Your boss or client has just assigned you a project you’ll be handling all by yourself. It’s a welcome challenge, but not always an easy one to pull off. When the success of a project depends solely on you, how do you manage your time, stay efficient, and deal with obstacles and difficulties without losing motivation? Then there’s finding new ideas, making the right decisions, and evaluating your own performance. Should you only count on yourself or can you ask for help? Here are our eight tips for working solo without getting overwhelmed.
1. Create a work-back schedule
Before you dive right in, it’s a good idea to get organized. Have you been given a deadline? Start from there, then work backwards and break it down into different goals to achieve over time. Creating a work-back schedule in this way lets you check if your deadline is realistic and keeps you on track throughout the project.
What if your assigned project doesn’t have a deadline? Make up a fake one and act as if it’s real. Creating a work-back schedule will guide you through your progress.
This phasing-in approach is quite practical when the goal seems a bit ambitious. It will seem easier to achieve if the project is broken down into several smaller tasks. As they say, the best way to reach the top is by putting one foot in front of the other.
2. Have meetings with yourself
One of the advantages of working on your own is the freedom. It’s you, and you alone, who manages your schedule. However, you run the risk of getting totally immersed in your work. To catch your breath and get an overview of progress, set aside time to check in with yourself. It could be every day, in the morning and in the evening, or once a week; Monday, for example. Take advantage of this time to prepare for the rush periods that define the pace of your day or week, to list your objectives, actions to undertake, and problems to resolve, and to check on what you need to accomplish before your next meeting with yourself.
3. One thing at a time
Working alone often means having to do everything yourself. But no one ever said it all had to be at the same time. “The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time,” said Mozart. If you focus on one task at a time, you will work more efficiently and reduce the chance of making mistakes. For example, if you’re on the phone, focus on your conversation—or call back later if you are already engrossed in an important or urgent task.
4. Maintain a connection with your coworkers
Whoever said working alone means cutting yourself off from the world? If you have coworkers, stay in touch, whether that’s meeting up by the coffee machine or having lunch together. Just because you’re working on a project by yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to other people. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Exchange ideas on difficulties you might be encountering to bring a fresh perspective and keep you from getting stuck on a problem. It can also be motivating to see other people show an interest in your work.
5. Connect with other solo workers
You’re working alone, fair enough, but you’re clearly not the only one. Whether it’s within your company or elsewhere, you might know others in the same boat. Seek them out. This will help you to feel less isolated and you can share experiences and good practices.
6. Give yourself time to brainstorm
Think brainstorming is just a group exercise? Think again. You should absolutely give yourself time for an individual session. While brainstorming is obviously not as easy by yourself as it is in a group, there are a few simple techniques to help. Try noting down some ideas on paper—they will inspire other ones—read magazines or listen to podcasts on the subject you’re working on. The best ideas often happen outside the office, so instead of wolfing down a sandwich at your desk, have lunch in a park, people-watch and appreciate your surroundings. Alternatively, take advantage of your lunch break to exercise.
7. Ask for help when you need it
Despite your best efforts, you realize you’ll never finish this project on time! Don’t wait until the last minute to sound the alarm. Give your boss or your client sufficient notice so they can come up with a back-up solution.
8. Learn to self-assess
It’s not easy to know where you stand performance-wise when you can’t compare yourself to coworkers and when there’s no quantitative objective to achieve such as to increase business by 10%, or gain 1,000 customers. To avoid losing sight of your objective, set a short deadline. For example, “I will learn this software in three months,” or “I need to recruit 100 participants for the meeting I’ve organized for next month.”
Managing a project alone can be extremely stimulating and satisfying, especially when you achieve and even surpass your goals. But it requires daily discipline, methodology, and the ability to ask for help when you need it. Working alone doesn’t mean being isolated. On the contrary, the more open you are and the more you know how to seek out assistance at key moments, the more successful you’ll be.
Translated by Kalin Linberg
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