Project Management Career Q&A – Stress!

Something needs to change. I feel overworked, stressed and my work/life balance is non-existent, what do I need to do to start changing this?

Work and life are two of the things that many practitioners working in the field of project management struggle to get into a happy balance. With increased pressures to deliver, expectations of doing more with less, project managers are no strangers to feeling overworked and at worse burn out! So, it is good that you recognise that something has to change before you reach a stage where your body and mind might just make the decision for you.

This is a time for reflection and as difficult as that might seem right now, without understanding where your balance is compared to where you would like it to be, it is going to be harder to start making some changes. I would suggest that there are four initial areas in your approach to work to start thinking about changing:

The first is your own self-management style. Take an objective look at how you manage things on a day-to-day basis. Are you constantly in adrenalin mode, responding to ‘fires’ all over the project on a daily basis? These recurring and ongoing problems which require your attention all the time, the ongoing ‘fires’ mean stress and anxiety in the long run. Perhaps you would describe yourself as a ‘hero’ project manager? It’s a difficult concept to attribute to oneself, but you could actually be the reason for the ‘fires’ in the first place, enjoying the attention that being the fixer brings? Your stress levels could also be the product of people in and around the project, a demanding stakeholder or unproductive team member that requires extra attention. Maybe the milestones are unrealistic, or you just feel out of your depth on this particular project.

Making time to think through what is happening right now in your work life, perhaps talking it through with a family member or friend will help you to start seeing the situation a little clearer. When the fog starts to clear a little you can start to make decisions about changing your style.

The second area to consider is to ask yourself the question, ‘how good am I at delegation?’ This is a skill that project managers find notoriously difficult to master. After all, aren’t good project managers all about control? Find the areas of your day-to-day role where some of the work can be handed off. This might be to the PMO, members of your project team or another project manager with time available. Don’t be afraid to ask peers, this is just another resource management requirement on a busy project and no reflection on your ability to manage your work.

The third area is to think about your work outputs and ask yourself the question, ‘is your work good enough?’ What is more important, that the job gets done or that it gets done perfectly? This also links to the reasons behind why we often choose not to delegate, with the thought that ‘no one else can do it as well as you can’. To gain a healthier balance in your life right now there will need to be a trade-off and learning to let go will help you to get there.

Finally, just say no. If work is already feeling overloaded, don’t add further weight to your shoulders by taking on any extras. These could be organisational or personal responsibilities that you just don’t have the time to take on right now. The trick to saying no is to keep it simple. “No I don’t have time to do that” without getting into the whys and wherefores and don’t buy the flattery as someone tries to persuade you differently.

The easier way to make a change in your work is to do so in small, manageable steps. Take it easy on yourself until you manage to find the right equilibrium again.

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