Projects can be crazy busy. Long days, back-to-back meetings, milestones, updates, and endless decisions to make. My stress level climbs just typing it out!
But there is a flip side that we don’t often acknowledge, and one that we should take advantage of.
While much of our project maintains hectic pace, there are also periods where we’re simply waiting. We may be in the midst of testing, or waiting for a contract to be signed. Or there’s no one around during the holidays so you hear, “We’ll pick it back up in January.”
I think of it as ocean crests and troughs.
While the surge of activity can be overwhelming, it is also exciting. We feel a sense of accomplishment when we solve a challenging issue or reach a milestone. We can even look back on a full day of meetings and be proud (and amazed) that we lived through it all! These wave crests are the reason they hired us, a professional Project Manager. No one handles it better.
But what about the troughs?
For me, this downtime can be more stressful than the crests. Too little to do is worse than too much!
Waiting is not my strong suit, I’ll admit. A day with no meetings is fantastic if I’m in the middle of creating a complex project schedule or preparing for a Launch decision. The rest of the time, however, I’m just about ready to jump out the window if there’s nothing else on deck. Which is why, over the years, I’ve learned how to take advantage of the slow times on a project.
I find these to be most useful during this “down time”:
- Create a Project Plan. I’m not talking about a schedule but a Word document with a section for different project areas like testing, documentation, project strategy, and special considerations. Use this document to write out ideas, decisions, and plans. Allow your mind to flip between areas without the need to keep focused on one. You will likely never need to present this document, but I find that going back and updating it helps me retain the project thread when my schedule get crazy again.
- Catch Up on Documentation. Not the ones you’re simply behind on, though yes, do those first! Take this time to start the next few documents you know you’ll need. (And having a Project Plan handy is a great jumpstart.) You may be months away from your launch date, but starting your Launch Plan (aka Cutover Plan, Go Live Preparation Plan, etc.) will take the pressure off later when things are busy—you won’t have to start from scratch.
- Rest. It’s easy to say but so hard to do! Take time off if you can. Actually take a break for lunch instead of eating at your desk. Put in eight hours and go home (or shut down your laptop). I consciously try to slow down my typing speed so I’m more thoughtful in my chats and emails. And, as I work from home, I take a minute to step outside and breathe some fresh air.
We all know the wave crests will come again soon, and we’ll wish we took advantage of the downtime that comes with a trough. Plan for it now so you can take advantage when it hits.