How To Manage Your Life Like A Project Manager

Applying project management techniques to organize your life, reduce your stress, and enhance your well-being.

The aim of the article is to discuss how we can apply project management techniques and principles to create a personal roadmap while incorporating the notions of happiness and success as primary targets in all areas of our lives.

The key principle is that we can create project management style plans to manage our life more efficiently, which could then lead to greater satisfaction, happiness, and overall well-being while also combating frustration and anxiety.

How Project Management Solved An Unexpected Crisis At The Beginning Of My Career

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When I was 28 years old and only three years into my very first job out of school, I landed in the hospital with a severe, very painful rash on the right side of my waist. So painful was the rash that I could hardly walk and was unable to apply any pressure at all to the area. Needless to say, I was unable to work and spent five long days in the hospital while the doctors ran tests on me.

When the tests were done, it turned out that I had contracted shingles which the doctors thought was very curious for someone so young and vibrant.

Upon further analysis, the doctors came to the conclusion that I had suffered an acute stress attack, no doubt directly linked to the high levels of stress that I had at my job. I was always used to working very long hours and investing 1000% in everything I did, and then blowing off steam by hitting tennis balls or going out with my friends. So, I had no idea that something like this was even remotely possible for me, the picture of perfect health.

But this was different and I had to really get to the root cause of the problem.

When I analyzed deeply what could have provoked such a drastic outcome, I realized that, in fact, my stress levels had been accumulating over a number of years and that my attempts to combat them were not enough. I do remember that I was particularly frustrated about several of my work colleagues who had displayed very unprofessional behavior, not to mention a total lack of commitment to our project team. This could have easily jeopardized the success of our multi-million dollar project as well as my name and budding career in the process.

It was hard for me to understand the concepts of sabotage, jealousy, politics, and lust for power as I was not brought up with these as tools to progress in life. I still do not accept these tactics as I was brought up on the good, old-fashioned principles of hard work, respect, discipline, fairness, and teamwork. These have been the cornerstones of my success to this day and also a source of pride throughout my career.

Even though I was now in my third year of working in the project management profession, I had yet to master one of the key pillars of the profession: stakeholder management. Actually, in my defense, stakeholder management had not yet received the importance that it deserved until the mid 2010s when a specific knowledge area was created for it in the PMBOK; however, it is still something that could have helped me better manage the situation, and I will address this concept later in this article.

So, why was this such a big deal for me?

Psychologists would argue that these reactions must stem from some sort of childhood memory which, in this case, was no doubt the pressure to honor my family's legacy and reputation for success in all walks of life. Although I am quite lucky to have been born with an amazing drive and energy geared for success and happiness, I tended to put additional pressure on myself to not only succeed, but win in everything I did. In fact, I had a total obsession of being first all the time and would also apply this to all aspects of my life, including sports teams and individual athletes I rooted for, talent shows and political debates I participated in, or any competitive endeavor that I was involved in for that matter.

In a professional context, this obsession can be a double-edged sword and I learned at that very moment that my health was much more important, so I would need to find a way to cope with the situation, find a way to resolve the conflicts at hand, or risk paying an even heavier price.

When I was released from the hospital and recovered from the "local trauma" I experienced, I made a complete re-assessment of my life and looked for ways to better cope with my stress and strive for perfection.

The first coping mechanism I did pursue was to involve my mentor at the time, the vice president of my company's affiliate in Houston. He had always been extremely supportive since he hired me to work for the company just a few years before. This did pay immediate dividends for me as he helped me address the issues which were obviously a direct result of my inexperience in the workforce coupled with a bit of naiveté.

I do firmly believe in the value of mentorship, a concept I see that is being challenged in the digital age as we lose more and more of our personal interaction in the workplace with companies preferring to transfer such things as employee on-boarding and training programs to online systems or apps. Although I fully understand the intent behind this, I feel that there is a minimal human experience required in order to create a sense of community and would challenge companies to study this carefully in their particular situations so as to strike the best balance with their teams.

