Little did we know when we were choosing the dates and topics for the ProjectManagement.com blog that we were on the cusp of a major shift in the world! The present, the past and the future – being an adaptable PM. That was the topic already slated for this week… What a timely topic! And I have broadened it to the topic of being an adaptable project manager now and where we expect it to go in the future. It is not just how we will project manage it is how we will live, choose, prioritize and stay sane! And all these are important components of project management too.
We have been down this hole before – or one like it!
As we look back on a time that was just a few weeks ago, we may be surprised at the number of things that we took for granted and just assumed would continue forever. Every day much like another, the same struggles, the same connections, the same processes. How do you feel as you look back at that time? What emotions do you feel about it?
To help you, take a look at the Plutchik Wheel of Emotions. Ask yourselves the questions that follow:
- How do I feel when I look back to the time before Covid?
- What existed before that I want to keep or get back to?
- What now is no longer my priority that I want change?
- How does this reflection affect how I will interact with others?
What is one thing you will keep doing from “before”?__________________________________
We are always navigating holes…
Change is something that many people don’t appreciate. A few weeks ago, there was a sudden change. For many we were told to “stay home starting tomorrow”. For some, that means working from home, for others it means losing a job and struggling with day to day expenses and for some it means juggling work from home, schooling the kids, making additional meals, buying groceries with less access to stores. And then of course there are many people who despite the stay at home orders, are still having to go out to work. Maybe to work on the food supply chain, or as a frontline worker in the healthcare field. The change has been dramatic, and we have had no choice but to adjust the best we can.
In group coaching sessions we often hear that people are “not experiencing anything different than usual”. They regularly or habitually work from home. It is “just the same”. When we pause and think about the truth of that statement, we are often surprised, and it turns out that the only thing that seems the same is the idea of working from home. For example, one person said “nothing has changed for me, I always work from home. We asked, how is it different?
She paused, reflected and answered:
- I am cooking three times a day
- There are five people in the house all day every day
- I have to fit in homeschooling three kids
- There are five people trying to use three computers
- The broadband cannot support me working and two kids on their school page.
- We are not able to see our extended family.
She suddenly looked sad and relieved. She was sad that there were so many things that had changed and relieved because she admitted she had been feeling tired and a little down and had been criticizing herself when things were so “normal” for her.
Maria Sirois (Author of “A short course in happiness after loss”) says “pain, is pain, is pain”. Humans don’t experience pain in comparison to others. They experience their own pain and it is not less – or more – because of how it compares to others. It just is. Having just been in a four- hour mindfulness retreat and I am reminded to think about this present and ask these questions:
- What is constant in this present moment?
- What has changed?
- What am I happy with in this moment?
- Who do I choose to be in the presence of this?
- What is one thing I can do for myself in this moment that will help me feel 2% more
What is one thing you are doing now that you will continue to do? _______________________
Like holes before this one, we will find our way out
One significant job of a project manager is to collect, challenge and collate project predictions. Our experts predict how long each part of a project will take and what the optimal sequence is, and we put it together to form the plan. So often the plan is not what is ultimately executed and to some degree serves more as a benchmark (baseline) against which to measure the deviation from what we expected. This has never been truer than now.
As the world tentatively reopens, there is even more uncertainty than when it shut down. A few weeks ago, others made the decisions and we lived with – and adjusted to – those decisions as best we could. Our choice was not “what to do” it was “how to do it”. Some of us adjusted more easily than others. Some did not really adjust at all and now suddenly we will be asked to adjust again.
In the future though we will be making the decisions. We may be told it is OK to go back to work, but we will decide if that is safe – for us, for our children who may not be in school – for vulnerable loved ones. We will decide whether going to a restaurant, store, gym or sports venue is “safe enough”.
Our days will be a maze of decisions, and we will be called upon to use our strengths in new ways and to use strengths that come less easily to us in order to get through the next few months.
We are already seeing that everyone is being called upon to use more Prudence than normal. This character strength – the planning strength – is one that we are more likely to be adept with. We may have to lean more on Perspective – yes a choice may feel unsafe, but it may be less dangerous than the alternative (not going back to work and not being able to pay the rent for example).
We will need Hope – that is the strength of positive forward thinking AND taking action.
Forgiveness may be needed more now as people make decisions that turn out to be less than optimal, or tempers fray, or energy is lower. In fact, when we look at the twenty-four research- based character strengths (see below), EVERY one of them has a place in what is coming in this future.
Look at the list and think about which of the strengths come most easily and naturally to you and then make a plan for how to engage those strengths purposefully in the future. These questions may help:
- What are two or three character strengths that you feel you can generally rely on?
- How do those strengths support you in making wise decisions, and practicing self-care?
- How can you use those strengths to make things 2% better for the people around you?
- What strengths do you see in the people around you that will complement yours and can be used to make things 2% better.
- And focus on self-kindness. Kindness is one of the Humanity strengths. How can you be kind to yourself at least once a day so that you can then be kind to others?
What is one practice you want to adopt going forward to help make each day 2% better? _______________________________________________________________________
Take what you learned in the past, are learning in the present and launch into the future with a curious mind. In mindfulness we call this “beginner’s mind”. In the next few months we will all be beginners. Embrace it, take care of yourself, and see what you learn!
And, remember to put on your own oxygen mask first!
For a great little book to read during these times of uncertainty – to understand how we process change – read Carole Osterweil’s book Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience: A Leader's Guide to Walking in Fog.