There is no argument to be made with this statement: Project Management can be very stressful. Every day brings a new conversation, change, or even a crisis. Because the PM is seated in the middle of the project and is tasked with making many difficult decisions and conducting difficult conversations, he or she ends up baring a lot of project-related stress. To be fair, it comes with the territory. The rest of our teams are responsible for meeting deadlines and expectations that we facilitate. But, the PM stress is different...because it’s often unexpected.
So how do you handle project-induced stress? Well, it might not be easy to get to a solution for every problem, but if you follow these guidelines, you’ll find yourself less anxious and more excited about your work. Why? Because you’re a good PM; you thrive in times of crises, because you can solve problems.
1. Slow down and think it through
Very often, project-related issues are urgent, and you feel the need to act immediately. That’s right, problems always feel immediate and they often are, but you should always take the time you need thoroughly think through an issue. Taking the time to devise a plan or revise an approach to your work to do it the right way is a much more productive use of your time—and everyone else’s on your project. Things you may ask yourself in that immediate “FIX IT NOW” mode:
- What is the root cause of the problem?
- Who knows more about this problem than me?
- Who do I need to notify about said problem?
- What will happen if it is not fixed within the hour/today/tomorrow/this week?
- What are the impacts of the problem?
As soon as you’ve thought these things through, you can act on the problem with some assurance that you’ve actually identified the true issue and can propose an appropriate plan of attack. But remember, if you are responsible for resolving an issue, you can do it quickly, but make sure that YOU define what “quick” means based on your comfort level. If you don’t think something through, you could end up making a hasty decision that could result in longer-term issues. If someone is pressuring you to meet on or discuss the issue, let them know that you need time to develop options to resolve the issue. Simply stating that you’re working on it will quell any concerns.
2. Don’t take it personally
As a project manager, it is very easy to take project issues personally. Sure, if you’re a good PM you can spot issues from a mile away and shoot them down before they get close. But, hey, they’re going to come up from behind every once in awhile, 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 require a team to complete. The issues may require the same attention from your team. If you pull in the right people to help address the issue (reference the questions above), you will be less inclined to take on the blame, and in effect, take the issue less personally. You must keep in mind that business is business. If you handle situations professionally and swiftly with your team, you will most certainly work them out. If you take personal offense, you’ll get caught up on every little word or action and just let it get to you. That will never help you to solve a problem and actually feel good about it.
3. Get everything in writing
Project managers take notes upon notes and share them with their team, clients, and stakeholders. This simple act can help you tenfold on projects. You may think that no one is reading your notes, and really it’s okay if they aren’t (some of the time). But you need to feel confident in the fact that you are documenting conversations and sharing the details with everyone involved. What’s most important is that if a decision or issue that is discussed is then documented in meeting notes, you can refer back to it if it comes up again in the future. People often forget conversations (especially when they refer to scope or deadlines), so keep track of those things so you can always point back to the conversation when appropriate (or needed). Your notes could come in handy when resolving an issue, so capture them and share them publicly.
4. Be comfortable with your own mistakes
Nobody’s perfect. You’ve heard it stated a million times, so why would you think your work would be mistake-free? It’s not, and you’ll find that you will learn from your own mistakes and get better with the experience those mistakes afford you. So, be comfortable making those mistakes as long as you dissect the root of your problems and come to terms with how you could have handled the issue better.
Also, remember that it’s important to handle your mistakes with grace, because quite often what’s remembered isn’t the mistake itself, but the recovery. Hold your head up high, figure out how to fix the issues, talk to the right people, and solve them. Focusing on the negatives, or finger-pointing won’t help to resolve the problem, so forget that amateur stuff and do the right thing by your team, your clients, your project, and your career.
5. It’s all about perspective
Chances are, the world won’t end due to your project-specific issues. But that doesn’t mean you don’t work with people who act like the world is crumbling around you at times. Every project comes with problems and personalities to match them. As the project manager, it’s your job to address those problems and people with a level head. Don’t feed into the immediate requests or the surrounding drama of project issues. Keep perspective on the problem at hand and recognize that if you’re doing a good job, you will overcome any issue.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep perspective, especially if the issue creates undue stress. Sure, the stress will come (as it does), but do your best to not blow things out of proportion. When you do, it can affect the people around you, and you certainly do not want that. You’re better off keeping it to yourself and know that you will get through it and move to the next step in your project. This simple internalization will actually help you to get through any issue. Just think, “I WILL fix this.” If you have some faith in yourself you can solve any project problem.
6. Stay cool
As mentioned in the previous section, it’s important to remain calm on the outside. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself cool and calm as per usual, because you don’t want your behavior to affect anyone else. If you feel the stress creeping in, take action! There are a number of things you can do to relieve the pressure: take a short break for some light physical activity. A short walk or a trip to the gym could help. Or maybe you just need some fresh air to sit and think. Sometimes and outside opinion can help, so you might want to call a trusted friend to talk it through. Do whatever works for you to get back to a good, calm place.
Work it out
No matter what happens, you must know that while you’re responsible for addressing project issues, there is only so much you can do alone. Draw on the resources around you to make the best decisions you can with the time you have. do your best to maintain a high level of professionalism on a daily basis, be on the lookout for problems before they turn into crises, and always be prepared for the unexpected. The more ready you are for a curveball, the better you’ll perform when it comes your way.