3 Life Hacks for Working with Multiple Clients (Hint: The answer ISN’T longer hours)

So you’re a freelancer, and your business is booming. You have multiple clients, and multiple projects!

Careful what you wish for, right?

Being an independent training professional has many advantages — the ability to control your workload and schedule preeminent among them — but it can also be stressful. Having multiple clients means making sure every one of them feels as if they’re your #1 priority, on any given day — even when they aren’t.

So how do you keep all your clients happy without working 18-hour days? It’s not always easy, but as evidenced by the many successful independents (like you) that are out there, it can be done. Here are three tried-and-true bits of sage advice culled from years of entrepreneurship and overextension.

1. Discretion, Discretion, Discretion

In compliance with our general service agreement and NDA, we have a strict no-crosstalk policy that’s allowed us to work for fierce competitors at the same time without any issues whatsoever. After you get to know a client on a more personal level, it’s often tempting to talk about your work life and bring up other customers — but it’s best to resist the urge. Your clients need to know you’re keeping their secrets, and the best way to show them is to keep your other clients’ secrets. Even the examples I use in these blogs, while 100% true, have been altered just enough in time and space to make my clients unrecognizable — and some of the events took place years or even decades ago.

2. Set YOUR Priorities — and Organize

It’s very easy to ride a client’s flurry of activity to frequent 20-hour days. Your clients have only one priority, while you, on the other hand, have three more clients with their own flurries of activity — so sometimes you have to choose.

I use a loose formula of  to figure out how I really need to organize my day. And then, well, it’s time to organize my day.

You have two basic items that make up your day: tasks and appointments. Appointments are easy. You know when you’ll do it, where, and with whom. Tasks, not so much. But keeping a consistent list of tasks in a consistent place is THE KEY to time management.

Got five minutes before that conference call? Check your list for a five-minute task. Afternoon just opened up when a client bailed on a meeting? What’s on the list for tomorrow that you can accomplish today?

There are a lot of methods for keeping track. My first out-of-college boss handed me a paper Day-Timer on my first day, and I’ve thanked him nearly every day since. But paper is so 20th Century, right? Many of my clients insist that I use Outlook for email and appointments, so I do. And Outlook is great for appointments — I love the way you can check availability. But for tasks, I have to go with Google Calendar.

I don’t use Google Calendar in the standard way, which is to say I don’t use the “standard” tasks. I enter all tasks as an all-day event, and I color-code them by client. I enter appointments by timestamp, and I color code those as well:

Is it a little trouble to enter all my appointments into two calendars? Yes. Is it worth it for the additional functionality and better visuals? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

(Note the generic clients in the list. Discretion!)

And here’s one more thing to add to your task list. Take time to plan. The old adage, failing to plan is planning to fail, still holds water. Ilissa Miller of IMiller Public Relations said:

This may sound counterproductive, but slowing down and thinking about the approach to a situation will help you identify more efficient ways of accomplishing the same task or project. Just five minutes of thinking before doing will help you consider the domino effects of your actions.

Clients will pressure you. But your life — and your business — belongs to you! And guess what? That means YOU get to decide your priorities and your tasks.

#3: Avoid Multitasking

Despite what you may think multitasking will not make you more productive. Oh multitasker, science has proven you wrong!

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Brodmann Area 10 activates. Located in your frontopolar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Brodmann Area 10 to work. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

So, as they say, plan your work and work your plan. Set time aside for specific tasks, and stick to the schedule. Keep your email minimized on your desktop so you don’t constantly check it, and determine a time that becomes “email time.” Work one project at a time. This method also helps you prioritize. How much time are you devoting to a project each day? Are your priorities, as expressed in your time allotments, in line with your goals?

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Bonus Tip: Get Some Rest!

Sing it with me:

“I can’t do this a-all on my own/ no I-I know/ I’m no Superman.”

Your productivity is NOT measured by the number of hours you work. Not only that, working long hours is actually counter-productive. Stanford economics professor John Pencavel found that “productivity per hour decline sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours would be pointless. And, those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours.”

Rest is important. If you allow yourself regular hours and provide time to decompress, your work will be better, and you’ll actually get more done. So, if it’s 3:00 AM right now, stop reading blogs and go to bed!

And get back to your booming independent business tomorrow.

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About the Author:

Allan Dodson is so much more than a writer and instructional designer. He’s helped develop strategy in Fortune 500 boardrooms, and he’s taught acting skills to 4th graders.  He’s developed training programs for everything from hair highlighting to pest control to DSL lines, and he’s made presentations to C-level execs, teachers (tough crowd!) and all workforce levels. In short, he has the experience, versatility, creativity, and energy to move projects large and small, and he’s ready for any challenge.

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