A bit of stress is good for your brain
There is no coincidence that top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress, allowing themselves to remain calm and in control.
Resilience – the capacity to mobilise personal resources in order to deal with adversity, and therefore, prevent or reduce stress – is key to this.
This resilience is crucial for project managers, for whom stress is an inherent part of the job.
Being responsible for their projects’ success or failure – not only for the good of their organisation but for their status within that organisation, their wider reputation and their income means that in many instances, if a project isn’t brought in on time, a project manager can lose pay, or at worst, their job.
While this black and white approach can bring great emotional reward and is a challenge that many project managers embrace – they are at much more risk of stress getting too much – especially when they are the only one responsible for results, and the results are not looking good.
Also, when you consider that change is a big cause of stress, it’s not hard to see how being in a position of driving change and regularly dealing with the unexpected makes stress unavoidable.
The good news is that moderate levels of stress can improve our performance as our brains are designed to respond to the peaks in our emotional state that stress creates – leading us to take action.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have revealed an upside to experiencing moderate levels of stress – as long as it is kept under control.
The study into why some stress is good for you found that the onset of stress entices the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory.
However, this effect is only seen when stress is intermittent. As soon as the stress continues beyond a few moments into a prolonged state, it suppresses the brain’s ability to develop new cells.
Using well-honed coping strategies under intense situations are therefore necessary to keep stress at a healthy level – and most importantly – the brain alert.
In his Forbes article, How Successful People Stay Calm, Travis Bradberry reveals the well-honed strategies top-performers employ under stressful circumstances to lower their stress levels regardless of what’s happening in their environment – ensuring that their stress is intermittent rather than prolonged.
In a nutshell these are: Thinking of reasons to be grateful; Not worrying about the What Ifs; Finding something positive to focus on when thoughts turn negative; Switching yourself off and spending time away from stress; Drinking less caffeine; Getting a decent night’s sleep; Separating negative thoughts from the facts by writing them down into more rational thoughts; Putting unproductive thoughts into perspective to see what is actually going wrong, rather than thinking everything is; Concentrating only on your breathing to let go of distracting thoughts lodged in your brain; Getting help from support networks when feeling overwhelmed.
Stress and productivity
Unlike other more generic areas, the amount of stress in project management is directly fuelled by the economic models of production and delivery – and the ever increasing demands that these put on project management success.
In his article Tangible Tips for Handling the Endless Stress in Project Management, Dr. Steven Flannes describes how project management is inherently stressful due to matrix management, singular problem solving, project unpredictability and trends such as virtual teams and the implicit expectation of a 24/7 work cycle.
More significantly though, he explains how for project managers, dealing effectively with stress is not just about feeling better, it is about maximizing productivity.
Project managers therefore need to be able to moderate their stress levels not just in order to cope, but to excel at high performance and efficiency.
It is the ability to perform at their highest cognitive levels when facing stress that project managers need to strive for.
He explains how addressing stress is key to avoiding the consequences of stress, such as poor decision making, ‘task shedding’ (the dropping of key tasks) and reduced attention span – as well as emotional behaviour such as withdrawing from the team.
Techniques therefore that project managers should employ to help counter-balance the stress include focussing on what is going right with the project, using only facts to make decisions, the effective monitoring of scope and avoiding quick fix solutions.
Other more generic, yet still project-management related ‘best practices’ are to remember that a project can still be good while not necessarily perfect, that your standards might be higher than others, that it is not a perfect world, to feel comfortable with change and ambiguity and to simply take a breather now and then.
This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: How Project Managers Keep Calm and Stay Efficient
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