How project management techniques can help the chronically ill achieve more
I’ll not blame you for thinking that the principles of business may seem somewhat inappropriate when it comes to managing life with chronic disease, be it endometriosis, fibromyalgia, MS, cancer or PCOS. Endometriosis and chronic pain, endometriosis and fatigue, endometriosis and depression are deadly combinations, hard to overcome.
However, let me show you how by imitating professional project managers, you can and will successfully overcome the daily tests and trials that living with a debilitating disease so often entails. It works. How do I know? I know, because I’ve used these techniques to manage complex multi-stakeholder projects at work for years. With a 1st class business degree and a postgraduate diploma, I know my stuff. I’m good at my job.
I’ve lived with endometriosis for years. Earlier this year, my condition escalated: operations and home confinement changed my lifestyle. Endometriosis and chronic pain, endo-fatigue, the debilitating side effects of the medication, the desperate sadness, all turned my life upside down.
Finding something that would give my life a purpose, when there appeared to be none, seemed beyond me. But years of training helped me overcome, albeit slowly, some of these constraints. And I slowly started to build my resilience back up. And I regained some of that sense of achievement we all yearn for. The following eight project management principles will help you achieve what you at the moment may think impossible:
- IDENTIFY DELIVERABLES: It sounds posh, but a deliverable is, very simply, the outcome of your actions. It’s your goal. The thing you want to get done. Understand what you want to achieve and stick with it. Now, ‘getting your life in order’ may be commendable, but is it a good goal to have? What does that actually mean in real terms? To find out whether your goal is the right goal, put it to the SMART test. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timescaled.
- Specific: Although ‘learning how to sew’ may be a bit vague, ‘being able to sew a simple dress by the end of next year’ is slightly less daunting. It’s also more specific. Take your time to be specific. It’s very important.
- Measurable: How will you define success? How will you measure it? Is it something you’ll be able to see or touch? Will it be an embroidered cushion? Will it be a completed course module? Do others ‘get it’?
- Achievable: Can you do it? Be honest with yourself. This is critical for your ongoing motivation and ultimately your success.
- Realistic: When it comes to your goal, the proverbial climbing Mount Everest should not be it. Remember that you are, after all, ill. It’s critical that you understand what you can and can’t do and set realistic goals. Be aspirational, get ambitious, let yourself dream. But do so within reason.
- Timescaled: Give yourself plenty of time to achieve your goal, but define ‘plenty’.
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” – Napoleon Hill
- PLAN YOUR SUB-TASKS: When you have no have no mental or physical resilience, planning seems impossible? Right? Well, I’ll let you on to a secret. All project managers feel overwhelmed at some point. It’s what we humans do. So they break down the ‘big’ task into a number of very small sub-tasks. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither will you achieve you ‘deliverable’ all at once. Make a list of all the small task that you need to complete. Start with ‘planning your project.’ Initially, listing the tiniest of steps required to complete your project, may seem ridiculous, but try it. And then start from the top and work your way through your list. One task at a time. A good way to achieve it is by using a Project Planner. Just follow the template and you can’t go wrong.
You can only climb a mountain one step at a time.
- DEFINE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES: Who can help you? Learn to delegate. Ask for help. This is not, after all, a sign of weakness. It takes strength to find out what help you need and ask for it. When working on my cushion at the time of my life, when getting up in the morning was an achievement in itself, I had to learn to rely on others. So I asked my husband for help. Would he drive me to the shops to help me buy the things I needed? Of course he would. He appreciated that, for once, he could do something constructive to help, even if it was to relieve me from the onerous task of making the small talk with the shopping assistant.
Engage your close ones to help you. “You are never strong enough that you don’t need help.” ― César Chávez
- GET ALL YOUR TOOLS: There’s nothing worse than doing hours of work just to find out that, half way through, you’re missing a vital ingredient. It can cause serious setbacks. Remember, you have no resilience. So don’t risk getting caught out. Plan. Do your research. Lay out all your tools. It will be easier to reach for them later on when you need them.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” ― Abraham Lincoln
- MANAGE RISKS: What can go wrong? What is the barrier that prevented you from moving on with your project in the past? What can delay you? Are you trying to squeeze too much into your day? Be prepared. Do not underestimate the impact of the smallest of setbacks. We tend to greatly exaggerate our failures. Accept that sometimes things do go wrong. Be kind to yourself. Be prepared for the worst. Hope for the best. Persevere.
You can only drive a car, if your windscreen is clear. Clear your windscreen. Get clarity on where you’re going. Mind the traffic.
- COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY: We all make assumptions. Every time, we communicate, we assume something. We assume that the other person knows how we’re feeling, that they understand what we expect of them, and that they care in the same way we do. It sucks, but this is not how things work out in real life. Our individual filters (the way we see the world and react to events) vary greatly. You, as a project manager, need to accept that you may need to spell out a thing or two. If you feel awkward about it, find a more comfortable way of checking your assumptions. Ask them how they feel about it. Ask them for an opinion. And LISTEN. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. It’s difficult. I know. But ask yourself this: how realistic is it that everybody in your life should be on the same page as you every single time? In order to get others to help you, be specific about what you want from them, why they should do it, and how it will help you.
“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” – Sydney J. Harris
7. CRITICAL PATH ANALYSIS (UNDERSTANDING LIMITATIONS): In every project, you have the critical path – this is the shortest route to achieving your objectives. Find this route and take it. Embellishments are overrated. Minimise your effort, maximise the outcome.
“My goal is to do the most with the least—get the maximum output with the minimum input.” ― Jarod Kintz, This Book Has No Title
8. THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING: Oftentimes, if you don’t praise yourself, nobody will! So lavish praise on yourself. Congratulate yourself on every small sub-task you’ve achieved. ‘Well done’ gestures are important. Build it into your plan. Find a reward system that works for you. You might get a kick out of getting another ‘tick’ on your Planning Chart. You might treat yourself to a chocolate for every completed sub-task. If you understand what motivates you, you’re half way there. For me, giving is a pleasure, as is getting a job done well. So when I embroidered a cushion for my friend, throughout the project, I imagined her happy face as she admired my handiwork. It kept me going. However, it’s equally important that you don’t rely too much on the praise of others. Finding the inner ‘quiet’ motivation is the most important key to your success. Don’t do things to impress others. Do things because you love doing them and because they make you that little bit happier.
“For me, it’s not about winning an award. It’s also about not even being nominated.” ― Jarod Kintz, This Book Has No Title
What is your story? What have you achieved despite your crippling disease. How did you overcome the challenges of living with a long-term health condition? How did you interact with others to get them help you? What motivated you to keep going even though every fibre in your body was telling you to give up?
∞ ∞ ∞
Please share your experiences. Be vocal. Leave a comment. Raise awareness through an open discussion. The chances are there’s somebody out there who’s also facing the complex and unfamiliar feelings associated with living with a chronic illness. The chances are they’re as confused and worried as you are. Together, we’re stronger.
Please follow my blog and share the posts to spread awareness. You can also share your experiences and connect with me via the following channels: