Work/Life Balance Tips for Project Managers

Woman working
Get some peace and quiet to write your project management plan. Sam Edwards/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Project management can be a highly stressful career, especially at start-up and closure — the two busiest points of a project. And the part in the middle, execution, can be pretty full on too.

In fact, every part of the project life cycle has its ups and downs! When you’re at home you’re preoccupied thinking about work and when you’re at work you’re thinking about all the things at home that need to be done.

It’s hard to stay focused on the job at hand when you’re splitting your brain in half like that.

That’s why knowing how to keep a balance between doing what’s needed to get your project done and staying mentally and physically healthy is so important.

What Is Work/Life Balance?

Simply put, it’s ensuring that life doesn’t get in the way of work, and that work doesn’t stop you having a life.

The term isn’t the clearest: many people, myself included, have ‘work’ so intertwined with ‘life’ that it’s almost impossible to see where one ends and the other begins. This is the case with many entrepreneurs and business owners. But it’s the best term we have!

Here are some (slightly unconventional) work/life balance tips that you can use to suit your lifestyle as a project manager.

Surround Yourself With Experts

Construct your project management team to include all the key roles you need to get the work done.

When you’ve got all your important project team roles filled, you can delegate work more effectively and you know they have got the tasks covered.

This gives you more confidence and — bonus! — you don’t have to do the work yourself! Anything you can go to offer yourself more breathing time in the week is a good thing.

Track Your Projects

When you know how to track your projects, you aren’t rushing around trying to find the latest status or put together project reports at the last minute. It’s easy to stay on top of your work.

Having systems that keep you organized goes a long way to supporting your work/life balance. Work takes longer when it isn’t structured. The more structure, processes, and organization you can build into your work time, the easier it will be to walk away at the end of the day to enjoy your ‘life’ time. Use the right project management tools to get the job done and you’ll save a lot of time.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Making the same errors at work time after time is soul destroying, but also a total waste of energy. Schedule time for a lessons-learned meeting and document what comes out of it. Then learn. Don’t make those mistakes again. Take some time to implement what you discovered through the lessons learned process and tweak your project to take advantage of that new knowledge.

Improve your processes, improve how you do what you do and then you’ll find you have more time in the day for the good stuff.

Go Home on Time

Whether you work from home or in an office, make an effort to leave on time.

The days of the hero project manager, staying all night to fix a problem, are long gone. Management scientists acknowledge that those ways of getting work done are inefficient in the long term. Plus, it sets a terrible example for your staff and project team. Presenteeism isn’t a good trait to be encouraging in them if you want to avoid your team burning out.

Judge your team’s productivity by their results, not the amount of hours they spend at their desks. That goes for you too.

Embrace Flexible Working

I know that sometimes you have to work outside of core hours — it comes with the job. And it’s highly probable if you work with an international team. Someone has to chair that call with Singapore at 9 pm, and it might as well be you.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your personal time.

Just play it flexibly. Perhaps you’ll finish earlier a different day so you can catch your child’s soccer game. Or perhaps you’ll start a little later one day so you can take the kids to school.

You’ll need a supportive office culture to make flexible working a success, because if your manager is dead set against it, you’ll find it hard to convince those up the hierarchy that you are getting all your work done. But keep trying. Being flexible is probably the most important way to manage a work/life balance.

Learn How to Deal With Stress

This is an important work/life balance tip. Learn how to deal with stress as a project manager. Everyone is going to have a different approach to dealing with their personal stressors, so work out the best coping strategies for you.

That could be taking a proper lunch break, going for a walk, exercising, craft, spending time with pets, whatever. When you know what your go-to destressing activities are you can plan to do them whenever the work part of your work/life feels a bit out of kilter.

Build Gaps Into Your Day

One of the easiest ways to feel that your work/life balance is correct (or at least good enough) is to build downtime or gaps into your day. This gives you a chance to catch up mentally, and perhaps slow down a little as well.

You can do this during the working day too. Don’t schedule project meetings back to back. Build in a little gap between each meeting. Your attendees will appreciate that too: it gives them time to grab a drink, take a comfort break or check their messages before the next working session starts.

While you can’t exactly pop to the gym in the few minutes between each meeting it will help you gather your thoughts. That helps you feel as if you are staying on top of the work and in turn that makes it easier for you to leave at the end of the day, switch off and do something fun instead.

Settle for Good Enough

I know you’d love your project to be perfect. But does it really matter? Does it really make a difference if your business case isn’t formatted perfectly when the only ones who are going to see it are execs who will skim read anyway?

A great tip for getting more balance at work is to give up on being perfect. Sometimes it’s true, you do need the work to be perfect. You can’t hand over a mobile app to a client when the code is full of bugs.

What you can do is learn to look for the tasks that just need to be completed to a good enough standard. That’s where you can strip out sometime in order to win it back to do other things.

Have Fun!

The more you can make work feel like fun, the less it will feel like a chore. Most of these work/life balance tips are about finding more time to do the cool stuff you want to do with your friends and family. But what if work was part of the cool stuff? Wouldn’t that make your life a little bit better all round?

Think about how you can make your project team work better together. Look for ways to motivate your project team so that you can all feel good about being at work.

Finally, on this point, remember that it is still all about balance. Even if work is a really fun place to be, you still need time away from the office to concentrate on other interests and build a life for yourself away from your team.

Use these work/life balance tips for project managers to try to improve the way you feel about your job and your personal life. The key is to try to maintain a balance. Sometimes the balance will be more in favor of work. Sometimes more in favor of home, and sometimes it will be relatively equal. It will fluctuate due to the demands of your job and your personal life, and as long as you feel that it’s OK for now, that’s good.