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Stress and project management: How to navigate when under a time crunch
You look at your calendar and see multiple project deadlines that are racing toward you with each one varying in the amount of work necessary to meet them. On top of this, you have endless personal errands to attend to as the laundry, dishes, and grocery shopping are not going to do themselves. It feels like the walls are caving in, and you have no idea how to manage your stress while strategizing to work through these work tasks efficiently. I have been there, and we’ve all been there.
As a freelancer, I have had to tackle multiple projects, personal errands, and my own entrepreneurial efforts on a daily basis. I would not be honest if I did not acknowledge the growing feelings of stress I have felt on numerous occasions. I had to take a step back to realign my life in a way that allowed me to produce stellar work for clients, while also having the time to handle non-work matters without experiencing intense stress or anxiety. Here are some of the ways I have dealt with stress while reorganizing my day to increase productivity.
Realizing I wasn’t alone
According to a survey by the American Institute of Stress, 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job. Nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage the stress. If you are in any role where you are responsible for something —whether you are a freelancer, full-time worker, stay-at-home-mom, or job seeker—stress is going to be there. I was not the only one trying to figure out how to manage my stress levels while working through my latest project and trying to find time to cook a healthy meal. There is strength in knowing that your colleague, friend, or supervisor is probably going through the same amount of stress you are.
Taking time to realize how long things took
Our mind has a way of playing tricks on us. Many times, we attach lengths of time to how difficult or easy something is. As a result, we don’t know how long things actually take which makes it challenging to plan for how much time we need to complete individual projects. An easy task may take an hour, while something more challenging may take less time but requires more brainpower.
Take a couple of days and begin to time how long it takes to complete components of your projects. This will help you create a more realistic schedule that keeps you from burning out. I did this and discovered it took me a lot longer to produce certain types of written prose for some clients than it did for others. This largely rested on the subject matter. Now, I can better plan out my projects for the week since I know the approximate time needed for each type of writing project.
Making time for breaks
One of the worst mistakes you can make is by trying to “power through” anything. The brain was not designed to be “on” all the time. According to an Integra survey, over half of respondents who said they experienced workplace stress often spent 12 hours a day on work-related duties, and even skipped lunch due to the stress of job demands. Taking breaks are known to increase your creativity, make you more productive, and help with retention. It also decreases stress. I begin to institute breaks in my writing projects. I tried not to go more than an hour without taking a break. I found that I finished tasks more quickly than if I went all the way through.
Investing in a project management system
I cannot convey strongly enough how important this is. Most of my weekly scheduling took place on paper. However, I was not able to efficiently prioritize tasks, edit what I had already recorded, or add long-form descriptions to these duties. Therefore, I saw the need to digitize my to-do list.
Switching to a project management system allowed me to see quickly see what my whole week or month looks like, change the order of tasks by priority, share my to-do list with others, and compare my workload to other times of the year. Many project management systems even have apps where you can record tasks on-the-go, and also receive email alerts when a deadline is looming. Not only does it keep me on task, but I feel less stress knowing that everything I have to do is in one place.
Creating calendars for different parts of life and linking them
So, you know the dog needs to go to the vet, but you mistakenly scheduled their appointment at the same time you have a project update meeting. This has almost happened to me on occasion, and I realized it had a higher likelihood of happening because my personal and professional calendars were not linked.
One of the main things we as professionals have to understand is that our personal lives do not stop because we have deadlines. The stress—and likelihood for missed due dates—comes when we don’t plan and schedule everything. It may take some getting used to and may take a minute to set up, but it’s worth it. Create calendars for your errands, professional tasks, and social life. Then take the time to link them together. This way, you are privy to everything that is happening in your life on a given day. You don’t have to stress about whether one event or deadline overlaps with another since everything is in one place. You can also isolate these calendars if you need to share them with others.
Making communication a priority
Communication is essential in all parts of life, but it’s especially important when working with colleagues to accomplish tasks. According to Liquid Planner, hitting deadlines (45.8 percent) and sharing information across teams (43.9 percent) were the second and third largest problems faced by manufacturing project managers. These issues are not relegated just to this industry. Many projects fail —and cause added stress—due to a lack of communication.
To reduce this, talk with your partners, clients, and staff about the best times for communicating. Schedule times to meet concerning project progress weeks in advance. Also, consider suggesting the use of a collaboration tool to help everyone stay on the same page as they work. Sometimes, email doesn’t always do the trick, and you need something extra to capture valuable conversations. So, reduce your stress by working with your team to find a communication method that works best for everyone.
We’re all trying to balance our feelings of motivation and “taking everything on,” with mitigating stress. The amount of attention different parts of our lives require can leave us feeling like we’re “spread thin.” However, we first have to take control of our schedules and understand that we can’t say yes to everything, while also being intentional about how we plan our days.
The tips above can help you begin to truly comprehend what your day looks like and give you the tools to ensure you experience the least amount of stress possible while working through different parts of your way. This type of thing does not happen overnight, but with practice, you will see your stress level begin to diminish as you take control over your day.