Tips on preventing work burnout and handling job stress. How do you handle an overwhelming workload with grace and sanity? How can I quickly become a good project manager? What should I do until I have the project management skills to actually handle the workload I've been assigned? (I'm kind of freaking out here.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
[Sorry in advance for the length, but if it's too much for you, the front page question basically sums it up.]
My job feels really overwhelming. I'm managing three major projects simultaneously, each of which could alone easily fill the timescale we have for doing them. Because I'm managing a team of volunteers to push these projects forward as fast as possible, there are constant interruptions. Other high organizational priorities ("where are we with the budget?") constantly come up and require hours of effort. I feel like I can't get anything done, timelines are slipping, the quality of the work isn't as good as I'd like, and I constantly feel behind.
The small organization I work for is very well-run, and I have an incredible boss. So it really does feel like my fault things aren't going well -- all the work not getting done is that I didn't figure out what I needed fast enough, didn't say "that deadline is unrealistic," didn't realize "if we expand Project #1 that way, Project #2's timeline will slip by months." If I had, people probably would have helped, though they certainly do want all this work to happen. This is the first time I've had project management responsibility on this scale, and I'm trying to quickly acquire those skills, plus basic skills like knowing realistically how long things will take, realizing when I should say "no," figuring out and asking for what I need, and so forth. I'm getting better, but slowly.
I really want to be good at this job, and for those brief stretches when things are under control, it's exciting and fun. And things are under control more often now. So, it's not entirely impossible that I'll end up being able to handle this (though maybe some projects will need to get downscaled).
There are good weeks and bad weeks. For about three weeks in June & July, I was completely burned out -- discouraged, apathetic, hopeless, unhappy. Then I had a burst of can-do energy, got things in order, started working 12 hour days, and for two weeks, things were flowing along smoothly and a lot got done. But at the end of last week, things got derailed. Something unforeseen came up that took days to fix. Then, right when I was returning to the work I'd been planning to accomplish, one of those trump-card organizational questions came up. By Thursday, I'd fallen out of project manager mode into "do whatever pops up in your face" mode, and today, I was in a "why bother trying?" funk and listlessly organized my desk (obviously not a very productive response to overload and frustration).
Now, I'm trying to get back on top of things, but I'm disheartened enough that I can't exactly focus. I feel really behind, so I'm torn between taking the weekend off (and you know, somehow totally repressing how upset I feel at everything being out of control again), or coming in to catch up on what I meant to have been doing today (what would that actually have been, given the bajillion options? am I too burned out that I'd do nothing at all?). By the end of the day, I just wanted to cry on the floor of my office ("I give up, I can't do this"), and yell at all the people who expect me to keep up (it seems like no one realizes just how much work is really involved), and lash out at people making little, reasonable requests ("why don't you do it yourself? what are you even working on?"). I was still able to seem calm, but obviously, I need to quickly figure out how to handle this better.
So, how do I get better, fast? Perhaps more realistically, how do I keep it together while I get better over time? Can you suggest any scaffolding to support me while I build up the project management skills I need? Are there some key pillars I can quickly get in place? How do I eventually make this job take only 8 hours a day (9 even)? tips are welcome. Book recommendations and general advice are both good, about either handling work stress or managing projects. Thanks for any ideas you have.