The contexts: they switch
Staying sane with multiple client projects

The more clients and projects I take on, the harder it is to keep everything in my head. This is not an original problem, and mine are probably not new solutions, but I thought I’d share them nonetheless. Here’s how I try to mitigate endless work-related context-switching.

Tasks are one list, everything else is another

I have a todo list where I keep a list of specific, actionable tasks. So, write this thing, or run that errand, or contact so-and-so about that stuff.

If it’s vaguer than that, it goes in my digital brain document, which looks like this:

Scapple brain screenshot

I’ve blurred it because SEKRITS, but you get the idea. This is a very loose and flexible mindmap, made using Scapple, where I keep stuff that I just need to keep in mind. Some of it is lists, some of it is just interconnected thoughts. It’s high-level, it’s vague, it’s often changing.

This is where I monitor my capacity: work in progress has its own section of the brain, and there’s a “Maybe” section alongside it where possible future work sits and bubbles.

This is also where I keep ideas and long-term plans, because having them visible helps to keep them relevant in my mind.

Keep client notes

As well as those things, I have a note file (in Apple Notes) about each client I’m working with, where I jot down useful things I need to remember, or that I might need to remember. Not tasks, just notes.

Make time to write up the notes

I make messy scribbled notes on paper during calls, and make a point of writing them up as text as soon as possible; if there’s time, straight away after the call. If there isn’t, then at the end of the day. It never needs to be a verbatim transcript, just the gist of what people said (including me - what did I offer to do? Did I remember to add any tasks to my tasks list?) It rarely takes long to write.

I’ll often write reminders to my future self here. Things like:

Keep some reference notes on walls

This varies from project to project and client to client, but some important stuff is worth sticking up on the wall. Sometimes I print documents out and stick them up in full, with highlights or sticky note annotations.

I don’t have any rules for what goes up here, but I find it helpful for some things.

In short: accept the context-switching, and prepare for it

Overall my strategy is to accept that context-switching is going to happen. In my line of work, it’s very hard to avoid.

Rather than trying to stop it happening, I aim to make each switch as easy as possible. I try to write the sort of notes that future-me, rushing between one meeting and the next, will find useful. I write myself context-level notes: “In this meeting, your goal should be to get people to agree to x.” Or whatever.

Future-me is usually grateful; and when he’s disappointed, he’s usually learned something that will be even more useful to future-future-me.

Filed under: work
(29 June 2021)