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FOCUS ON WHAT’S IMPORTANT

[I wrote this in March 2013 and posted it to Project Management, Tips. It takes about 2 minutes to read.]

We’re in the middle of a big bang style project implementation as I write this. It’s the first time for the junior PM managing it, and the umpteenth time for me, and whilst she is busy stressing about the things that are not going quite to plan the only value I’m adding is a little bit of calm and focus.

She’s very good, but just like anybody in that situation it’s easy to get distracted. You’re stressed, you’re anxious, and it’s also performance management time. The pressure is on.

If you’re reading this and you’ve also been thrown in at the deep end, know that is so only because people have confidence in you. Over time I learned a few tricks to help me get through these kinds of high pressure implementations.

  • Feeling overwhelmed? Go to a cold bit of the office and throw a ball around. Sounds silly, but taking five minutes to not think about the problem and cool your body down a little will work wonders. If you’re reading this more than a few weeks from posting the chances are this link won’t work for you, but a recent Horizon programme looked at the science behind how inspiration works. One of the things they looked at was the effect on the mind of permitting small distractions when performing complex tasks. Worth a watch or a search to read more.
  • Figure out in advance what your learning style is. Knowing how you best process information is key to being able to handle stressful situations like this. I’m a visual learner, so if I’m going to solve a problem quickly / prioritise activities / keep myself on track I need to draw it out. Applying a little psychology to myself allows me to be more effective.
  • Consciously slow your speech. This one isn’t for you. It’s for those around you. If you’re speaking at 50km/h the message you’re sending to those around you is that there is something wrong. It will increase levels of anxiety. Even if you think the world is collapsing around you, slow your speech down and you’ll find the group dynamic shifts. People will join you and feel less inclined to act rashly.
  • Refer to your plan. A plan isn’t a deliverable people force you to write purely for the sake of it. It’s your security blanket. It’s your umbrella on a blisteringly sunny day. It’s that hot chocolate with marshmallows floating in it. It is your way of knowing whether the problem you’re facing is a big deal or not. It is your stress litmus paper, and you should make damn sure you use it.

Anyway, that’s my two penneth worth as I wait for an email to tell me that this little snag is sorted. Wish us luck!

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