The second mechanism I implemented was to create a project life roadmap so as to transfer my work and personal goals to paper. By committing these ideas to paper, I effectively transferred my stress to the document while also providing myself with a solid framework to achieve these lofty goals (more on this in another section). These goals of course produced other goals in the process so the benefits were definitely clear to me and I was ready to now attack life with a different perspective.

Using Risk Management To Combat The Psychological Impact Of The COVID-19 Pandemic

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As I write this article, the World is still in the throes of the COVID-19 crisis which has led to a significant number of documented cases of anxiety and depression. These cases no doubt stem from the unprecedented changes in our lifestyle globally, but also accentuate mental health issues that may have already existed in many people, yet were only manifested during the crisis.

I would like to address those cases which had a direct impact on people's livelihood such as the record number of people who suffered job losses, financial losses from investments or some other work-related cause which triggered these highly negative emotional responses. I know what this feels like as I have encountered a number of these economic hardships myself, most recently when I had to re-assess many things in my life after losing my job on my 50th birthday.

Although I do not profess to have all of the answers nor am I a psychologist, I can share what I used as a coping mechanism to get me through the hard times: the principle of risk management, another one of the 10 knowledge areas of the project management profession.

We see risk management in every profession and in many walks of life so the concept in and of itself is nothing new. The application of the concept though is what I feel can help raise levels of awareness of possible risks and their consequences while lowering anxiety, stress, and fear of the unknown.

Risks are, of course, events that could possibly occur and impact (negatively or positively) one's life, work, or leisure. Applied to the project management profession, risk management can be an equally sophisticated technique or quite straight forward, depending on the person's or organization's needs.

In its simplest form, the simple technique of the heat map, or stoplight technique, is applied to categorize potential risks that can occur as high, medium, or low risk events. There is no need to perform an extremely detailed analysis of each risk, nor perform calculations in order to categorize the probability of such an occurrence. I particularly like this technique as it is extremely visual in nature so the eye is immediately drawn to the green, yellow, and red colors to perform a quick assessment of the host of risks identified. For me, this is very useful when I apply the technique in non-professional settings, such as my hobbies and everyday life.

In its most complex form, advanced risk management techniques such as Monte Carlo simulations can provide bell-curve shaped probability matrices to express and then rank risks by their probability of occurrence, financial impact, and what-if, statistical-based scenarios on a project. These simulations require specific software as well as a highly trained person to perform. This technique is typically beneficial for large, complex projects with significant investment as well as high levels of exposure.

Whatever the technique(s) used, applying risk management to my life has greatly helped me manage my stress level as I have trained myself to apply a risk filter to virtually everything I do. I find that by identifying various situations that I find myself in, such as the risks associated with driving to the grocery store, to a sporting event, or to someone's house while living in a large, dangerous city such as Rio de Janeiro, help me frame each activity so that I hopefully minimize surprises that could occur along the way.

When we talk about risk, we also talk about the mitigation plan for which we make a plan to reduce or eliminate the impact of a risk. This could include additional spend, implementing work-arounds, taking an alternate route, leaving earlier, or going to the grocery store on a particular day or time, just to name a few. By planning for such possible events, we typically reduce our level of anxiety and, as a result, our overall stress levels.

In the business world, risk management is obviously applied in every industry and also at virtually every level. For those companies who have actual risk managers, there are great benefits to be had as it is applied across functional areas. In cases where there is no such position, the project manager usually assumes this function as part of his or her responsibility. Whatever the case may be, this is a mission critical function for long-term success of any company.

The danger, of course, is to over apply this concept so as to avoid becoming paranoid or obsessed with trying to mitigate every single possible risk that could occur in my life. I have learned to identify and focus on my Top 10-20 risks, just as my employers have requested I present on the projects I have led. It is definitely important not to lose sight of the other risks on the risk register, but, in the interest of time, the major risks are the ones to apply the most resources.

As a parent, we oftentimes have the tendency to overthink the process in an effort to protect our children as much as possible. But, as they say, our kids need to learn certain life lessons on their own, so we can really only do our best to steer them in an appropriate direction while managing again the top, high-level risks in the process.

