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project stress

I recently attended a Friends-giving party with my fiancé where I met some new people. We got the typical questions: How do you know so-and-so? What do you do for a living? My fiancé is a ship captain and the conversation got very animated. People were engaged and asking questions, but when the conversation turned to me and I mentioned that I’m a project manager, they cringed and said “Oh, that’s nice.” The conversation quickly turned back to my fiancé and his adventures on the open water, which left me wondering what just happened. I’ve since come to the conclusion that they either didn’t know what I do or they dislike project management in general. Why would anyone dislike project management? The simple answer is fear.

Project managers are responsible for creating process and ensuring the successful implementation of that process. Part of the process is the schedule. Schedules are a series of deadlines. You can give a deadline a different label: delivery, milestones, phases, etc., but people know what they are. After all, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In a 2017 survey done by CareerCastof 1,000 people, 30% said that deadlines were their number one stressor on the job above the risk of death. Let’s say that again. 30% of people were more stressed by deadlines than the fear of ACTUAL death! That’s pretty incredible! This shows us that human instinct works against project management, which leads us to a few key tips to help alleviate and avoid that stress:

Be adaptive.

You’ve created a plan and a process and aren’t they wonderful! But, even the best laid plans can be derailed: life happens, ideas happen, and scope creep happens. It’s important to remember that your fantastic plan and process are guidelines. A loose framework to facilitate discussions between all internal and external stakeholders. Communicate that to your team to take the stress of the deadlines out of the equation. Remember what Heraclitus said: “The only thing that is constant is change.”


Your teammates and clients are a major part of the project. It’s important to be open to input as the project progresses. The goal of the project is to deliver, everything else, as they say, is footnotes. Who knows, maybe you’ll avoid scope creep, gain unintended insights, or find efficiencies that make project delivery easier or faster? At the very least, you’ll be building better relationships and gaining insights into what people need in order to be successful, which are invaluable when so much of project management requires interpersonal skills.

Don’t take it personally.

There are moments in the life of a project where you may find yourself frustrated, or you may be helping someone else deal with their frustration. In those moments, remember to focus on the facts and avoid the “what ifs.” Focusing on the facts allows you to emotionally detach from the situation to frame the current status from an objective viewpoint to find a better solution and avoid a descent into counterproductive thinking.

Overall, to avoid and resolve schedule stressors, it’s important to keep in mind that a project is a human engine moving toward and endpoint. If a project manager is mindful of the changes and challenges that occur along the way, listens for the solutions and maintains objectivity, they can adapt to course changes and steer the project successfully.

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