Here at =mc, we encourage every participant we meet on our programmes to get in touch if they have specific issues they want to follow up on. From this we hear some common problems, issues, challenges, and worries. In this regular feature we share some of those challenges, and our advice for dealing with them.
This time the challenge has come from an anonymous Project Manager at an international charity. The =mc consultants offer advice on a difficult scenario that you may well identify with: getting focussed during a pandemic.
Dear Safe Space, the fact that I am writing this demonstrates how hard I’m finding things. I have a million things to do and yet here I am writing an email to you! I work in a large organisation, and we are trying to prevent climate breakdown – no small feat! I am a project manager and we have an agile-working structure. My work is split across different specialities and regions. But we’re used to that. I’m good at my job, I’m methodical and organised. I get stuff done. This all seemed to work really well until the pandemic. Of course, like everywhere, at first there was a lot of change, disruption and upheaval. I’m in the UK, so you’ll understand the changing rules around office working. A few in-country colleagues I work closely with are going through similar waves of restrictions. But even though things are much more settled than they were, I’m really struggling to get through my work in the same way or at the same rate. I still feel like I’m being pulled in a lot of directions and at the same time can’t seem to focus on any one task. I’m at home but the kids are in school again, and they spend some time at their Dad’s each week too. So with just me and the cat here for some of the time, why am I not on top of my work? Help!
Dear Project Manager, firstly – thank you so much for getting in touch. It is never a waste of time to ask for help so you have done the right thing. 2020 has certainly thrown up many challenges, and your work on saving the planet has never been more important. I can completely appreciate how this could be an overwhelming time for you. I recommend you start by taking a step back, and take a big picture look at your work. In this changing world we need to constantly review our projects to make sure they are fit for purpose. Are your projects still delivering on the things that matter most? Maybe you feel a lack of focus because you have lost the ‘why’ in what you are doing. Consider the impact you expect your work to have – are you delivering on that? Do any of your project plans need to be revisited and adapted? Once you have this in place, you can feel much more connected to your work and, even more helpfully, you can make sure you are pulling your team in the same direction by sharing your ideas with them.
Dear Project Manager – I’ve been hearing similar things from managers in lots of charity settings who have told me that they have had huge dips in motivation and focus this year – despite the pressing need to get on with things. I think it’s fair to say we all feel that way from time to time. Right now, it is a very hard time, and we have been living with more uncertainty than ever. This could have a huge toll on your personal energy and wellbeing. My recommendation is to stop being so hard on yourself. On those child-free-cat-only days, do not tell yourself you have to fill up the time with getting work done. You are well within your rights to take some time for yourself, charge your batteries up, and rest. You can’t keep going and going and going. Remember, you are also a role model to your colleagues and your peers – if you constantly work flat out you might just be telling them that you would expect nothing less from them too. Like Laura says, it’s important to recognise the impact you want to have in your work. So instead of thinking about all the things you need to do, start each day with one or two important goals – what would be the most impactful thing I could put my energy into today? What would get me closer to the impact I want to have? By conserving your energy for your priorities, and taking time out for yourself, you will do better work overall. Even if that means you don’t get everything done.
Dear Project Manager – I think these are great suggestions: step back, prioritise, maintain your energy, and then focus. I know it sounds simple, but it can be hard to implement this kind of self-discipline, especially when you are feeling out of control. You describe yourself as methodological so I wonder if you might also need some methods to keep you going. I always find it useful to do a look-back/look-forward process – even more so when I’m feeling out of my depth or uncertain about things. This is about learning to learn – reflecting on the techniques you are using as well as the results you are having, so you can adapt and try new approaches or keep doing what you’re doing if it is working. Find a quiet time each week and look back. Ask yourself: what impact did I have last week? What made me feel happy, proud or satisfied? Then look forward: What can I do to keep that going next week? This can really build your motivation as it reminds you that you have done so much, despite all the pressure you feel about the work not yet done.
If you’d like to explore ways of preparing for situations like this, take a look at the Managing Multiple Priorities training programme.
You can also contact us online or call 020 7978 1516 to discuss similar challenges and how we might be able to help.
Finally, if you’re facing a challenge you’d like some advice on in the next issue of the Safe Space, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. While we can’t promise to publish all the requests we receive, we will offer advice by email as a minimum.