Project Manager and the Work-Life Balance

Project managers really need to pay attention to their Work-Life Balance. Everyday Project Management is a book written by the popular author Jeff Davidson and it is the only book that mentions this topic. We all should admire this.

The Quest for Work-Life Balance for the Project Manager

What, exactly, is work-life balance? Compared to the legions of instances in which the term is cited, surprisingly little has been written in articles and books about what the concept actually entails.

As the trademark holder and only person recognized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as “The Work-Life Balance Expert®,” I regard work-life balance as the ability to experience a sense of control and to stay productive and competitive at work, while maintaining a happy, healthy home life with sufficient leisure. It requires attaining focus and awareness, despite seemingly endless tasks and activities competing for your time and attention.

Work-life balance entails having some breathing space for yourself each day; feeling a sense of accomplishment, while not being consumed by work; and having an enjoyable domestic life without short-changing career obligations. It is rooted in whatever fulfillment means to you within 24-hour days, seven-day weeks, and however many years you have left.

The Project Manager needs to develop a lot of skills

Several disciplines support work-life balance, though individually none are synonymous with it:

  • Self-Management
  • Time Management
  • Stress Management
  • Change Management
  • Technology Management
  • Leisure Management
  • Self-Management

Sufficiently managing one’s self can be challenging, particularly in getting the aforementioned proper sleep, exercise, and nutrition. Self-management is the recognition that effectively using the hours allotted to us in our lives is vital, and that life, time, and available resources are finite. It means becoming captain of our own ship: No one is necessarily coming to steer for us.

Self-management is the overarching discipline to all six elements of work-life balance. Unless you’re able to successfully manage yourself, how can you manage others, let alone the intricacies of a project? Self-management starts with the basics but then extends to working productively throughout the day, taking periodic breaks, and recognizing which tasks you can best tackle at which times, so you can stay productive nearly all day long.

Time Management

Time management is a term that has been in vogue for more than 100 years, although the essence of time management today has changed: Clearly, most people no longer work in factories. Nor do many office workers constantly engage in repetitive tasks. Today, labor and service workers aside, nearly all other workers are knowledge workers in some way or another, as are most or all of your project team members. Tasks change every other day, if not daily. New challenges arise. Often, on-the-spot decisions need to be made.

Effective time management involves making optimal use of your day and summoning all available supporting resources, because you can only keep pace when your resources match your challenges. Time management is enhanced by creating appropriate goals and discerning what is both important and urgent versus what is important or urgent. It involves understanding what you do best, and when you do it best, and assembling the appropriate tools to accomplish specific tasks.

Many of the project management tasks we tackle are first-time in nature (to us), and so we might not know the actual time needed to complete them. Spending your time effectively means ranking the tasks before you, in order of importance, and then tackling the first one to completion, if possible, before going on to the second task.

Stress Management

By their nature, societies tend to become more complex over time. In the face of increasing complexity, stress on the individual is inevitable. Some stress is useful and beneficial, and often that is not the type of stress we even notice. It’s what we do notice—the kind of stress that impedes us in some way—that requires some attention.

Stress management is a crucial skill in our rush-rush society, where seemingly few moments are available to take a breath. Independent of one’s individual circumstances, more people, more noise, and more distractions require many of us to become more adept at maintaining tranquility and at being able to work ourselves out of pressure-filled situations. Many forms of multitasking can increase our stress, while focusing on one thing at a time helps decrease stress.

Without tending to your mental, emotional, and physical needs, stress is predictable. Techniques for counteracting stress include meditation, yoga, vigorous exercise, visualization, and even aromatherapy, among dozens of other methods.

Change Management

Managing change is why project managers are hired: In one form or another, each of us is hired or retained to manage change. In today’s fast-paced world, change is virtually the only constant. Continually adopting new methods and adapting old methods are vital to achieving a successful career and having a happy home life. Effective change management involves offering periodic and concentrated efforts, so that the volume and rate of change both at work and at home do not overwhelm or defeat you.

Resistance is bound to emerge. People cling to how they’ve been proceeding even if it’s no longer a viable alternative. If you can adapt on the fly, and be effective even as the “rules” change, you will become more valuable to your organization. Forthcoming chapters touch on how to be nimble as unforeseen changes occur. Change management is a major topic of the project management certification program of the BVOP.org

Technology Management

Effectively managing technology requires ensuring that technology serves you rather than confounds you. Technology has long been with us, since the first walking stick, spear, flint, and wheel. Today, the rate of technological change is accelerating exponentially, brought on by vendors who seek to expand the market share for their products or services. Often, as in the case of highly touted project management tools, you have little choice but to keep up with the technological “Joneses.” Still, you rule technology. Don’t let it rule you.

