A Project Manager’s Thanksgiving Thoughts

Are you like me?  I go to the store, watch TV, and read the paper – but all I am seeing is “Christmas themes.”  So, What happened to Thanksgiving?

I like the Thanksgiving holiday. It provides a chance to get together with people you care about without some of the stress that characterizes other holidays. On Thanksgiving, you share food prepared from your family’s traditional recipes and it all smells wonderful. Some of us even forget about limiting calories and saturated fats for this one meal.

In the spirit of this uniquely American celebration, I thought about some things project managers (and all information workers) might be thankful for like:

  • Having a job in this tough economy
  • A boss and organization that respect family time
  • Clients who understand you can have faster, cheaper or better — but not all three at once
  • The opportunity to work on projects that solve problems and help people
  • The fact that you actually liked math and science in school
  • Working indoors when the weather is bad (of course, you also have to work indoors when the weather is wonderful)
  • Having some pretty cool job tools ( I really enjoy having SharePoint, MS Project and my iPad)
  • You have colleagues you admire and respect
  • Getting to learn new things frequently ( Especially in our profession –that is one of the traits of a good worker)
  • Being able to work from home sometimes (I usually spend a third of my time working out of my home office – which is where I get 50% of my work done)
  • The support from loved ones for the times when you have to spend many hours at the office or on the road

So to all of you that are clients, colleagues, friends, virtual team members, fellow bloggers, project managers, friends and family – I say:

I would also like to thank my fellow bloggers for keeping me interested in the profession and on my toes:

Glen B. Alleman –       Herding Cats

Todd Boehm –            World Class Technology Discussions

Barbara Brown –         Alternating Currents

Brad Egeland –           Brad Egeland Blog

Elizabeth Harrin –       A girls Guide to Project Management

Next week, I will continue with Part 3 of the discussion on content management systems.

Vacations for Project Managers

Project managers – myself included – find it difficult to break away from the office, if not physically then mentally.  So many times at events, out to dinners, driving or walking around I see folks who look like they might be Project Managers on the phone, texting, checking their PDS (iPhone, Droid, Blackberries). Even in spaces that are supposed to be places to get-away – are not.  OK- for those of you that are colleagues, I know this is the pot calling the kettle black, but PMs you really do need periodic relief from the stress of managing a project – it is called a vacation.

Why do PMs have trouble taking a vacation?
Now let’s play a game – can you name all of the reasons NOT to take vacation:

  1. Everything is your responsibility
  2. It is so easy to stay in touch.
  3. You worry about what might happen if you do not respond immediately to a message. It is not that you do not trust the second in command… see reason 1
  4. Work is key to your identity (Your work IS your life)
  5. No one else is taking time off

Ron Ashkenas writing for Harvard Business Review blogs says, “Expedia’s annual Vacation Deprivation survey found that, in 2009, 34% of employed U.S. adults did not take their full allotment of vacation days. What’s worse is that workers in the United States receive fewer vacation days on average than those in any other major country.” (see work life balance calculator to see how you are doing.)

Health Reasons to Take Vacations
“Vacations Are Good for You, Medically Speaking” reports the NY Times (June 7, 2008) offering three medical studies demonstrating value of REAL vacations.

  • The Framingham Heart Study, which started in 1948, looked at questionnaires women in the study had filled out over 20 years about how often they took vacations. Those women who took a vacation once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year.
  • Another study, published in 2000, looked at 12,000 men over nine years who were at high risk for coronary heart disease. Those who failed to take annual vacations had a 21 percent higher risk of death from all causes and were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack.
  • A study in 2006 asked a group of 15 people who were flying from the West Coast of the United States to New Zealand for vacations lasting a week to 12 days to wear a wrist device that monitored quantity and quality of sleep — for three days before the trip, during the vacation and three days afterward.  They kept a sleep diary and took a vigilance test to determine how good their reactions were before, during and after the holiday. Here’s what he found. After a few days on vacation — and it usually took two to three — people were averaging an hour more of good quality sleep. And, there was an 80 percent improvement in their reaction times.

Some Other Good Reasons to Take Vacations
When you push everyday at 110% for extended periods of time, your psyche – spirit – motivation – whatever you want to call your work-committed spark dims. We call this burnout and it can happen to anyone no matter the importance of his or her job or what satisfaction they derived from it. Believe it is real and I have seen it!  Vacations provide stress relief that defers or eliminates burnout.  Tyr these reasons to take a vacation:

  1. Better problem solving and greater tolerance for normal, but irritating events, can result from the decompression of a vacation.
  2. Your staff may extend their skills by picking up occasional slack when you are unavailable. (They may appreciate what you do more, too!)
  3. Your brain gets a chance to unwind from the situations at work and perhaps actually “play”.
  4. You will realize that your project and team can exist without you around every minute of the day.
  5. You will get to spend quality time with people you love and know without the daily stress of work.

Comment from Tim Berry writing for Bplans.com about people who do not take vacations, “It’s bad for your life". Business is to serve life, not life to serve business. Make no mistake about it; if you choose to “work all day, every day” do it purposely and knowingly, recognizing that you’re sacrificing your life for a business. Stay single and alone. Don’t ever have kids.”

What to do
If you are persuaded of the benefits to your health and your performance achieved by taking a serious vacation, what’s next? Look at your project schedule. Do your best to select a time when there are no critical deliverables and no customer visits. To the extent possible, pick two weeks that do not coincide with major company events. Stick to your plan even when complications arise.

Provide notice in advance to your management, team, and stakeholders.  And do not let someone say “we can’t get along without you”.

Appoint a proxy and inform key personnel that that person has the authority to act in your absence. Meet with that person the day before your vacation begins to review any pending activities, issues, or expectations. And, ok, leave that person a contact number just in case (If you trust them enough to allow then to act on your behalf, trust them enough not to abuse the contact information).

Relax, have a good time, and drink one for me – then return ready to take up the PM mantle again.


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