Stress is a true epidemic in today’s society. With the pressure of a more fast-paced work environment coupled with societal pressures, stress is more prevalent than ever. While some stress (and short term) can sometimes be helpful to push us to be our best, longer term or unhealthy stress can cause significant mental, emotional and physical damage. As project managers, we are faced with the stresses of project deliver daily – and if you’re not, you’re doing it really right or really wrong! Here are some tips that I find are very helpful when dealing with stress.
Think Big Picture
We’ve all faced adversity in our lives, either personal or professional (or very likely both). Some challenges larger than others but we always tend to come out on the other side better for the experience. When facing an impending deadline that my team may not meet or an irate client who threatens to pull their business there is a requisite level of stress that comes along with it, and justifiably so. One of the techniques that I’ve worked on over years of dealing with stress is drawing on past experiences (both personal and professional) where I’ve overcome greater challenges than the one I’m facing (ex. death of a loved one, life-changing medical news, other professional challenges larger than this one, etc.) and it provides a sense of calm and coolness. You’re essentially telling yourself “you got this, the sun will rise tomorrow”. As un-quantifiable as that sounds it is a technique that I find works great when trying to pull yourself out of the weeds of the situation (temporarily) to collect your thoughts and thing more rationally and soundly.
This may sound very simple to some but it’s tougher than you think. As the project manager, you are the leader. Teams look to their leadership to keep their calm and coolness in tough times. But they also need that spark of positivity when everyone else has lost theirs. Leaders inspire their teams to follow their example and while tough times will expose character, they also build it. Being a positive leader in difficult times is a relatively simple thing to do that needs no experience, but only a positive mindset. Most team members do not respond well to negativity (and please don’t confuse confrontation or calling someone to task for negativity – that’s a whole other discussion) and often in tough times they need a lift to get back to a good mindset to produce the results that your team needs to get out of the difficulty they are in.
Know When Break
Difficult or challenging times will often times push you and your team to work longer, more strenuous hours. While this may be unavoidable it’s critical to remember to work as effectively as possible. Pulling all-nighters is not always the answer (and often times can cause more problems than they fix). When people are exhausted they make mistakes. When people are exhausted and stressed, they make more mistakes and worse decisions which can have a negative spiralling effect on the very problems you’re trying to get out from under. While saying “no” to all overtime may not be an option, it’s important to know when you and your team need to step away for a break, be it an hour, a day or for the evening to come back fresh with a more balanced and sensible outlook on how to solve the problems in front of you.
Stress can be a good motivator if handled and harnessed correctly however teams and individuals need to know how to handle it effectively. Being able to reduce or eliminate the negative impacts of stress on your body is key to managing it effectively.