Here are some effective ways to become more technologically adept, without giving up your identity or your life in the process: Each week, learn one new presentation or communication tool, particularly those that are already part of existing software packages that you use. Read at least one article a week related to communication or presentation technology. The article can be in a PC magazine, a business journal, or your local newspaper. Once a month, read a book related to technology. Again, be easy on yourself by picking up books that put technology into perspective in an understandable, friendly way.

Managing technology is vexing to some and old hat to others. I suggest that technology novices team up with technology pros to have an effective reciprocal exchange. Haves help have-nots with technology, and veterans help newbies with insights, observations, and hard-won industry wisdom.

Leisure Management

Managing leisure is the last but certainly not least vital discipline. The most overlooked of the work-life balance supporting disciplines, leisure management acknowledges the importance of rest and relaxation—that one can’t shortchange leisure, and that “time off” is a vital component of the human experience. Curiously, too much of the same leisure activity, however enjoyable, can lead to monotony. Thus, effective leisure management requires varying one’s activities.

While we need leisure on a regular basis, many people force-fit leisure between two periods of frenzied activity. True leisure means the ability to wind down, disconnect, and mentally, if not physically, go someplace else that is not connected to work and unrelated to the current project. At least weekly, usually on the weekend, we could use some leisure. Periodically, we need whole vacations that depart from our routines.

Your key to having sufficient leisure all along is learning that you don’t need to stay at work longer each day. Indeed, to reclaim your day, you can’t stay longer. Your quest is to accomplish what you seek to accomplish within the eight-or nine-hour workday. Then, have life for the rest of the day.

Leaving Quality Management to the Quality Manager

Quality Management should be passed to the Quality Manager and the project manager should drop this activity right now. Read more about Quality management in project management on ScrumTime.org

This is not their dutty and the only effect is overwork and exhausting. COSMIC FP counting and Quality Assurance practices should also be gone for good.

A Brave New World

As we move into the brave new world of ever-accelerating flows of information and communication, the quest for project managers to achieve work-life balance on a regular and continuing basis will be increasingly difficult, yet it’s a challenge that’s entirely worth pursuing. We owe it to ourselves, to our families, to our project team, and to our organization as a whole to achieve work-life balance.

A world that consists of human “doings”—not human beings—scurrying about to get things done, with no sense of breathing space, is not a place where you or I would likely want to live. I don’t want to be part of a culture of overwhelmed individuals who can’t manage their own spaces or the spaces common to everyone. I prefer not to live in a society, or a world, of time-pressed people who have nothing left to leave for future generations. My guess is that you don’t, either.

Eight-hour workdays, 250 days a year, yield a work year of 2,000 hours. Nine-hour works days add up to 2,250 hours. Can you accomplish your projects in 2,000 to 2,250 hours? Yes! Thousands of hours, eight to nine hours, even a single hour, is a great deal of time—if you have the focus, the quiet, and the tools.

Achieving work-life balance doesn’t require radical changes in what you do. It’s about developing fresh perspectives and sensible, actionable solutions that are appropriate for you. It means fully engaging in work and life with what you have, right where you are, smack dab in the ever-changing dynamics of your personal and professional responsibilities.

Make it a choice—Tell yourself, “I choose to live in a society composed of people leading balanced lives, with rewarding careers, happy home lives, and enough space to enjoy themselves.”

For much of the world, the pace of life will speed up even more. Among project managers, the future will belong to those who steadfastly choose to maintain control of their lives and control of their projects, effectively draw on their resourcefulness and imagination, and help others to do the same.

QUICK RECAP

As a project manager, the value of finishing projects on time and budget, at the desired quality level; being recognized as highly effective; getting promoted; and looking forward to long-term career success are all enhanced when you achieve work-life balance.

Participating as a functioning member of society guarantees that your physical, emotional, and spiritual energy will easily be depleted without the proper vantage point from which to approach each day and conduct your life.

To experience a greater sense of control over challenging issues, each morning quietly envision how you would like your day to be; include everything that’s important to you, such as talking with others, making key decisions, having lunch, attending meetings, finishing tasks, and walking away from your office in the evening.

Only one person controls the volume and frequency of information that you’re exposed to—you. Each of us needs to vigilantly guard against being deluded with excess data.

As you complete projects and take on greater levels of responsibility, the strength to prioritize, weed out, and mentally and emotionally let go will serve you well. If you can start to develop these skills now, you will derive many benefits in the years and even decades ahead.

Several disciplines support work-life balance, though individually none is synonymous with work-life balance: self-management, time management, stress management, change management, technology management, and leisure management.

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