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9 stress reduction tips for project managers and teams

Project management is a high-stress job where burnout is a potential hazard. Use some of these tips to help your team and yourself better handle the stressors you are likely to encounter.

As rewarding as project management is, it also comes with a significant amount of stress, and reducing it is not always easy. Here are nine tips to help project managers and teams avoid burnout.

    1. Plan better.

    The first step in managing stress is sufficient planning. Many stressful issues or unpleasant surprises can be avoided by ensuring the right amount of planning goes into each project. It seems like an obvious tip, but even the smallest missed task or component can cause extra work, have a negative impact on an entire project and become a huge source of stress later. To plan better, try to anticipate all possible risks, identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and solicit advice from subject matter experts to ensure all angles have been explored. Give yourself a cooling off period to consolidate what you have learned, this allows time for you and your team to measure twice and cut once.

    SEE: IT project cost/benefit calculator (Tech Pro Research)

    2. Learn to say no.

    Project managers need to know when to say yes and when to say no. By taking on too much, you can get yourself into a situation that is not in your, or your stakeholders', best interest. By recognizing your limits and the limits of your team, you can determine when you are at risk of over-committing to a project and more likely to jeopardize the outcome. It is better to say no and share your rationale, than to say yes and fail to deliver. This helps manage expectations and reduces unnecessary stress on project teams, stakeholders, and yourself.

    3. Laugh together.

    The saying "laughter is the best medicine" is actually fact-based. Psychologists confirm laughter is one of the best tools available for stress relief because it releases endorphins in the brain, helps form bonds, fosters brain connectivity, protects your heart, and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Regularly taking some time out to laugh with team members can greatly reduce stress and even provide other benefits. Lead by example by sharing your own humorous stories or add a 15-minute best joke challenge into you next meeting agenda and hold a vote for a small prize. Make sure to ask team members to come prepared for the challenge and to keep jokes clean and non-offensive.

    4. Get more rest.

    Many project managers fall victim to the eating-sleeping-and-breathing project cycles. The problem with this is it creates a never-ending loop between a lack of sleep and increased stress. Your body and mind regenerate while you sleep, and not getting enough sleep makes it almost impossible to effectively handle stress and in addition can cause additional health issues. While the National Sleep Foundation recommends adults aged 26-64 get an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a night, most adults only get an average of 6.8 hours of sleep. Sufficient sleep is necessary for stress relief.

    SEE: Time management tips for tech professionals (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

    5. Take short, frequent breaks.

    Taking breaks throughout the day helps you and your team to reduce stress and strengthen your mind and heart. The key though is to completely remove yourself from thinking about and doing work. During your break, avoid doing other work-related things like checking emails, voicemails, and paperwork. Get up from your desk and do something that is relaxing, get a coffee, visit a coworker and talk about non-work topics.

    6. Take an exercise class or go for a walk.

    In addition to the physical benefits, exercise offers the same benefits for stress relief as laughter. It releases endorphins, provides some needed distraction, and helps improve moods. Sometimes a quick walk outside is all that is needed to help get you and your team members distance from the stress for a bit - and getting out of the office into natural light and the fresh air helps as well.

    7. Become more positive.

    Developing a positive outlook can help you and your team members to cope better with stress. By altering how you look at things, you can rewire different outcomes because you allow your mind to be open to new possibilities, instead of blocking ideas. Positive thinking also offers benefits like longevity, decreased rates of depression and distress, resistance to illness, and psychological well-being. Continuously spend time thinking about what is working well and how to expand on it. When something is a negative, stop and think strategically about how it can be turned into a positive outcome. Putting this into practice takes time and may sometimes require input from others, but over time will become almost second nature. Surround yourself with positive people to maintain your own positive outlook; avoid placing yourself in situations where constant negativity wears you down.

    8. Adopt pet therapy.

    Companies like Google, Mashable, and Amazon have adopted pet-friendly policies due to the benefits of stress relief. This is becoming a growing trend among small and large companies. It may not be a realistic option for all companies, but for those that have a pet-friendly environment, it seems to help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and depression.

    9. Set up a music, art, or games room.

    Having an activity to engage in during breaks or lunchtime can offer team members with a way to escape from project stressors. It can also offer a way for everyone to share their hidden talents and common hobbies, have some fun, and improve their working relationships on an ongoing basis. Encourage management to provide an activity room like this where team members can destress.

    Project teams are bound to encounter stress when managing projects. The key to managing it lies in sufficient planning, knowing when to say no, and in each member taking good care of their health. When companies find ways for teams to connect, have fun and laugh together, it can also help alleviate stress.

    Also see:

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    Image: iStock/jacoblund

    About Moira Alexander

    Moira Alexander is the Founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, and a project management and digital workplace columnist for various publications. Moira has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large busine...

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