Management Today

We do not need to have a brilliant IQ score to realize that the modernization of our social environment is going hand in hand with a progressive and huge increase of the number of stressors to which people are exposed every day.

Technological evolution

The way we interact and relate to the others is already quite a lot different from the dynamics which, no later than the last century, our ancestors were used to.

Most of the media are evolving, personal computers and high-tech devices are affordable for a wide portion of the population. No matters if we are searching for entertainment, news, education, technical information, people... the access to those data that, few decades ago, would have been unimaginable to collect and circulate in less than days and days, can be granted in few seconds to a huge audience. Just a few clicks, or a tap, then a look to a screen and we've done.

Where our grandparents spent days and days in writing documents, or for travelling, communicating, building things, in consolidating relationships and in making deals, the current generations can reach the same results, or even better, in a negligible period of time compared to what was possible prior to the mass introduction of all the modern tools which feature the Internet days.

Thanks to an unprecedented progress in fields like transportation and information management, in few hours we can fix a meeting, arrange multiple sets of data, electronically share, revise and print them in excellent quality, move from a region to another (even better, having  teleconferences, we no longer need to travel), negotiate a proposal and come back to the office with a new contract.
This in parallel to keep us updated about what is going on the other side of the world, what are doing our relatives, our friends and our colleagues. Everything thanks to Internet, emails, and social networks.
We can manage in a bunch of hours the contacts and the issues that our grandparents could have managed in one week or more.

It is undisputed that, by improving the media and the technology, we are saving time for many things, improving the results of our actions.

Evolution takes its tolls

We have the privilege to be part of the digital revolution and we can take the best from it.

The other side of the coin is that the way our social environment is globally changing, stretched by a competition worldwide, demands people to invest that time which is saved by means of the technology to deliver a wider amount of tasks.

In other words, the system tends to balance the advantage brought by the new technology with an extended range of the things to be done in the original timeframe. And that's a pretty obvious consideration, time is money, we all try to optimize our results to improve our status.

One of the drawbacks to be properly managed in the above circumstances is the personal stress.

A multi-core project manager

We receive 10, 100, 1000 emails or messages per week about work, fun, news...and we try to digest all that content to understand what's in for us.

In multiplying the number of the tasks to be done in parallel and in expanding the analysis of all the information which are being received, we need an increased rational ability to "read" what surrounds us.
Instinctively, we tend to adjust our intellectual behavior in order to cover the whole picture. I believe that's a natural tendency to cope with an artificial communication frame. A kind of self-imposed rhythm and engagement aimed to be part of the digital era.

With an adequate training and a consolidated experience we can learn to measure the limits we have and enjoy the advantages of the technology. 
In contrast, the risk behind a no-boundaries approach is to be overwhelmed and exposed to persistent high levels of stress, jeopardizing the performances.

That risk is particularly concrete for a manager not well prepared to face the challenge and the workload of a complex project or portfolio.

Stressors & defense

It is just unrealistic to say that nowadays we can avoid exposure to all of the elements that may cause tension and stress, if we are responsible for a work associated to risks&opportunities. 
Nevertheless, I guess the consciousness of our limits be already a good starting point to enjoy our job.

Far from being a scientific treatise about the biochemistry of the stress and the negative impact of a chronic tension for a human organism, this short page intends to focus on those which could be the most common stressors for a project manager and provide a personal view of the defense line that is worth to draw.

Stress sources
  • Workload. No Saturday, no Sunday...sporadic stops from working. You do not even remember the last time you took a breath because of the "current" workload? To be caught up in many things can be exciting. To be caught up in too many things can lead to anxiety, to get nervous for most of the day and put at risk the results.
  • Wrong beliefs. Underestimation of the own limits, inability to say no and set any boundary, the idea that a non-stop stress context is an integral part of your efforts. The concept that everything must be under control by default and there is no margin for errors.
  • Environment. An isolated workplace, a traffic jam, a noisy office, an annoying colleague sitting close, a relentless boss, repeated conflicts, integrity issues, too travelling.
  • Emotions. Irrational emotions are part of our human nature. As everybody experienced, they can come out of the blue, not necessarily driven by the context as one would expect. They can be hard to be mitigated or hidden quickly. In turn, the feeling to loose, even partially, the control may increase the stress level. Also, in holding a leadership position, the project manager is frequently exposed to scrutiny by others, self assessment, evaluations and judge from the audience when she/he present project issues. S/he needs to cope with intense situations and at times tough negotiations. All the above may be a source of stress.
  • Dependencies. Last but not least, alcohol, nicotine, drugs, psychotropic pills. It's proven that abuses and dependencies are going to affect health and the rewarding feelings they may provide are just temporary, with a lot of negative side effects that are long terms most of the times.


