What project management taught me about life

Many times we are stressed and feel like we are doing too many things, and it is because we are doing too many things! This is especially true for women, and even more so for moms. We are pulled in a million directions, we tend to prioritize everyone else’s well being and meanwhile social media is telling us what we are supposed to be doing. A lot of us like to look like we are balancing everything or we feel ashamed when we aren’t. I’m here to tell you you don’t have to do all of the things, and you certainly don’t have to feel bad about it.

When a personal task is overwhelming for me, my natural response is to simply shut down and ball up into the fetal position and roll into a corner. In my life as a teacher and later on in my life as a content manager I was great at managing tasks, planning and execution–and it wasn’t just because I was being paid to be great at it. It’s because I took my professional life very seriously. I didn’t do the same in my personal life and that left me pulling my hair out a lot. Once I realized I could carry over some of those project management skills into my personal life, I started to feel a bit better.

Project management isn’t about doing as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. A lot of times it means saying, “Nope we can’t do that right now” or “That’s an unrealistic goal.” It’s about getting to the finish line with your sanity without your hair on fire and accomplishing the goal you set out to achieve. Project management for anyone is more a state of mind than anything else. I love the charts and graphic organizers. But it’s more about how I organize my thoughts that helps me get things done. From a disorganized person to a mostly converted project manager, I can testify that following some general rules in my life for productivity and project management have helped me a lot. Here are a few.

Don’t make lists

Lists are pipe dreams where goals go to die. I used to spend hours making lists upon lists. The problem with lists is that we spend so much time listing tasks and we never come up with a plan to accomplish them. Then we never get them all done and feel bad about it and end up eating too much chocolate. Don’t make a list until you have a plan. For example, here’s one of my old lists without a plan.

  • Make a baby book for my 2 month old
  • Plant spring flowers
  • Decide what to make for dinner this week

This is a shortened list. It was actually much longer. First of all, what was I thinking when I said I wanted to make a baby book for my 2 MONTH OLD baby? I was nursing, and getting pooped on, peed on and puked on–oh and not really sleeping. How on earth would I have ever found the time to sit down and make a baby book? Maybe while pooping? Let’s face it, there wasn’t really even time available for that.

If you take a closer look at that list you’ll see that those three “items” are really three projects made up of many tasks. That list was bound to end in frustration. If I had slowed down and thought for a moment I would have realized that I didn’t have time in my life at that moment to do a project like that, it could be saved for later; it wasn’t a priority, aka no one was going to die if I didn’t get all of my son’s cute baby pics into a scrapbook; and it wouldn’t add anything to my quality of life or my family’s to have that artifact completed at that time.

So my lesson here is, think about what’s most important at the moment (prioritize), what you have the time and resources to do, what’s necessary to do (scope), and how it will affect your quality of life. Then, make a plan.

Eyes on your own paper (not social media)

I said at the beginning that social media makes a lot of us feel bad about what we’re not doing. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Pinterest board, but my house will never be as clean and I will never have it decked out like social media influencers do (Psst they are usually getting paid or given those items for free anyway!). So like my pre-school teacher Mrs. V always told me at the ripe old age of 4, “Keep your eyes on your own paper little girl.” What I mean by that is keep your eyes on your priorities, not the world’s. If you stay focused and “stick to the plan” you’ll be much more likely to accomplish your goals and do so with your sanity intact. When we look over at what our neighbor is doing, we lose focus and start to pull in “tasks” that aren’t at all necessary to what we’re trying to do. That’s what professionals call “scope creep,” meaning you keep adding to the plan and eventually it grows into a giant monster that wants to eat you alive.

Be kind (to yourself lady!)

I am my own worst critic. An elderly lady in my neighborhood once told me, “Hon (insert heavy southern accent) you need to be kind to yourself. Go to the Walgreens and just look at the Covergirl makeup.” What she meant was, slow down and stop beating yourself to death. Take time to do something that gives you a sense of peace, whatever that is. Give yourself a break even when your best laid plans have fallen on the floor and shattered into a million pieces. Your plans will still be there to pick up and begin again after you take a break.

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Lindsay Dixon Garcia

Lindsay Dixon Garcia

Lindsay Dixon Garcia is a writer, editor and project manager in the edtech industry.