During the COVID-19 quarantine situation, this situation was aggravated in many households with some very unfortunate outcomes for those families who had to implement ad hoc techniques to cope with home schooling, home office scenarios, as well as limited access to grocery stores, pharmacies, and the like. Many of the parents were taken off guard and had to quickly adapt to the "new normal" while hoping that this would not impact their livelihood or quality of life.

The almost immediate transfer of our lives to the digital arena obviously had a major impact as well, with many still unable to cope with the new challenges and expectations even today.

In this unprecedented scenario, my advice would then be to use but dose the application of risk management as part of your work-life balance. I would suggest creating a personal risk register to identify all of the areas of your life that have already been impacted by COVID-19 as well as the mitigation plans you have had to implement as a result.

I would then recommend thinking deeper on how this prolonged situation as well as the permanent changes to our society can impact your life going forward. Again, by putting this on paper (or Excel!), you can greatly alleviate your anxiety, sleep patterns, and quality of life in the process.

How To Frame Your Life By Applying Project Management Concepts

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I discovered project management during my first job in 1993 and, little did I know, it would have such a profound impact on my life, not to mention afford me so many opportunities to discover the world as well as myself in the process.

When you think about it, life is a collection of projects (or goals) which take us through the various stages of our existence, from childhood to adulthood to retirement. We learn at a very young age to have dreams, set goals, and plan in order to get the most out of life. I often refer to life as a roadmap where I apply the basic fundamentals of project management in an effort to put things in perspective, while also planning for the future.

One could actually apply the activities, interests, education, work, family, travel, and other hobbies to one's life in a roadmap-type format with specific sections for each one of these categories. As part of the process, we define what we would like each part of life to look like for us, such as if and where we would like to go to school, what type of job or profession we would like to pursue (scope management), how long each specific part will or should last (time management), what success looks like (quality management), and identify events that could happen along the way (risk management) which could jeopardize our goal.

We can take this further by identifying the resources we will need for each category, such as school supplies, work clothes, or the number of people required to manage a project (resource management), as well as the budget required to pay for rent, take a trip, or attend a concert (cost management).

When we try to hunt for bargains or look for sources to acquire materials we need (procurement management), we are again applying project management concepts to our lives.

Finally, when we need to fully understand who the people or organizations with whom we will need to interface, like friends, bosses, faculty, family, and customs agents (stakeholder management) while understanding the best way in which we will interface with each one, be it verbal, email, instant messaging, etc. (communications management). We are also using project management techniques to optimize these processes.

We then bring all of these moving parts together, resolve any potential conflicts among competing resources or activities which may include making concessions, such as deciding to study at night versus during the day, working at home as opposed to the office, or taking the train instead of a plane, so that we are able to complete the project or roadmap item (integration management).

So, without knowing it, most people are actually applying project management principles to their lives.

By framing my life in this way, I feel like it has greatly helped me put "boring" tasks such as planning and budgeting into perspective, thus reducing the emotional strain of reacting to my life so that I am actually proactively managing it. I find that I focus on the activity at hand rather than the stress of having to think about all of these details that we are faced with on a daily basis. It then gives me an opportunity to look at the visual progress bar on my roadmap so as to put my life in perspective. It also helps me to re-assess and re-prioritize as needed.

But the main benefit for me is to have my roadmap on paper (or in my case, on an Excel spreadsheet!). By doing so, it becomes real and motivates me to complete the tasks at hand. I find that I achieve much more in life by following this process and, without a doubt, I have greatly alleviated my stress levels while attaining a much higher level of personal satisfaction in the process.

The other advantage I have found is that I am able to revisit my roadmap to see which activities or goals my need to be adjusted, rethought, or completely overhauled. I cannot tell you how many times I have completely changed courses as a result of my yearly review of this document. Some people use techniques such as a list of a goals to be achieved in a particular year, such as New Year's resolutions. This goes far beyond that as it applies an actual action plan to achieve these resolutions.

