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Head to Your Heart: Combating Stress

The program implementation date is less than two weeks away; an anxious and tense customer will not allow another delay.

Burned-out project teams are working against headwinds of complexity and an overload of information.

Ted is listening to verbal reports on the programme’s daily stand-up. He reports his work stream status and jumps back to multi-tasking as others report out.

Old and new issues are swarming like bats at dusk on a summer evening.

When he hears a peer, Alex, reports an issue as closed, Ted refocuses on the stand-up meeting, knowing that he still has an action item open with his vendor that is critical to closure.

Ted jumps into the fray, disputing the status and educating his peers on the root cause of the issue.

Suddenly, he notices that no one is listening; the conversation has rapidly moved on. “Ugh, still on mute!”

By the time Ted gets off mute, another vexing issuing has captured the stand-up.

Exhausted, Ted mutes the call again and goes back to multi-tasking, listening with one ear while he responds to e-mail.

What should Ted do?

As Project Managers and Project Leaders, we work in an environment laden with sources of burnout.

One of the leading causes of burnout is stress, which has serious physiological effects on the body and diminishes psychological energy from the heart and mind. We experience stress when we perceive that demands exceed the personal and social resources that we are able to mobilise.

Symptoms of stress that can occur:

  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Physical problems
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Mental ability
  • Emotional resilience

Stress is not only associated with work that exceeds our capacity or skills, but with having too little work, or work that is uninspiring.

A Project Manager must be able to recharge with durable energy, a connection between the mind and the heart that resists depletion.

The ability to connect to work emotionally and find a driving purpose for that work can reduce both environmental and task stress and become a force for change.

Reduced stress helps ignite the heart with passion for the tasks that must be done.

This energy then moves toward the mind, where it works to inspire creativity. Simultaneously, if work is inspiring and fascinating, the mind is active and thriving and durable energy moves toward the heart and contributes to the additional discovery of purpose.

When these forces are simultaneously flowing and interacting, they create durable energy. And this energy enables you, as a project leader, to sustain professional growth.

To allow your heart and mind to remain disconnected and to continue working without growth and inspiration is to do a disservice to yourself and your profession. Project leaders who create durable energy can more naturally exercise fundamental leadership skills associated with senior and executive level positions.

This energy becomes a force for change in project work, and for change in people, processes, and systems. Project leaders then can witness the transformation of their community through their efforts, generating even more energy for themselves and others.

The stand-up meeting is over. Ted saves a draft e-mail to finish and send later. His convictions begin to take over, and his passion for excellence, quality, and teamwork awakens his senses.

He calls Alex on her mobile phone, but gets voicemail. He shoots off a quick text message: “Where are you? Got a minute?” He then grabs his jacket and heads to his car, brushes off a dusting of snow, and drives to the other side of campus to track down Alex in the test lab she manages.

About the Author

Jack Ferraro is the founder of MyProjectAdvisor, a project management services company. He has 25 years of experience working with project teams and extensive experience managing complex enterprise technology and business process improvement projects.

Jack is also the author of two project management books, The Strategic Project Leader: Mastering Service-based Project Leadership and Project Management for Non-Project Managers, published in 2012.

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