Conquering the Stress Conundrum

By: Brandon Sanchez

By nature of being a project manager, our workloads vary daily, and the most solid plan can be tossed to the wayside by an unexpected twist: an urgent meeting, a revised deadline, work travel woes, or any other scenario that causes you to reprioritize your day. While stress can be turned into a motivating force, it can still get the best of even the most seasoned project manager.  While every person may respond to different strategies, this article shares tried-and-true tactics our team of project managers leans on to control and respond to stress.

What is stress?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Stress is:

  • A physical and mental response to an external cause, such as taking an important exam or resolving a conflict with a friend.
  • Disappears once the situation is resolved.
  • Can be positive or negative. It may inspire you to meet a deadline or cause you to lose sleep.

Make a list, prioritize each item, and tackle the hardest one first

This first tactic is simple, but we cannot go without emphasizing it. Whatever the tasks are, write (or type) them down, organize them by priority, and tackle the toughest one first. We may benefit from tackling the toughest one when we are at our “best” – whether early in the morning or after the sun sets for those night owls. Only you know when your mind is at its full potential- take advantage of this period.

Leverage your calendar

Utilizing your calendar to its full potential can help keep your personal and professional life in sync. Merging personal and professional commitments onto one calendar can help avoid time conflicts and enable you to manage each day holistically.

We recommend blocking a set amount of time daily to focus. By adding focus time to your calendar, you communicate to yourself (and teammates trying to schedule a meeting) that although you are not on a call, you intend to use this time for a specific task.

Starting the day with a planning period is a great way to create your list of goals, prioritize them, create/update time blocks on your calendar, and ensure that your goals are met at the end of the week.

The 2-minute rule

“If the next action can be done in two minutes or less, do it when you first pick the item up…The rationale for the two-minute rule is that it’s more or less the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it’s in your hands—in other words, it’s the efficiency cutoff.”

David Allen, “Getting Things Done”

There is deep work that requires careful, extended focus, as well as more straightforward tasks that can be completed the moment they present themselves. This rule mitigates having small tasks pile up until they eventually feel insurmountable. Getting these tasks done reduces stress and also supports a feeling of accomplishment. Set up time to tackle these 2-minute tasks, either after lunch or right before you end your day.

Reach out to peers and available resources

We cannot do it all alone. Recognizing when to ask for help is a skill that is sharpened with time. Asking for advice on a task you are stuck on, delegating work out, or scheduling working sessions are all examples of leveraging your internal resources. Understanding your team’s strengths and establishing comfortability with reaching out to your internal subject matter experts supports personal growth, camaraderie, and creativity.

Establish boundaries

The focus on the “life” part of work-life balance has increased in the last few years, aided partly by the cultural shift to hybrid and fully remote working opportunities. While many of us may have more time at home than ever, the lines between work and home can blur, making some of us feel overworked. Whatever your expected working hours, abide by those whenever possible, avoiding the temptation to read and respond to those 9:00 pm emails that can wait until the following morning.

Set time for yourself

Our team is full of different personalities who enjoy unwinding in many ways. For some, it’s morning meditations and yoga before starting any work, for others, it may be a lunchtime walk with the dog, or it may be exercise or a game of volleyball in the early evening. Honor this time in your weekly calendar, creating strategic blocks to accomplish all your goals- not just those tied to work! With intentional time management, we can ensure that stress is a short-term experience that helps us exceed important milestones or situations without crippling our focus or long-term health.