Surely these are enough reasons to make the average project manager take steps to lessen the stress on their project?
How can we lessen stress on our projects?
Visiting some projects, and dealing with some project managers can be exhausting. There seem to be a permanent situation of crisis, people are shouting, almost a note of panic, there are people on the phone, changes of plan, begging and pleading. Then there are other project managers that, almost casually, get on with the job. Why are some project managers always solving crises while others go about their jobs quietly and calmly, simply getting tasks done? Is it because some projects are not as tough as others? Well, some projects are tougher than others, but it is often only about the way the project manager operates. Yes, that calm project manager will sometimes hit a problem, they may get a bit excited, they may work late sometimes, and they may have to pull in some favours from suppliers and subcontractors, but it’s not the norm.
How can we destress our lives and projects?
- Plan. Proper planning can avoid many of the crises that envelop some projects. Planning means selecting the most appropriate construction methods, it’s about ensuring that materials, equipment and resources arrive on time and in sufficient quantities. It’s about planning the project before starting the project. It’s about daily planning, knowing what has to be done tomorrow and next week and ensuring that everything will be prepared.
- Manage time effectively. Many project managers are poor time managers. They never seem to have enough time. Have an ordered document filing system. Use a notebook (electronic or paper) to note questions, problems and tasks, cross items off after they’ve been done. Learn to ignore emails until you can read them properly – don’t be distracted by incoming emails which interrupt you while you are attending to other tasks. Set quiet time aside to get tasks done.
- Employ the right team. A project isn’t built by one person, it’s a team effort. The right team means selecting the right suppliers and subcontractors. It’s about having the right employees with the right skills, who are committed to delivering a quality project, safely.
- Delegate effectively. Don’t be scared to delegate, but ensure the person that’s been delegated the work has the knowledge and authority to execute the task. Don’t micro-manage others work, but do ensure that it is done satisfactorily. Remember, it doesn’t have to be done exactly the way you would have done the task, but it should have an acceptable result.
- Ask for help. A project manager can’t be expected to know everything, so learn to ask for expert advice when necessary. It may sometimes cost a little, but this cost could become insignificant in the time and money it saves the project. Even just discussing a problem with someone can provide a solution, or at least help share the burden. We all need a little help sometimes. Don’t drown in work and problems. Your manager may not want to hear that you want help, but they definitely won’t want to hear that problems have escalated because you had insufficient time to deal with them.
- Effective problem detection and problem solving. Far too often project managers don’t pick-up when there’s a problem developing. They don’t notice the small cloud of smoke, until there’s a raging inferno and the problem has suddenly become out of control. Try and see potential problems before they become a real problem. Take action so it doesn’t become a problem. Some project managers ignore problems hoping they’ll go away – unfortunately they seldom do. Sometimes project managers take the wrong actions to try and resolve a problem. They don’t understand the underlying cause of the problem. This only wastes more time and effort and allows the problem to become worse. Nothing beats getting out on the project site to see firsthand what is happening.
- Don’t commit to unreasonable time lines. Often contractors agree to unreasonable construction schedules which put their project managers under undue pressure. Too often we agree to tight timelines our clients request. Everyone wants the impossible, but, sometimes clients need to understand why the timeline is impossible. Often timelines can be negotiated, and clients can get the critical sections of work delivered on time while the other sections follow. If clients won’t budge and are unreasonable maybe it’s time to change clients. No project is worth stressing you and your team out.
- Take some time out. Construction can be a demanding 24/7 job. Learn to switch-off. You don’t have to take phone calls during family dinner, you don’t have to work late every night, you don’t have to be responding to emails at all time of the night or at weekends. Learn to take time off. Plan some weekends away with the family. A holiday is a holiday and shouldn’t be interrupted by work. A quiet weekend with the family can recharge you for the week ahead. A happy family often translates into less stress at home.
- Don’t take it personally. In construction things will go wrong. We will make mistakes. We will have a bad day on the project. Managers and clients will become annoyed with us. Employees will become angry and truculent. Suppliers and subcontractors will let us down. Don’t take it personally. Learn to admit when you made a mistake. Often that shouting, rudeness and cursing by others isn’t directed at you personally, even if it feels that it is. They probably are just as frustrated and overworked as you. If they have a problem with you, it’s probably more a problem with them. Don’t let negative thoughts clutter your mind – it will take valuable time away from getting your work done.
- Know which battles to fight and which can be avoided. Sometimes it’s not worth arguing and winning every point – rather look at the bigger picture. Don’t become bogged down in the petty squabbles, or making excuses and defending minor issues.
- Learn to say no. You can’t do everything. You can’t please everyone. Learn to say no politely, explaining the reason for no and possibly offering alternative solutions. No to discounts, no to impossible timelines and no to extra work you can’t do.
- Don’t worry. Worrying never solved anything. Sleepless nights don’t solve problems. Stop worrying about the things you can’t control – it doesn’t help. Stop worrying about the things you can control, and rather take action to ensure you don’t have to worry about them.
Construction is difficult, it is stressful, things will go wrong, people will let us down, clients will be unreasonable. But we often make our jobs more stressful. We create extra problems. We take on extra work we shouldn’t. We don’t delegate. We don’t plan and we are disorganised.
Take a step back and look at how you are managing your project. What can you do differently? What can you change? Don’t let stress send you to an early grave. A less stressed you will be a more efficient you, and a more pleasant person for your colleagues and your family.
Is your project stressing you out? Why? What can you change?
'Construction Claims: A Short Guide for Contractors' is another of Paul's useful books. These books are available on Amazon and other online book stores.
Paul publishes articles regularly on LinkedIn and his website.
Paul writes regular articles for other websites, gives lectures, mentors, and is available for podcasts and interviews.
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