Being a project manager is not without its fair share of stress, as I’m sure you probably know! Many retail project managers start their lives as operational colleagues – working in stores, depots or operational elements of the office.Eventually, through promotion or a particular opportunity, they have the chance to move to the head office, marking the next major step in their careers. While this can be exciting and fulfilling, it can also come with pressure. This is a different type of pressure which no amount of years on the shop floor can really prepare you for. As a result, many suffer from project manager stress. So, what causes it and what can you do to combat stress?

What Causes Project Managers So Much Stress?

First and foremost, project managers are racked with responsibilities which they may not have been used to in the past. For example, your actions could effectively “make or break” your company’s quarterly performance. You’re also likely to get targets and pressure applied by leadership and the C-suite.

You also have a lot of risks and issues to deal with as a project manager. There will be a constant flurry of real and potential problems, such as missed deadlines and lagging activities, adding to the weight on your shoulders.

Your team can also have a profound effect on your stress levels. An unruly and chaotic team could prove too difficult for even the most experienced of project managers to control. At the end of the day, if your project team is not willing to comply and meet their targets, there’s only so much you can do to improve their work ethic and drive.

It’s essential to combat stress and pressure, as project manager stress can soon couple with work overload. Soon, you could destroy your health and tip the scales of your work/life balance in an unfavourable direction.

Can You Eliminate All Project Manager stress?

In short, no. The nature of project work means that there is almost always going to be an important deadline coming up or a new risk or issue emerging from nowhere. But more interestingly, you may actually not want to remove all of the stress.

There is a theory which says that stress or pressure can increase your performance up to a certain point.

But, isn’t project manager stress always a bad thing?

This is a tricky question to answer. Although we often want to combat stress in our lives, some project manager stress can encourage you to keep on your toes. It can help you keep your eyes on the prize, ensuring that the project continues to progress smoothly. In a strange way, a healthy amount of project manager stress (if such a thing exists) can actually increase performance. That increased pressure can give you the edge and make you better at your job. Let’s put it this way – any Hiring Manager worth their salt would not choose a super laid back person to manage a project of any decent size. Sometimes you need someone who’s a bit of a stress-head!

Some research has suggested that there is an optimal amount of stress which helps peak your performance. The Yerkes-Dodson curve, for example, demonstrates the relationship between stress levels and mental performance. The theory indicates that too much stress will diminish your brainpower. Equally, very low stress levels do not demand or drive a good performance.  Meanwhile, hitting just the right amount of stress will send your brain into its peak performance mode. In fact, it has been found that the average person’s IQ can drop by 15 points when they become too stressed out. So, it’s best to combat stress without going too far in either direction!

Here’s my interpretation of the Yerkes-Dodson curve for you. You can see where you’re sitting in the comfort zone, when you have the right motivating pressure as well as when you get overwhelmed.

Finding the right amount of project manager stress

Read more about the Yerkes-Dodson curve.

How to Combat Stress Effectively

Here are 4 approaches for you to help combat stress so that you can increase that performance level.

1. Find the root cause

When you realise that you’re becoming worn out due to project manager stress, take a minute to calm down and understand what’s causing it. Start by identifying the root cause of your problems. Performing a “brain dump” is a good idea too. Try writing your thoughts out onto paper or a digital document, in order to observe your internal commentary and understand what going on underneath all that inevitable project manager stress.

2. Manage mind talk and prioritise

In order to fight project manager stress, you should also manage your mind talk and prioritize your tasks. Organizing your thoughts and duties efficiently in a way that makes sense for you and your preferred way of doing things. If that doesn’t work, try simply taking a break or sleeping, although that can be easier said than done. Particularly if you’re in that red overwhelm zone!

3. Get your blood pumping

When trying to relax doesn’t work, many project managers find that exercise helps them to unwind. Although the thought of slogging it down at the gym doesn’t seem too stress-relieving, exercise is proven to release endorphins which make you happy. Plus, it’s good to get blood and oxygen pumping around your body, keeping both your body and mind fit and healthy. But it doesn’t need to be a full on gym session. A brisk walk outside can have the same effect and it a lot easier to fit into your busy schedule.

4. Transform how you’re working

Still finding it hard to combat stress as an overwhelmed project manager? Well, maybe it’s time for you to change your approach entirely! For example, try a different process for your work. Or consult with an experienced colleague and get their advice. You could start by tackling the most pressing challenges which are in front of you, or at least get the tasks done which you already know are going to be easy to complete. Simply getting some things done (if not all things) can ease the workload which is playing on your mind and release more endorphins as you feel a sense of relief wash over you.

Project Manager stress is a real problem which affects even the most experienced Project Managers out there. Although it can be hard to be a Project Manager without losing your mind sometimes, follow these tips in order to take some of the weight off of your shoulders and combat stress properly.

You may also enjoy reading another article about work overload and overwhelm.

project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert at delivering retail change projects and programmes. He blends classic project management techniques from PRINCE2, PMBOK and Lean Six Sigma with a dose of pragmatism and business reality to ensure retail projects are led, managed and delivered successfully.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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