Are You Suffering from Project Management Burnout?

Burnout – it’s a problem I used to think was fake, until a loved one went through it at her job. She physically became ill because of the stress. Fortunately, she was able to leave and start a new career.

But what if that’s not an option for you? How do you identify burnout as a project manager and what steps can you take to remedy the problem?

Synquis, an Australian project management company, addresses the issue on its blog. Some of the advice is basic but it bears repeating. Sometimes the most simple solutions can have the greatest impact on burnout.

What’s the blog’s first suggestion? Create a schedule and stick to it. I’ve alluded to me doing this in my professional career recently. It’s nothing fancy but it has helped me prioritize my day. Now, I longer respond to whatever jumps up in my email. Instead, I tell myself to save it for its scheduled time. The only thing stressful about a schedule is realizing how much work I have to do (but that strikes me as a good stress).

The next suggestion is breaking down the project into smaller pieces. That correlates with some running advice I received. In order to get faster, coaches suggest, run short distances in bursts of speed. There’s no way I can run 5 kilometers full out but I can run sprints for a block or so. Eventually I’ll be faster and stronger because I started out by breaking my runs down into smaller sprints.

Don’t micromanage your group is the next step to avoiding burnout. Sometimes you just have to let go. We’ve all heard about helicopter parents who swoop in and do everything for their kids. Are you a helicopter project manager? Let your underlings get things done without you. OK, you’ll occasionally have to pick up the pieces but that’s kind of what you’re doing already as a micro-manager.

Realize the motivation may not be there. I’ll let the blog speak for itself in this case: “Force yourself to begin a task that may seem tedious and exhausting. What you’ll find is that after a few minutes you do become focused and before you know it, the project has been completed.” It’s just like writing. Sometimes I need to just start writing to be motivated.

Embrace breaks. When I managed a newsroom, I had not patience for people who didn’t take lunch breaks or vacations. I didn’t want them working seven days a week. You need breaks just to clear your head. The simple act of reading a coffee house menu could be just the break your brain needs.

Shake things up. Don’t keep doing things because that is the way they have always been done. Embrace a different approach. Strict adherence to the mundane can kill your soul faster than anything.

Let’s say you’ve become burnt out. How do you recover? Psychology Today offers some advice on its blog you may find practical. Here are some of the tips, in no particular order.

OK, maybe this one I would place at the top of the list: socialize outside your professional network. Nothing feeds burnout like talking to others who are down on their jobs. Talk to others with real troubles and all of the sudden your problems might seem trivial.

Unplug for a while. Leave your devices turned off to help recover from burnout. Your smart phones and tablets aren’t doing you any good (unless maybe there is a good meditation app out there). They are time consumers. Are you a Mac person? I swear by an app called SelfControl for keeping me turned off from Facebook so I can get things done. Yes, my name is Keith and I’m a FB-holic. Going dark from Facebook is helping me realize what a time suck it is.

Leave your work at work. Just try leaving your briefcase at work for a weekend. You really need the time to unwind and go dark from work. It’s something I plan to do in my professional life while on vacation this summer. It may be stressful at first but by the end it should be liberating.

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