Project management can be a highly stressful career, particularly at start-up and closure, the two busiest points of a project. And the part in the middle—execution—can be pretty full-on, too.
Every part of the project life cycle has its ups and downs. You’re preoccupied thinking about work when you're home, and you’re thinking about all the things that need to be done at home when you're at work. It’s hard to stay focused on the job at hand when you’re splitting your brain in half.
Knowing how to keep a balance and staying mentally and physically healthy is important, and you can achieve by implementing a few tips.
What Is Work/Life Balance?
Achieving work/life balance means that your life doesn’t get in the way of your job and your job doesn’t stop you from having a life.
Many people—particularly entrepreneurs and business owners—have intertwined their work with their lives to the extent that it’s almost impossible to see where one ends and the other begins.
It's up to you to take steps to draw the line.
Surround Yourself With Experts
Consider constructing your project management team to include all the key roles you need to get the work completed. You can delegate more effectively and know that everyone has the tasks covered when you have all your important project team roles filled.
Not only does this give you more confidence, but you don’t have to do everything yourself. And anything you can do to give yourself more breathing time each week is a good thing.
Track Your Projects
You won't be rushing around trying to find the latest status or putting project reports together at the last minute if you know how to track your projects.
Having systems in place that keep you organized goes a long way toward supporting your work/life balance. Work takes longer when it isn’t structured. The more structure, processes, and organization you build into your time on the job, the easier it will be to walk away at the end of the day and enjoy your ‘life’ time.
Use the right project management tools to get the job done and you’ll save a lot of time.
Learn From Your Mistakes
Making the same errors at work time after time is a waste of energy. Schedule time for "lessons learned" meetings and document what comes out of them, then learn. Don’t make those mistakes again.
Take some time to implement what you've discovered and tweak your project to take advantage of that knowledge. Improve your processes and how you do what you do, and you’ll probably find that you have more time in the day for the good stuff.
Go Home on Time
Make an effort to "leave" on time, even if you work from home. Get up from your desk or project, walk away, and close the door behind you.
The days of hero project managers staying all night to fix problems are long gone. Management scientists acknowledge that those ways of getting things done are inefficient in the long term. They set a terrible example for your staff and your project team.
Presenteeism isn’t a good trait to encourage if you don't want your team burning out.
Judge your team’s productivity by their results, not by the number of hours they spend at their desks. This goes for you, too.
Skip Activities That Sap Your Time
Of course, this can be easier said than done when it comes to job duties, but think about what else you're doing during your zero-productive minutes each day.
Maybe you check your personal emails, social media, or bank balance repeatedly. Ask yourself if anything has dramatically changed since the last time you looked. You might check in with your babysitter more than is necessary. You can probably hear her rolling her eyes over the phone. Maybe you lose precious minutes listening to that always-complaining coworker's latest tale of woe.
Consider minimizing these times, or even X-ing them out entirely. That's additional free time you have for more important things...like yourself.
Embrace Flexible Working
Sometimes you will have to work outside core hours—it comes with the territory. And it’s highly probable if you work with an international team. Someone has to chair that call with Singapore at 9 p.m., and it will be you as often as not.
But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your personal time. Finish earlier on a different day so you can catch your child’s soccer game. Or maybe start a little later on another day so you can take the kids to school.
You’ll probably need a supportive office culture to make flexible working a success. You might find it hard to convince those up the hierarchy that you're getting everything done if your manager is dead set against it. But keep trying.
Being flexible is probably the most important way to manage a work/life balance.
Learn How to Deal With Stress
Everyone has different approaches to dealing with their personal stressors. It's up to you to identify the best coping strategies for you.
This might mean taking a proper lunch break, going for a walk, exercising, or spending time with your pets. When you know what your go-to de-stressing activities are, you can plan to do them whenever your work/life balance begins to feel a bit out of kilter.
Build Gaps Into Your Day
One of the easiest ways to feel that your work/life balance is correct—or at least good enough—is to build downtime or gaps into your day. This gives you a chance to catch up mentally, and perhaps to slow down a little as well.
Don’t schedule project meetings back to back. Build in a little gap between each meeting. Your attendees will appreciate that, too, because it gives them time to grab a drink, take a comfort break, or check their messages before the next working session starts.
You can’t exactly pop to the gym in the few minutes between each meeting, but stepping away for a moment or five will help you gather your thoughts.
Settle for "Good Enough"
Of course, you want your project to be perfect, but ask yourself if it really matters. It probably doesn't make a difference that your project management plan isn’t formatted perfectly when the only ones who are going to see it are execs who will skim read it anyway.
Give up on being perfect. Sometimes you do need the product to be top-of-the-line, of course, but you'll want to ensure that you have the time to achieve that. You can’t hand a mobile app over to a client if the code is full of bugs. The trick here is to look for tasks that just need to be completed to a "good enough" standard.
The more you can make your job feel like fun, the less it will feel like a chore. Most of these work/life balance tips are about finding more time to do the cool stuff you want to do with your friends and family. But your life will be a little better all around if your job becomes part of the cool stuff.
Look for ways to motivate your project team so you can all feel good about being at work.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes your balance will shift more in favor of work. Sometimes it will be more in favor of home, and it will be relatively equal at other times. It can fluctuate due to the demands of your job and your personal life. As long as you feel that it’s OK for now and that it's working for you, that’s good.