Multitasking as a historical consultant


Scott Miltenberger. Photo credit: Scott Miltenberger.

I woke up with a start, before 5 a.m. just a few days ago, gripped with fear.

I had missed my deadline.

More than a month ago, I had committed to writing for [email protected] but I wasn’t quite sure what topic to tackle. I was nonetheless confident that a subject would occur to me in time, and in the press of paying work, I had put off deciding on what to write to the week before my piece was due.

And then I got an email from client.

My client needed, as soon as possible, some preliminary thoughts on a National Register nomination that had been revised in light of a peer review I previously provided. I immediately turned my attention to the task at hand, re-shuffled my to-do list, and promptly forgot about my commitment to the blog.

In forgetting and suddenly remembering early Monday morning, however, I hit upon my subject: the challenge of juggling multiple projects, schedules, and clients, and handling the unexpected. And thankfully, my fellow NCPH Consultants Committee members were gracious in accepting my apology and embracing my idea.

So, my failure to complete this post on time notwithstanding, I would like to share a few simple techniques that I have learned and have generally worked for me in my career as a consultant:

1. Calendaring

One of the reasons I realized that I missed this deadline is that I had forgotten to calendar it. When it comes to my projects, I have found establishing a deadline or milestones with my clients (often a component of projects in their own right) and putting them into my Outlook calendar (synced to my smartphone) enormously helpful. Calendaring not only helps to manage my stress about the projects I have going, but also to pace or stage my work accordingly.

2. Communication

Every project is different as every client is different, but I aim to build in as much time as possible for in-person meetings, teleconferences, or progress reports for my projects when scoping and budgeting. Why? Because every client I have had so far has appreciated knowing where I am in the agreed-upon list of tasks and learning of potential problems or roadblocks sooner rather than later. Clear and open communication is a vital aspect of project design and management that should not be under-appreciated. In my experience, it has promoted good relationships and has yielded repeat business.

3. Flexibility

Every now and again, even with calendaring and communication, the unexpected happens. A “rush job” lands in your lap, perhaps you have to fill in for an associate or employee who is absent, or something else entirely out of your or your client’s control disrupts the carefully mapped out sequence of your project. In those instances, I have found flexibility—the willingness to re-arrange your schedule, shift around your task list, or work out alternative deliverables or deadlines with client (see “Communication” above)—the only possible response.

None of these practices guarantees, of course, that you won’t find yourself pressed for time or stressed about meeting a deadline. Nevertheless, I believe that they help, and are a foundation for successful and repeat business.

What tips, strategies, or techniques have worked for you? I certainly would be interested in learning more—and perhaps the next time I am asked to write for [email protected], I won’t be pressed for a topic or miss my deadline!

~ Scott Miltenberger, Ph.D. is a partner with JRP Historical Consulting, LLC, where he provides expert historical services on environmental and natural resources issues. He is also a member of the NCPH Consultants Committee. You can find Dr. Miltenberger on Twitter @samiltenberger


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