Beating Project Management Stress

The Project Management Institute caught up with Tom Alby to glean some great tips for managing stress.

The November 2010 issue of the PMI magazine is full of great advice for project management specialists. Of special interest heading is an article by Jenn Danko on what it feels like to be “under the gun” and how to cope effectively with the stress this constant pressure creates. Thomas Alby, (creator of this site) is one of the experts Danko chose to interview. Alby doesn’t give advice to project managers based on hypothetical knowledge or armchair analysis. He’s in the trenches rolling up his sleeves and figuring out what works based on his ongoing personal experience working at Uniquedigital in Hamburg, Germany.

Here are a few tidbits of wisdom you can put to use in your own professional life:

Exercise is a fantastic stress buster. It lowers your blood pressure, provides an endorphin boost that’s better than caffeine, and gives you some time to think…or just let your mind take a break. Alby runs every morning; but if your knees can’t take that kind of pressure there are plenty of other ways to get your heart pumping. Walking, bicycling, and swimming are excellent options for project managers of all fitness levels.

Hobbies are another essential for keeping your head on straight. Finding a hobby that stimulates your creative side (like playing music) can give you a fresh perspective on problem solving at work. If you realize that you no longer enjoying one hobby, drop it and try something new. You have to see your projects through to completion at work – but there’s no rule saying you have to finish that 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle you started last year.

Prioritize what’s important instead of what’s urgent. This piece of advice doesn’t make sense until you really think about it. In project management, you need to prepare in advance for issues that are likely to arise. Poor risk management planning leads to crises that take your eye off the actual goals of your project. Focusing on putting out a small fire in one area when this entails neglecting the actual processes that keep the entire project on track will come back to haunt you. Alby recommends taking a hard look at your to do list and resisting the impulse to prioritize the “squeaky wheel” problems over those tasks that are actually essential.

Remember that you aren’t the only one feeling pressure to perform. If you don’t get a handle on your own stress level, your team members are going to suffer. Storming into a meeting and telling everyone their jobs are on the line if they don’t deliver isn’t actually a good motivational technique – unless you want to motivate your team to start job hunting. Check out the current issue of PM Network for the full article including additional tips from Mr. Alby. If you’re not yet a PMI member and don’t receive that publication, don’t worry. You can always come back and browse our blog for more free project management advice.

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