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Tag: Burnout

How to Prevent Project Burnout Before It Strikes

I suspect many people reading this work on projects pretty continuously. It’s normal to jump from one project straight to the next, often without much time for reflection and decompression. In fact, you might be balancing multiple smaller projects at the same time. That’s a hard gig: typically each project has its own set of deadlines, and Project A’s sponsor doesn’t care that Project B has suddenly put extra demands on your time…

 

In situations like this, it’s easy to get into the vicious cycle of working longer and longer hours. Sometimes, for a very short and defined period of time, this might be OK. But when it becomes the norm, it can become unhealthy. When weekends become the ‘mop up’ time for all the emails you couldn’t clear during the week, and Monday is filled with a sense of dread, something is probably wrong. If you’re there at the moment, I feel for you. I’ve been there. I suspect we’ve all been there.

In this blog, I wanted to share some tips that can help avoid situations like this. Of course, we are all individuals and we all have different working patterns, so what works for me might not work for you. Certainly, you’ll want to adapt the tips below, but hopefully they’ll provide you with a useful starting point:

 

  1. Say “No” Effectively

There is rarely a lack of work to be done, there is a lack of time and attention to do it effectively. Say “yes” to unrealistic deadlines and there’s a risk that everything will be rushed and everything will be late.

Yet saying “no” sounds career-limiting, doesn’t it? Who would dare say “no” to a senior leader? Perhaps it’s all about how the message is given.  For example:

 

  • Say “yes, and here’s the impact”: Imagine you’re stretched and another task comes in. A way of responding might be to say: “I can absolutely do that, by that date. However, this will impact tasks B and C. Are you happy for this new task to take priority?”.
  • Say “Thanks for thinking of me, let me introduce you to someone that can help”: It’s easy to inadvertently take on the work that others might be able to do more effectively. Perhaps someone is asking you to pick up a support issue on a project that launched months ago and is now in ‘Business as Usual’ (BAU). A response might be “Thanks, it’s always really interesting to hear how things are going on that system! I’m somewhat out of the loop with that now, as the support team took over. It’s really important that these issues are logged with them, so they can track trends. Shall I send you over a link to the defect logging form? If you don’t get any response, feel free to follow up with me and I’ll connect you with my contact there”.
  • Say “No, but here’s what I can do (and offer options)”: Imagine a completely unrealistic deadline has been given. Saying yes will save short term pain, but will cause long term issues when the deadline is missed. A better option may be to say “I can’t hit that deadline (for the following reasons), however here’s an estimate of what can be done. Alternatively, with additional resource we could achieve this…”
  • Finally, a flat out “no” is fine sometimes: Not everyone agrees with this, but in my view, particularly when something is optional, it’s fine to say a flat out no. “Would you like to help organize the summer BBQ?”.  “No thanks, I’ve got a lot on right now, so that’s not something I’m interested in”. Of course, this needs to be delivered with rapport, empathy and respect.

 

There are many other ways, and it’s important to be aware of context and culture. What works in one situation will not work in others.

 

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  1. Find Ways of Recharging (And Make Time For Them)

We all have things that replenish our energy. For me, it’s exercise (whether that’s walking or going to the gym), reading and other hobbies. It will be different for you. The irony is that when things get hectic, often these are the very things that we jettison.  Don’t! Build them into your routine and make them non-negotiable.

 

  1. Celebrate Successes

It’s so easy to jump from sprint to sprint, delivery to delivery without actually reflecting on what was achieved. Celebrating even small successes is worthwhile. This doesn’t have to be a major event, just a lunch with the team, or some other kind of social event can help mark the milestone.

 

  1. Watch for Warning Signs

Finally, it’s important that we all look out for warning signs—in ourselves and others. I remember friend and fellow BA Times author Christina Lovelock talking about ‘digital distress signals’. Is someone emailing at 6am and then again at 10pm? Might that be an indication that they are overwhelmed?  If the person has an unusual work pattern (perhaps working before the kids go to school, and catching up in the evening) it might be totally fine. But if this isn’t the case, they might be pulling 14 hour days, and that’s got to be impacting them.

 

We all feel and experience overwhelm differently, and a little bit of stress is not unusual. There’s even a theory that a little bit of stress is good for you. But continuous stress is an issue, and it’s worth watching out for.

Of course, this article has only scratched the surface of this topic, but I hope you’ve found the ideas thought-provoking. I’d love to hear how you avoid burnout on projects. Be sure to connect with me on LinkedIn and let’s keep the conversation going!