“You’ll have to travel to Arizona next week, to meet our new client. You’ll be there for some time for business discussions and help the team here design and implement the project”, said my manager.
It was my first independent project as a project manager.
I was excited at the opportunity to travel halfway across the globe, meet a new client, and discuss the requirements of the new system we were to build.
But what I didn’t know was the uncertainties that are so much a part of every project manager’s role.
The roller coaster experience.
For the next 9 months, across multiple travels, we ended up setting up a team spread over 3 time zones across 4 locations across the globe.
I ended up working pretty much round the clock, being available to all the teams to support their work.
Project management is a demanding responsibility and can cause a great deal of stress.
As a project manager, you have to be able to handle pressure and stay focused on the tasks at hand. Unfortunately, the pressure of deadlines, long hours, and managing many stakeholders can often be overwhelming.
Stress management is an important skill for project managers to develop.
Learning how to manage stress and stay focused on the job can help you stay on top of your workload and complete your projects on time and on budget.
Here are 8 tips for managing stress and staying focused as a project manager.
Some of these are not part of your job as a project manager, but these tips are for you as a person and not just a project manager.
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1. Schedule Time for Yourself
It is important to make time for yourself and your own well-being.
Take a few minutes each day to do something that relaxes you and helps to take your mind off of the project.
This could be a short walk, some yoga, or reading a book. This will help you to stay focused and manage stress more effectively.
2. Prioritize Your Tasks
This is like Project Network Diagram, but for your own tasks.
It can be overwhelming to manage a project with numerous tasks and deadlines. More so if you are managing multiple projects.
To stay focused and avoid stress, prioritize tasks and make sure that the most important tasks are completed first. This will help you to stay on track and ensure that you are making progress towards completing the project.
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3. Break Tasks into Manageable Tasks
Large tasks can be daunting and can cause stress.
Break the tasks down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will help you to stay on track and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
This is not difficult for you, the project manager, who is already efficient in breaking down the Scope into Work Breakdown Structure.
You will take a similar approach to break down your own personal tasks as well.
The smaller tasks are, the more achievable they become in your mind. And this gives you more confidence in getting them done.
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time. 🙂
4. Delegate Work
The higher you go up the organizational hierarchy, the more delegation you should be doing.
This helps you focus on what’s important, gain control over all the aspects of the project, and also help people under you grow in their roles.
Project managers often try to take on too much of the workload. This is the tendency if you have been a sole contributor before taking up the project manager role.
Delegation of work also helps you delegate responsibility. Which increases the quality of work.
To stay focused and manage stress, delegate tasks whenever possible. This will help to ensure that the project is completed on time and to the highest standard.
5. Take Breaks
Taking regular breaks can help to reduce stress and keep you focused. A short break to grab a coffee or take a walk can help to give you a boost and allow you to come back to the project with a fresh perspective.
If you need to do intense work, the use of the Pomodoro technique could help.
This is a technique that allows you 40 mins of intense work with 5 minutes of break to stretch and relax. Or whichever time slot you decide to follow – basically sandwiching intense work and total relaxation.
If you need undisturbed work to be done, try to align it for the day when you are least disturbed. Could be before your team gets online, or after your official hours of availability to the team.
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6. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is essential for managing stress and staying focused. Different people need different hours of sleep. It could be 6 hrs for some and 7 or 8 for others.
The duration needed depends on the quality of sleep. If you are worried about the work while sleeping, you may get disturbed sleep. So when you get up you may not feel fresh.
Avoiding gadgets (and emails!) and reading for 20 minutes before going to bed helps you slip into sleep without worry.
Make sure to get enough rest each night so that you can be productive during the day.
7. Get a Sense of Control
Burnout happens not by working hard, but by constantly feeling that you are out of control.
When the situation gets out of control, it tends to stress you out.
Staying organized, delegating work, knowing who’s responsible for which type of work – these all can help to reduce stress and keep you focused.
Make sure to have a system in place to keep track of tasks, deadlines, and other project information.
8. Eat Well & Exercise
It is quite normal to have pizza and aerated drinks for lunch and dinner when the project is in critical phases.
It may be okay to do once in a while, but if you are doing it quite often, it will begin to take a toll on your physical and mental faculties.
Have fresh cooked and healthy food as much as possible. Keep yourself hydrated all the time. It helps you think better.
Exercising regularly can help to reduce stress and improve focus. Take a few minutes each day to get some exercise – even if it’s a 15-minute walk – and keep your body and mind healthy.
You are central to your project. The vendors, clients, management, sponsor, and team – all revolve around you trusting you to do your job well.
This means you have to take care of yourself, and be your best self, in order to do your best.
I hope these 8 points will help you do just that.
- Schedule time for yourself
- Prioritize your tasks
- Break tasks into manageable tasks
- Delegate work
- Take breaks
- Get enough sleep
- Get a sense of control
- Eat well & exercise
Although to the selfless you, some of these may not seem important, or of lower priority, remember that your project success is closely tied to your capabilities, which are closely tied to you having a sound body and mind.
Project management can be a stressful job, but learning how to manage stress and stay focused can help project managers to stay on top of their workload and complete projects on time. By following these tips, you as a project manager, can learn to manage your stress and stay focused on the tasks at hand.
All the best!
Shiv Shenoy, PMP
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Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko.