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Project Management

How to Reduce Project Stress and Resolve Issues

Brett Harned
September 30, 2020
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No one would argue with the fact that project management is stressful. Every day brings a new challenge—and sometimes even a crisis. 

As a project manager, you’re at the center of project action and deal with the unexpected. If a difficult conversation or decision needs to happen, it’s your job to handle it. Is it any wonder that you end up bearing the brunt of project stress?

To be fair, project anxiety comes with the territory. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to manage work-induced stress.

It may not be easy to find a solution to every project woe. But you’re an expert problem-solver who thrives in times of crisis. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll find yourself less anxious and more excited about your work.

Why project management is so stressful

Being responsible for a project—but not having control over the people you rely on to get the work done—is a huge factor in project manager anxiety. But that’s not the only reason project management is stressful. 

Here are a few common causes of stress in project management:

  • Your role isn’t generally understood or respected in your organization.
  • You’re the frontline for project questions, issues, and complaints.
  • A project’s handed to you with little guidance, and you have to figure out how to get it done on time and budget.
  • You get unexpected changes in project scope, budget, or timeline.
  • Stakeholders fail to respond or approve things on time.
  • People are confused about their roles and responsibilities.
  • Team members miss deadlines because they’re too bogged down with work. 
  • You go over budget and have to explain it to a stakeholder.
  • Communication breaks down, and no one’s aligned on goals or next steps. 

And the list could go on...

So let’s talk about how to manage stress when issues like these pop up, then dive into the absolute best way to reduce project stress and avoid burnout

How to resolve project issues with less stress

It’s hard to keep stress in check when things go wrong on your projects. But as the project manager, you set the tone for everyone’s emotions. These 5 tips can help you maintain calm at every level.  

1. Slow down and think it through

Project-related issues are often urgent, making you feel the need to act immediately. But you should always pause to thoroughly think through an issue first. 

Responding to an issue right away doesn’t mean you’re solving the problem the right way. And let’s be real: You won’t always have all the answers (even if you think you’re on the hook for them). 

So take time to consult your team and devise a plan before reacting. It’s a much more productive use of your time—as well as everyone else’s on your project. 

Here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself at this stage:

  • What’s the root cause of the problem?
  • Who knows more about this problem than me?
  • Who do I need to notify about the problem?
  • What will happen if it’s not fixed within the hour/today/tomorrow/this week?
  • What are the impacts of the problem?

Once you’ve thought these things through, you can act on the problem with some assurance you’ve identified the true issue and can propose an appropriate plan of attack. 

But remember: If you’re responsible for resolving an issue quickly, make sure YOU define what “quickly” means based on your comfort level. Otherwise, you could end up making a hasty decision that leads to longer-term issues. 

If someone pressures you to meet about or discuss the issue, it’s okay to let them know you need time to develop options to resolve the issue. Simply relaying the fact you’re working on it should quell any immediate concerns.

2. Don’t take it personally

As a project manager, it’s easy to take project issues personally and let every little word or action get to you. But getting stuck in self-blame won’t get you any closer to a solution. 

Sure, any good project manager can spot issues from a mile away and shoot them down before they get close. But they’re going to come up from behind every once in a while, and there’s not much you can do about that. It happens to the best of us!

Plus, you’re not in this alone. Projects rely on teams to be successful. If you pull in the right people to help address the issue (see the questions above), you’ll be less inclined to take on the blame and can focus on devising a plan that helps everyone move forward. 

Staying focused on project goals—and the steps that will help you get there—is an easy way to take personal feelings out of it. At the end of the day, business is business. If you handle situations professionally and swiftly with your team, you’ll most certainly work them out. 

3. Get everything in writing

You probably take reams of notes in meetings and send them out to your team, clients, and stakeholders. This simple act can help you tenfold on projects. 

You may think no one reads your notes, and really, it’s okay if they don’t (some of the time). But you need to feel confident in the fact that you’re documenting conversations and keeping everyone in the loop, just in case problems pop up in the future.

That’s because people have a funny way of forgetting conversations (especially when they refer to project scope or deadlines). Keep track of key discussions and decisions in your notes—and share them publicly—so you can always point back to the conversation if needed. These notes could come in handy when resolving an issue.

4. Be comfortable with your own mistakes

You’ve heard it a million times: Nobody’s perfect. So why would you think your work is exempt from mistakes? 

You might as well get comfortable with the fact that you will make mistakes and use those experiences to learn and improve. You can do this by dissecting the root of your mistake and reflecting on how you could have handled the issue better.

And don’t forget to handle your mistakes with grace. Because most folks will remember how well you recover more than the mistake itself. Hold your head high as you work with the right people to figure out a fix. 

Finger-pointing won’t solve anything. So forget that amateur stuff, and do the right thing by your team, clients, project, and career.

5. Put problems into perspective

Chances are, your project issue won’t cause the world to end. But that doesn’t mean you don’t work with people who act like the world is crumbling around you when things go wrong. Every project comes with problems and personalities to match them.

As the project manager, it’s your job to keep a level head. Don’t feed into immediate requests or the surrounding drama of project issues. Remain cool and calm on the outside, and try not to blow things out of proportion because you don’t want your behavior to affect anyone else.

If you feel stress creeping in, take action to relieve the pressure! A short walk or a trip to the gym could help. Or maybe you just need some fresh air to sit and think. Sometimes an outside opinion can help, so call a trusted friend to talk it through. Do whatever works for you to get back to a good, calm place.

The best thing you can do is keep perspective and recognize you’ve survived crises before and can do it again. Just repeat these words to yourself: I WILL fix this. This simple internalization will help you get through any issue. After all, if you have faith in yourself, you can solve any project problem.

Eliminate project stress in minutes

Lay a clear path to success with a plan you can build in 10 minutes. Spot issues early with easy project tracking, and keep folks in sync with simple project views and team collaboration.

The best way to prevent project stress

Make sure every project has a plan

Remember the causes of project management stress we listed above? A project plan can help you combat every single one of them. That’s why it’s important to always have a plan.

A plan sets a clear path of action so everyone’s aligned on what needs to be done and how you’ll achieve project goals. It also serves as the central source of truth for collaborating on work and communicating project status. 

Let’s take a closer look at how project planning helps everyone manage stress better.

How a plan alleviates project manager anxiety

When you know who’s doing what on a daily basis, you can focus on supporting people instead of micromanaging tasks. As a project manager, knowing you don’t have to worry about IF things are getting done can provide major stress relief. 

It’s also easier to detect and deal with issues when you’re tracking everything in a plan. If something changes or goes awry, your plan acts as the true north to guide decisions and get your project back on track. 

How a plan reduces project stress for your team

Mapping tasks out in a plan with deadlines and assignments eliminates the anxiety of the unknown by giving team members a clear sense of what they need to do when. They can easily see how their work fits into the project as a whole and who and what will be affected if they don’t deliver their tasks on time. This knowledge can go a long way in avoiding the stress and confusion that results when everyone works in their own task-oriented vacuum.

A plan also empowers your team to raise a flag if they spot conflicts in their workload so they have a better chance at work-life balance. See how one project manager uses TeamGantt to balance workloads and prevent team burnout.

How a plan eases stakeholder stress

Stakeholders get stressed out when they don’t know what’s happening in a project. Having a global view of the project and how it’s progressing sets their minds at ease because they can let go of the need to constantly check up on project status

A project plan also helps stakeholders defend time and scope when their team or leaders want to add new things or shorten deadlines. They can clearly show how these requests would impact the project because it’s all right there in the plan.

Best of all, a plan is the perfect tool to help you and your stakeholders align on project goals and deliverables. When you go into a project with the same expectations, everyone’s a lot less stressed.  

Get a stress-free start to project planning

Want to deliver projects on time without all the stress? Check out our Plan Up education hub for free resources to help you create solid project plans and get buy-in from your team and stakeholders. 

Download our free Guide to Project Planning, plus simple scripts to help you make the case for planning. And sign up for our free class to learn how to create and sell a winning project plan. 

Start planning better today!

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