The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu
Image via Wikipedia

“China?” My friend’s face dropped a notch. His company was sending him on a six-month stint to the coldest part of China starting September. He knew his career depended on it. His wife seemed philosophical.

“I’ve always wanted to visit The Great Wall,” she smiled.

And so he went with a tear in his eye while he left his wife and kids to fend for themselves.

Project work can be stressful. If you work for a project-oriented organization as my friend does, work-life balance is an Ivory Tower term. It sounds great, but doesn’t exist. While I advocate words such as ‘alignment’ and ‘life’s purpose’, we all know what is meant by the work-life analogy. Work is a part of life. It’s not everything.

Rodney Turner, Martina Huemann and Anne Keegan reported on the challenges of work-life balance for project-based organizations in the International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 577-585. They concluded that project managers are self-selecting (meaning they really do like the diversity project-based work brings and therefore choose their projects as they wish). The greatest challenge is with shorter term projects, such as the one my friend had to lead. Budgets are made well in advance so you risk not having the resources to carry out your job. You also have a high level of intensity the entire time due to tight timelines. Larger projects are more foreseeable. You can pace yourself better and spend time with family in between.

“The ideal project-oriented organization,” the authors claim, “has a specific management culture expressed in the empowerment of employees, process-orientation and team work, continuous and discontinuous organizational change, customer-orientation and networking with clients and suppliers.”

In other words, they have more time to be human.

Interviewing over 50 managers in 15 organizations throughout Europe and the US, the authors inquired as to the ethical treatment of the employees. Many of the employees opted to work 60 to 70 hours per week simply because they enjoyed the work. As any consultant will tell you, we enjoy the feast before the famine. And contractors are under pressure to bid the lowest while still building in a profit margin to get the work done under budget.

“For companies undertaking large proejcts, the work environment is less dynamic, less frenetic and so tehre is greater cope for balancing the work load.”

If you find yourself in a hectic work environment, ask yourself if it’s really worth it. In the case of my friend, he had no choice if he wanted to remain employed. And the kicker? He wants to go back to China every now and then to check in with his former team. Somehow, despite all the hardship he learned a lot and realized his potential in ways he never imagined.

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A hearty thanks to PM4Girls’ Elizabeth Harrin for a rocking review of The Power of Slow.

[I]t is a useful book about the principles of working within the boundaries of time…[If you want to] really get to grips with what time means for you, in the workplace and at home, then read The Power of Slow.

Dedicated to the discipline of project management, Elizabeth is a stellar thought leader. I appreciate her work a great deal. Oh, and did I mention she’s giving away a copy of The Power of Slow on Friday? So be sure to visit her blog then.

Our lives can be viewed as one big project. Or in PM-speak, a series of projects that make up a program. What do we want to accomplish? How can we reach our milestones?

Slow thought of the day:

Slow down to take a look at the Big Picture. Consider it the very canvas you were born with. Now pick up that brush and paint. This is your life. You get to choose how colorful it is.

Inspired by my children, who have taught me more about the power of slow than anyone on the planet.

Many warm thanks to Bas de Bar, The Project Shrink,  for a lovely chat about personal productivity, expectation management and how to delegate without dumping!

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