I was watching a police drama show on TV as background noise the other night and someone in charge was telling an officer, “What you just experienced is stressful and carries potential long term emotional impact. You need to schedule an appointment with the department shrink to help you deal with your feelings.”
Hmmm, I said to myself. Project management can be very stressful at times. I have had nightmares about unanticipated problems, start-up failures, and integration debacles. However, I do not remember anyone suggesting I get counseling support to deal with my feelings.
So I wandered around in my head and constructed this possible dialogue between a PM and a therapist.
Good morning, Bruce. Have a seat. I understand you are a project manager and you may be experiencing some job-related stress.
Yeah, I guess so.
Tell me about your job. What does a project manager do?
(Oh, good grief!) I manage a small group of very talented people trying to build software with too few resources, too little time and unrealistic expectations.
What kinds of tasks does a project manager do?
I plan, manage risks, develop schedules, handle quality control, deal with stakeholders, report to senior management, create budgets, negotiate with other project managers, write proposals, develop presentations, travel — a lot of travel — I write reports, manage personality conflicts …
Excuse me for interrupting, Bruce. But, are all of those tasks necessary for project management?
And then some. I haven’t even mentioned keeping up with new technologies, estimating, evaluating …
Ok. I think I get the idea. You have many different tasks to do. How does that make you feel?
Feel? I don’t understand the question. This is not about feelings. This is my job.
Are you anxious about work? Have trouble sleeping? Find yourself thinking about work even when you are not there?
Do you take me-time to relax and refresh? Like reading a book or taking long weekends? Or, just sitting quietly? Like me, even though I am talking with you, I am sitting in a comfortable chair and I can look out the window at the flowers and birds — give my mind a beauty break.
For example, don’t you feel more relaxed after you returned to work from a long vacation?
I don’t remember. Right after I got back from my last vacation two years ago, we had a system meltdown. All I could think was that maybe if I had stayed there, I could have prevented it.
You seem to have an overly developed sense of responsibility. Perhaps you need to cut yourself some slack.
(yeah, and lose my job) Being responsible is part of the job.
Sounds like you do not have much personal time. Taking time for yourself helps reduce stress and anxiety. You can actually do a more effective job when you are not stressed out. Let’s talk about your work environment. What problems at work create the greatest anxiety for you?
I guess people problems. Like when two of my team members developed a personal relationship that then went south. Now, they won’t work together and if they are in the same room, one of them shouts bad things at the other.
Can you remove one of them from the team?
No I have to work around it. We are already short-handed. I cannot afford to lose either one.
How does that make you feel?
(Is there a polite way to say this …) Frustrated, I guess.
Well, there’s the paperwork and useless meetings and …
Sorry to interrupt again, but I see that we are out of time. I appreciate your coming in, Bruce. We will need to meet again next year to see how things are going. Remember, the minefields of life never go away; we just get better at navigating them (stolen from “Necessary Roughness”).I hope our session helped you see the importance of relaxing and reducing stress in your life.
Well that was a fun — and relaxing — trip through my imagination.
Guess I will get back to work, now – I have at least 20 emails waiting on me to solve problems!