It is not the intention here to reinvent the wheel, but to provide some general and good sense items based upon personal experience.

  • Workload
    1. In case of an excessive and long lasting endeavour that may jeopardize both your health and your results, it is worth to be humble and ask for help. The last thing the management needs is a professional out of the game and a project out of control all of a sudden because of a vacancy. This is a pretty obvious point but it is not always taken into consideration when you are holding a leadership role.
    2. Delegate some tasks to subordinates.
    3. Apply some good project management principles and verify that the team is doing what is required to do on time.
    4. Revisit your personal agenda and priorities. If you are agonizing over a million of deliverables which are expiring shortly, the issue might stem from a wrong balance of the workload from the management, but it is also likely that you are doing the work on behalf of someone else, or you are just spending too much time for a task. A reconsideration of the owners of each activity can be beneficial to readjust the workload.
    5. Renegotiate the deadlines where possible. If you had some buffer to bear a delay without suffering any loss or you know that your customer is not going to be affected by a delayed deliverable, ask for a postponement and take the chance to reorganize the work.
    6. It can be worth to verify, document and substantiate the need for additional resources. It is not going to be easy to obtain them, but that also depends on the credibility you have in the organization. If you don't ask help, you do not get help. 
  • Wrong beliefs
    1. We do have limits and there is nothing embarrassing in admitting that. Personally I prefer a mate who tells his own limits and try to exceed the expectations rather a professional that hides them initially and then disappoint the team.
    2. Strive to recognize in the problems a tremendous opportunity to grow and gain experience. Try to change perspective and reconsider the issues on the table as a possibility to show your ability to find a solution. Most of the people are good at stating which is the problem and describe a catastrophe, few of them are able to fix it. In my career, every time I have approached a complex issue as an opportunity, it was a lot more easy and at times even entertaining to close it. It is all about a positive mindset.
    3. In addition to learn on the job, we are surrounded by plenty of courses and training, certification programs and different career paths to improve the limits that we feel to have.
  • Environment
    1. Use meeting rooms for private and important discussions rather than open spaces.
    2. If you can't change your desk, you can promote the use of ear phones during a call in order to reduce the noise for other people.
    3. Companies like Google promote the use of unconventional offices, fresh and colored  If you don't work there, you may embellish your desk with a couple of photos and little things you love. Usually it is allowed and it helps to make you feel relaxed.
    4. Do not let email always replace and encroach the advantages of a good face to face discussion. The electronic communication is great when we have to condensate information and data to be used later on and schematize the message we want to deliver. With an abnormal and insane flow of emails, people stop talking and the communication tends to be one-way, in example: "I wrote to you yesterday my friend! I am sorry if you could not read my message. I cannot babysitting you". That's a kind of mis-communication you do not want on your project. The communication is such only if the sender delivers a message and get an acknowledgement by receiver, otherwise is more paper for lawyers rather than help for the project. As analogy with IT, if you will, think about good protocols like TCP/IP.
    5. One of my favorite rules is to always strive to write emails like the day after should be published. No blame, just facts. This is instrumental to mitigate conflicts and avoid an inquisitive approach. Subsequently, less stress.
    6. Integrity issues can have real deleterious effects on a single person, on the project execution, potentially on the entire organization! Misconducts are always to be reported with no hesitation.
  • Dependances
    1. Personally, I tend to see black or white this kind of stressor. Just don't use/abuse any harmful substance.
  • Emotions
    1. Personal training to understand the own emotions can help. There is plenty of self training to facilitate an assessment of what we feel. A good repository of resources on this subject, developed by a non profit organization, is here.
    2. Start to take some time for your body and relax, hear natural sounds and smells.
    3. Enjoy cooking a cake or reading a book surrounded by silence or by a relaxing ambient music.
    4. Practice Yoga or other sports, even a short walk with your pet is beneficial to feel more relaxed.
    5. Help through appropriate medical therapy where needed.

Family & friends 

I like to mention a portion of a short speech by Brian Dyson (former CEO of Coca Cola) about the balance between work and personal time, which is self explaining:
"Family has the priority on work. 
Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. 
You name them - Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit and you're keeping all of these in the air.  
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. 
But the other four balls - Family, Health, Friends and Spirit - are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. 
You must understand that and strive for it."

I believe the above words are inviting to be good workers and, first, persons that do not leave their life slip through the fingers.

Thanks for reading.

The Project Manager Pad