Thursday, January 03, 2008

Managing your stress

I learned a few years back that if I don’t manage my stress, I am less effective manager and leader. The first step was to understand what causes me stress. My topic 3 stresses were: overwhelmed by email, surprises, and feeling like I didn’t accomplish anything today. Once I identified these, then I could attack them.

Overwhelmed by email. I applied a “focus” approach. I use Outlook as my email client. I setup email rules to send email to specific folders. I have folders for each project, general work announcements, industry news, and a I-can-get-to-this-when-I-can folder. To help with this, I put a prefix on my emails to help the routing. When things appear in my inbox, I move it the appropriate folder. Then I can be focused when I read my email. I can go to project-A’s folder and be focused on that project. Then I can go to project-B and so forth.

With Outlook 2003, it has multiple colored flags. I flag emails for follow-up. I have my own system which denotes priority and allows me to priority/focus my time on the more important follow-ups first. I put a blue flag on emails that should be documented and shared more broadly. To help with that, I publish bi/weekly project team notes. I encapsulate the project team meeting and other decisions (and emails) for the time period. It provides an easy recap of events and decisions. From a historic perspective, the notes are handy to show previous decisions that could now take change control to overrule.

Surprises. It’s easier to address an issue if you’ve thought about it before. I do heavy risk brainstorming. I’ve mentioned in some previous blogs that I have a recurring Outlook task that appears every 3 weeks – “brainstorm risks.” I go to a quiet, few distractions place. I bring the project plan, last status report, project binder, and more. Then I brainstorm what can wrong from now to the end of the project. More importantly, I brainstorm varying mitigations to reduce the impact or eliminate the risk. Now when team members come to me with an issue, I might have already brainstormed it or something close to it. I can be calm (and help calm the team) on how to deal with the issue.

Feeling of non-accomplishment. It’s anal, but I print my Outlook calendar every day and set daily goals and prioritize them. I use a highlighter because colors can help give relevance to me. (Yes I can be anal, otherwise known as a strong J in MBTI). Orange is a must do today. Red is urgent. Yellow is important. Green is done. At the end of the day, I can see how many of each category I was able to do. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. One more piece … I identify 2 main categories – goals and opportunities. Goals are things that I want to accomplish today. Opportunities are items that I would like to do if I have time. Today’s opportunities could turn into tomorrow’s goals.

TAKE-AWAYS: Know what causes you stress and manage it.

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