-you cards, but I would need a little bit longer than my normal turnaround time. I would be able to produce a first draft for you two weeks from today on (insert date), will that work for you?”

This allows the client to decide if the longer turnaround time is OK with them in the beginning instead of them trying to bug you to death about when their draft will be ready to view later. At the same time, it shows them that you are doing well in your business, and even though you have lots of other clients, their project will still get that needed attention.

5. Don’t wear yourself out!
Working 16 hours a day might look productive, but it’s not. After your body starts to shut down from trying to work too hard, what are you really getting accomplished? You can start off with good intentions, but after days and weeks of spreading yourself too thin, you could start to get worn out, easily irritated or even sick. My mama always says, “You’re no good to anyone dead!” Take the time to eat breakfast in the morning, get a good night’s sleep and take two short breaks during a long day. You might feel guilty at first thinking you’re wasting time, but in the long run it pays to keep your mind fresh and alert. If you don’t, it could affect your creativity.

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