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The most crucial project you’ll ever manage: How to maintain your wellbeing

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Who better to give advice on maintaining your wellbeing and managing stress levels than Dr Clara Cheung from the University of Manchester, author of the APM report The Wellbeing of Project Professionals?

“Prioritise self-care, manage your energy and remember that health is the most crucial project you’ll ever manage,” she advises. “Maintaining your wellbeing isn’t just about preventing burnout, it’s about building a foundation that allows you to thrive, not just survive in your career.”

Here are her top tips for staying on top of your wellbeing.

1. Optimise your energy and manage stress

You need to take a bird’s-eye view of all aspects of your wellbeing, including the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual domains.

“Establish healthy routines, manage stress through building strong interpersonal relationships, develop emotional intelligence and do job crafting. Regularly assess and adjust work patterns to maintain energy and resilience in facing workplace challenges,” Dr Cheung says.

2. Have structured downtime

This means enforcing regular breaks throughout the day – short or long. Even a five-minute break where you completely disconnect from work can give you the mental space to step back, feel refreshed and get back to the task in hand.

If you’re a team leader, Dr Cheung says: “Ensure that team members take their full vacation entitlements and discourage work communication during these times. Promoting a culture that values rest will help in mental and physical recovery, reducing stress and preventing burnout.”

3. Streamline communication and prioritisation

It’s important to adopt clear and efficient communication tools and protocols to reduce unnecessary meetings and emails.

“Prioritisation frameworks like the Eisenhower Box help distinguish between tasks that are urgent and those that are important, allowing for better management of workload,” says Dr Cheung.

“Implementing project management tools like Kanban boards can also aid in visualising work progress, managing task flow and reducing the feeling of overwhelm by making workloads transparent and manageable.”

4. Establish a robust personal resilience plan

This means practising self-awareness by regularly reflecting on your stress levels and emotional state.

“Recognise the early signs of burnout, such as fatigue, irritability or decreased productivity, and take proactive steps to address them,” says Dr Cheung. It’s also helpful to incorporate routine physical activity into your week – even a brief walk during the day can be beneficial, she suggests. Finally, try to find time to relax.

“Practices like meditation, deep breathing exercises and yoga can significantly lower stress levels and improve focus and clarity of thought,” she adds.

5. Prioritise effective time management

This means setting clear boundaries around your work hours and sticking to them. Stop your work seeping into your personal life by having blocked-out breaks and personal activities to keep you away from your desk or phone.

“Employing project management tools and techniques such as task lists, priority matrices or digital calendars to help manage and visualise workload effectively” is a great way to help you to manage your workload well, advises Dr Cheung.

And try to delegate when possible: “Understand the strengths of your team members and delegate tasks appropriately to balance the workload and reduce the chance of becoming overwhelmed.”

6. Foster a supportive work environment

Dr Cheung advises a three-pronged approach to this.

First, try to cultivate a network of supportive colleagues and maintain open lines of communication so that you can be supported and helped in times of need.

Second, seek and offer regular feedback sessions to adjust work processes and address concerns early. A culture of constructive feedback is important.

Third, advocate for resources and support if they are needed to improve workplace wellbeing.

“Don’t hesitate to raise these issues with management,” says Dr Cheung.

7. Establish and maintain boundaries

Building on earlier advice, try to use your tech wisely. Manage notifications so that you’re not disturbed outside work hours and set specific times for checking emails instead of constantly monitoring your inbox.

“This practice helps manage the expectation of immediate responses and keeps your work within set hours,” says Dr Cheung.

And finally, always try to stick to your rules.

“It can be easy to let work creep into personal time due to deadlines or pressure. However, consistently adhering to your established boundaries is key to maintaining them effectively.”

Read Dr Cheung’s report The Wellbeing of Project Professionals here


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