Leadership

Managing yourself through a challenge


I often write in this blog about managing others through problems or crises because it's part of the day-to-day experience as a manager/leader. But what about managing yourself? You've probably found yourself at some point faced with a project or task that you have to tackle, but for whatever reason you can't seem to accomplish it.

Let's say you're trying to attain a certification such as your PMP, CPA, or a certification in ITIL or Six Sigma. Many organizations now are asking their managers to get certifications as part of their performance/growth plans and some are tying them to future employment or bonuses, the ability to advance in the organization, etc. In these situations, only you can learn the information. You can't pay someone to learn for you (no matter how much you would like to).

So what do you do when you're faced with a task like this and find that you're not progressing as you should or maybe even failing to accomplish the task? First of all, fight the temptation to beat yourself up over it. Manage your way through the situation.

Begin by creating a plan for yourself. If you feel like you're facing a mountain, climb the mountain by taking one step at a time. The point is to attack your own problem the way you would any other management challenge you've dealt with. Make your plan specific and identify milestones that you can accomplish that will give you a sense of moving forward.

When creating your plan, identify any and all resources you can take advantage of to help you accomplish your goal. You can't delegate the task, but that doesn't mean you can't get help, nor does it mean you can't delegate other tasks to give you the necessary extra time to accomplish your task.

Create an aggressive plan and stick to it! Follow your plan and schedule as if you were managing a project. You don't take excuses from others when they fail to handle key deliverables in your project plans, don't take any from yourself.

Divest yourself of as many duties as you can both at home and at work until you reach your goal. There are only so many hours in a day so you have to make time for yourself to work your plan.

There's also a limit to how much energy you have to expend. Making a super human effort to accomplish your task and not changing things around you isn't going to work. In fact, that's probably the reason you've struggled and are at this juncture anyway. It's not about burning the candle at both ends; it's about managing the burning of the candle in order to be successful.

Celebrate your milestones and build in some incentives for hitting them on time. You probably aren't shy about criticizing yourself, so don't be shy about rewarding yourself either.

Embrace your task. It's more difficult to be successful if you find your task repugnant. Embracing your task will help you move forward and energize you in the accomplishment of your goal.

Don't give your task a great deal of lip service. Create the plan, work the plan, and get it done. Whining will just help you procrastinate and aid you in giving yourself permission to fail.

Remember the goal of your plan and make sure your plan is realistic and flexible - yet always evaluate changes in your plan to see how it will affect your schedule.

Perform your risk assessment prior to forming your plan and throughout your personal project. You know what your distractions are, what your weaknesses are, etc. Identify all the things you can that may prevent you from being successful and then decide if you're going to try to mitigate a risk, avoid a risk, transfer a risk, exploit a risk etc.

Tackling a personal challenge is never easy. Employing your management skills to your own problems makes them less "personal" and more manageable.

7 comments
martin
martin

Absorbing and thought provoking

Meesha
Meesha

Very apropos. Like your advise I've been through the years carving out time in order to provide myself professional development. Just recently I completed and received the PMP. The difference for me is that none of my self improvement objectives have been driven directly by the employer but in my own desires to learn and accomplish a little more each day. I've always considered myself a "generalist" and not a "specialist", hence only recently have I begun to approach certifications and designations; not to be a PM but to be able to understand and direct others who are ensuring proper practices are in place. Two years ago I achieved ITIL certification at the service manager level but not because I had to - my current position doesn't require ITIL certification but the organization certainly required governance and guidance which I am more than able to provide with greater depth and breadth. I would suggest to others reading this blog that it would work better in their own interests to be ahead of the curve and not wait for the boss or organization to move them down the road. Getting their buy in is more rewarding when you are driving the cart and not the horse.

mabingle
mabingle

Logical advice, but seriously flawed. Perhaps with some jobs you can do this, but with the last 3 that I have had I am working 24x7. There's no more room for delegation and we run so lean and mean I'm going to have to ask for the day to be extended to a 30 hour day. Do you think that's possible?

tringle
tringle

I empathize with your situation as I have been in that same situation and seen others in that situation. The funny thing is that I might not just be the company you are working for. In my experience, I was working long hours because I didn't say anything when my company asked me to. Once I said no, and explained that I am just not able to work more then is reasonable, my company reevaluated wether all of the work really needed to be done. Some of it still needed to be done and the company simply needed to bring in more resources to do it. Some stuff just wasn't worth the cost but because I never said no they just thought it was no big deal. I still am worth my salary to the company but now neither us feel like we are taken advantage of. I also observed a curious situation with one of my colleages. The person was constantly getting calls at all hours of the day and night and often got called in on weekends. The quit over it and something interesting happened. The replacement was told not to let themselves get themselves used to working wierd hours and while there was some pain in the short run, after a while, the business adapted. Instead of someone calling in at 3 in the morning for a broken terminal, they simply went to another machine and logged in and left the techs an email about the broken machine. The new person fixed it during normal hours. There is still off hours work but it is a very tolerable amount and everyone is better off for the change. The lesson in a nutshell- You don't need to move mountains to make yourself valuable. Sometimes everyone is better off if you give the company an honest assesment of whether or not you can acomplish something in a reasonable time. If this isn't happening, switching jobs won't fix it. You will just be in the same situation with different people.

alan
alan

I agree much as you have that the above advice is logical. Your reply is also logical, but the solution to your particular issue can't be found in this article. If you're working for a company that is setting you up to fail (lets be serious, that's what you're describing) you need to make your project the acquisition of a new job with a bit more breathing room or make the case for new hires to assist you. I've been in horrible positions like the one you describe. When I felt that way it was (ultimately) either because I was spending time doing the wrong things (fire-fighting instead of documenting) or because the company was burning everyone and it was time to leave. Two cents. A

PonderousMan
PonderousMan

I think you nailed this on the head - no matter how talented or hard working, nobody can work in an environment like that for very long without serious For the original poster, remember that your main responsibility is to yourself - not your employer. They give you a paycheck, not a life. If that paycheck is really, really nice, you may want to choose to set aside some or a lot of your life for it... but it is always your choice. (Even if one is self-employed, the tradeoffs of work/life balance are still choices, and thus can be changed.) I expect the response may be, "But I'm working so hard that I can't even look for a job"... well, you had time to check IT Toolbox, you have to eat, sleep, so you have to have some time to look elsewhere. If you are working that hard, surely that dedication will be of value to another employer who won't abuse their employees...

Starrdaark
Starrdaark

Here's another excuse for those finding it difficult to begin looking for a different employer. In these days of diminishing IT employment, one may find it difficult to obtain a job which is acceptable. It seems the decision is often based on "the lesser of two evils". This, in itself, tends to make the whole process undesirable.

Editor's Picks