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Mind, Meditation and the Project Manager

~ By Umesh Dwivedi

Overworked businessman with head in hands

Project manager and meditation seem to be two opposite sides of the world. The link between these two becomes quite noticeable when work stress breaks something; either a manager a project or sometimes both. This article first discusses areas of work stress, its affect, and finally, steps to prevent it. Though in the article a project manager is used as an example, work stress can affect any living individual because every person is prone to it without exception.

Stress and Origin

A project manager is responsible for managing and undertaking projects. Though a project is always a temporary endeavour, it can bring permanent breakdown or burnout into a project manager's life if not managed efficiently. The role of a project manager is comprised of many areas such as managing people, managing stakeholders, managing expectations of the client and so on. A project manager can easily get caught up in the enormity of the task, both mentally and physically. The end result is work stress.

Job stress or work stress is not always harmful, but it should be kept within limits. Within a limit, work stress forces us to stay on track. Similar to fear, stress has a biological purpose and is very useful. Many reactions start once we develop stress or fear. After stressful stimulation inside the body, chemicals are released that result in a fast heart rate, sweating and tightened muscles. This change in the body is also called the fight-or-flight response. If the body is exposed continuously to these natural responses, then it creates an adverse effect.

Project management contains many challenges and so creates stress generating entry points. The most common challenges that generate a stress level are:

  • Unrealistic Deadlines
  • Project Risk Factors
  • Management Pressure
  • Conflicting Situations
  • Project Environment
  • Competition
  • Career Expectations

And so on…

Stress After Effects

To meet all the requirements of the above factors, a project manager knowingly or unknowingly gets dragged towards more and more stress. The results can be serious. It may lead to sleep disorders, or eating disorders (eating either too much or too little). Those who already have addictions to smoking, coffee or alcohol find themselves more and more caught up in these habits. These addictions provide temporary relief from the stress, but gradually start spoiling the physical, personal and emotional aspects of their life. In this situation one may win a successful project eventually, but will loose everything else in his or her life. Successful project management does not mean a win-lose situation, but rather it is a win-win situation.

Research conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has shown that the effects of stress are:

  • Headaches
  • Short Temperedness
  • Upset Stomach
  • Low Morale
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders
  • Psychological Disorders
  • Workplace Injury
  • Suicide, Cancer, Ulcers, and Impaired Immune Function

Managing Stress

There are many ways to reduce stress levels and a few minutes of meditation seems to be the most effective if practiced along with other stress management techniques. This does not mean you have to be a meditation guru or leave the office to practice it. Practicing simple techniques of meditation is enough for a normal person to keep stress levels under control. Meditation involves making yourself relaxed physically and turning your attention inward to relax your mind. In short it is a mind body medicine. Here are some simple meditation steps:

  1. Find a place where you can sit quietly and comfortably without any disturbance
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Start relaxing your muscles gradually from the top of your head to your feet
  4. Breathe slowly and start focusing on rhythmic breathing
  5. Witness everything and judge nothing
  6. As you inhale visualise that you are absorbing energy and fresh air
  7. As you exhale visualise that you are freeing your stress and tension
  8. Repeat this for ten or twenty minutes
  9. Open your eyes

This detachment of a few minutes from the outer physical world will make you feel fresh and energetic. This will also bring down your blood pressure to a normal rate. Productivity is directly related to your mental and physical balance and if you have good balance you can be more productive. Clear mental balance also helps you to develop concentration. Last but not least, if you feel fresh you don't have to depend upon addictive substances like coffee, alcohol and tobacco.

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, meditation helps you achieve a better mental state. If performed with other stress management techniques like time management, light physical exercise and changes in the workplace environment, it can help to boost your energy, keep you away from stress and lead you to not only a successful project, but also to becoming a successful project manager.


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