Your project roadmap does not have to be a complete project execution plan on steroids such as mine; but I hope you will see the benefit in spending the time to prepare yours!

When I think about my own project life roadmap, the notions of success and happiness are always the primary motivating factors I consider. As such, the targets and projects I add to my roadmap are scoped in such a way so as to provide me with the best chance of achieving my goals. I definitely input stretch targets along the way so as to provide myself with certain challenges, as well as the opportunity to recover from potential failure.

So, for me, the definition of happiness is the feeling I have after completing a project on my roadmap, whether it is work related or not. I always compare the original scope or plan to the outcome to assess what went well or what went wrong. Even if the result was not perfect, it does give me satisfaction just knowing that I did complete the project at hand.

Success then would be the positive outcomes experienced, no matter how small in nature. I would emphasize that even the smallest successes are very good for the psyche and should always be celebrated! When I revisit my roadmap, I like to filter my experiences by their level of success and it provides me amazing stimulus to keep striving for even more positive outcomes in the process. At the end of the day, I firmly believe that we all define our own success and it really helps me to have a register such as a roadmap to look back on at certain times so I remember what it took for me to achieve each one.

Using Project Management To Put Your Life In Perspective

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As a business leader, author, athlete, and adventurer, I have had the chance to reflect on incorporating project management principles across all areas of my life. This has afforded me many successes, opportunities, and inner satisfaction which I have sustained, despite times of tragedy, disappointment, and unemployment. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to manage many intercultural and cross-functional teams over the years where I feel that I have transmitted my passion for the project management profession to others.

With this in mind, I hope to challenge you to consider a new approach or perspective to your life by creating a scoped life roadmap, re-considering your definitions of success and happiness, and then applying a proven, sustainable approach to manage each personal project you have.

I hope to convey how you can greatly increase your levels of satisfaction, success, and happiness in life while minimizing anxiety and surprises through techniques such as risk management, even when you experience triumphs or tribulations.

Many times, we may apply this methodology to only our professional lives while "winging" or simply reacting to the other aspects. This could include comparing ourselves to others or societal norms, or things we read online. It is very easy to get lost and also allow yourself to be influenced by the sea of information available nowadays. I feel that managing information has become one of the biggest challenges facing us as it has become increasingly hard to distinguish between real news and fake news.

By putting your plans in writing, even the smallest ideas become projects and can then be more easily linked together and built on for even greater success.

By following these principles, people in all walks of life can challenge themselves to think critically in all areas of their lives so as to better scope their goals (projects) and manage the plethora of stakeholders along the way. It is true that there is no substitute for life experience in many cases; however, I feel like I prepare myself much better to tackle these challenges with my roadmap in place.

In any case, remember that you define your own goals, your own happiness and success, for that matter. As such, make sure you do a health check on your roadmap to ensure you are staying on track but, most of all, that you are satisfied with the direction in which you are going.

How To Build Your Project Management Inspired Life Roadmap In 8 Simple Steps

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Life is a series of personal and professional projects.

In practical terms, you can make your personalized life roadmap as easy or as complicated as you like. I find that a more detailed plan works for me as I enjoy sorting through all of the details as a way to distract myself from life's challenges. It does not matter at what point you actually build your roadmap so customize it as needed.

I follow an 8-step process for each of my personal projects:

Step 1: Define the categories (project scope management)

Here are some examples of life projects on my roadmap:

Project #1: Obtain a university degree in both the USA and France

Project #2: Travel to all inhabited continents by the age of 30

Project #3: Attend the Summer and Winter Olympics

When scoping your projects, be as specific as possible with the outcomes (deliverables) you expect for each one. Be careful not to be too open-ended as you will then be unable to determine if or how successful you were on each endeavor. Plus, it will make it difficult for you to set an appropriate budget or time scale.

For this example, I have selected Project #2 with the scope items on this project being the list of all of the continents, selected countries and cities I wanted to visit in each one. The physical deliverables were photos, souvenirs, music, videos, and books acquired during these tips.

Step 2: Set start and end dates for each project (project time management)

In this step, it is important to map each scope deliverable so that start and end dates are applied to each one. For example, on my travel project, the dates were aligned with each destination so I could understand how many trips I would need to take as well as when I would have the time enough to take each one, once again considering my budget and vacation time constraints.

For your plan, ensure there is some buffer in the individual time targets to account for possible risks, personal issues, or things beyond your control, unless there are hard dates to consider (i.e. the dates of the Summer Olympics).

Step 3: Set budget (project cost and quality management)

It appears obvious that we need to always budget our expenses in life; however, I am always surprised at the number of people who seem to be aware of what they are spending, yet get completely surprised when the bills come in. For this case, an actual travel budget was needed to be calculated based on all of the expenses, identified and hidden, so that a worst case scenario budget was created. Possible variants would then be traveling in first class or economy, single or with someone, staying in a 3- or 4-star hotel, etc. The level of comfort or quality would then be compared to the budget to then update the scope in Step 1.

Step 4: List and acquire the resources you will need (project resource and procurement management)

In this step, you will list the required resources you will need which, in the travel case, would include a passport, suitcases, travel adaptors, specific clothes, vitamins, other medications, sunscreen, etc. Make sure this list is as complete as possible and it will also be determined by your budget of course. For me, the issue was more of what I would not be able to find on my trip, the potential high cost of buying a like for like or any specific items which may be prohibited in the destination country.

Step 5: Identify potential risks (project risk management)

In this case, the selection of the countries to visit was predicated on the risk level I associated with each one. The risks were not only the safety risks involved, but also the political stability, specific local laws, currency fluctuation, mobility in country, potential visa issues and food variety, just to name a few. I found myself with a definite mixed bag of low, medium, and high-level risk countries; however, the fact that I had mapped these risks out ahead of time and had also taken precautions prior to travel allowed me to really enjoy each trip with far less anxiety.

Step 6: Understand communication options (project communications management)

As these trips occurred in the 1990s, there was no internet, very limited cell phones, and complicated international telephone calling options. There was also no Google translation service for the several countries I visited in which I did not speak the local language. This in itself added to the novelty for each trip, with also quite a few interesting situations as you can imagine! The information available at the time was mainly through guide books I purchased through travel agents or in bookstores, along with interaction with several of my friends and colleagues.

Step 7: List all people or organizations that may impact your project (project stakeholder management)

When you stop and think about it, the number of people and organizations who could be involved in your project can be quite a significant number. In the travel example, I could think easily of travel agents, taxi drivers, airport agents, customs and border control agents, restaurant servers, tour guides, museum staff, equipment rental staff, foreign police, other tourists, monument curators and staff, your company, travel companions, just to name a few.

With all of these variables comes differences in personalities, business practices, cultures, and laws which could put you in certain situations in which you will need to understand the degree of influence as well as support that each of these people have, for they could make or break your vacation.

As a project manager, I would list all of these and then place them in friend or foe buckets, with the corresponding level of influence I think each would have. I would then develop a communication strategy to deal with each one. In the case of my trips, this was obviously applied to the functions and my expectations rather than the specific people. So, again I would apply the risk management filter to help me with this assessment.

Step 8: Resolving any potential conflicts or making tradeoffs (project integration management)

In this final step, you will need to bring all of the other aspects of your roadmap project together which can oftentimes lead to conflicts such as competing resources (which country to visit and which to drop due to time constraints) or some kind of constraint (last minute change in governmental policy, now requiring visas for foreigners) that need to be managed. Usually, the project manager would implement a work around (i.e. replace country with another neighboring country) so as to complete the project within the cost, time and scope requirements.

Once again, the idea behind the roadmap is to alleviate stress levels while also putting each of your life projects into perspective. My personal roadmap is now in its 100th iteration so you can imagine the size of the file! In the end, my personal objective is to facilitate the writing of my personal memoir by using all of this valuable information as well as the deliverables gathered along the way!

This article was not written by the WID staff, therefore the opinions and beliefs expressed in this article are the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect Work It Daily