April 30, 2010 - 3 comments

Giving up control (Just for a week!)

I once overheard someone say that they loved to travel with a project manager. Of course they do—it’s almost like another currency of travel insurance. Details are a project manager’s sweet spot. Flights, cabs, addresses, meeting agendas, etc. are all taken care of when a project manager is involved in planning a trip (business or otherwise). It’s what we do best: organizing our teams, and on some level, organizing lives.  When I travel with my team I expect to arrange times to meet for meals, communicate meeting times and locations, etc. As the PM, I am the source of all of the important details (like food). It’s my job. I really do enjoy my work, but every once in a while I need a break. I need to give up control of the details.

There comes a time each year when I feel like I need to let go from the planning to relax. I’m going on vacation this weekend and someone else planned it all. It’s so refreshing to know that everything has been taken care of. I have to get on a plane at a certain time (too early, but I’ll take it) and show up to a hotel for a week.  I’ve got no expectations for the week, but to relax and enjoy my family.

I could take the extra step to plan out days and think of things to do, but that is never how I want to experience my vacation. I like to keep it loose. Things happen. We’ll take a walk in a new city and find things to do—things that don’t need to be on an agenda.  If someone else wants to plan some excursions, that is fine with me. I’m giving up all control (for the time being).

When I get back to real life I’ll be refreshed and eager to pick up all of the tasks I’ve left behind: scheduling milestones, meeting deadlines, making sure resources are available, following up with the client, and on and on.  But for now, a break will do.

Many people expect project managers to be up to the detail at every moment of the day, in every situation—inside or outside of work.  It definitely makes sense; I have a tendency to get a little obsessed with planning my days to the minute to make sure I’m getting the most of my time. It’s sort of creepy, actually. I just do it; I don’t mean to! There has to be something ingrained in us that makes us want to be organized at all times. But do we need to give in once in a while? I say yes.

Are you a Project Manager? How do you handle your work-life balance? Are you always in control?

Published by: brettharned in Personal, Project Management


PM Learning
May 3, 2010 at 3:16 pm


What you’re describing is just “good” project managers, those who are detailed (but not too much detailed), organized, etc… Of course there are other project managers who are anything but detailed, and they can’t even organize their own lives.

I’ve written an article on that particular issue, good vs bad project managers. Hope you like it!

May 9, 2010 at 11:01 am

I say yes, too. I relate this to a friend of mine who’s a police officer married to another police officer. She once told me that they have to make so many critical snap decisions on the job that when it comes to their free time, it takes them forever to make a decision about even the simplest things. It’s like that part of their brains needs to be shut off after a while.

I can’t say the pressure to plan comes anywhere close to that, but the expectation alone can feel like a trap, even when it’s self-inflicted. I often head into the weekend with no plans at all: I love the freedom of white space in my calendar, although I occasionally feel guilty about it (“Wait, this blank space! Shouldn’t it be filled with SOMETHING?” Though that may be another issue altogether.). Still, it’s always liberating to let someone else attend to the details — even something as simple as telling me which bus stop to meet at and at what time.

(Glad to see an engaging blog about project management, by the way! My thanks to you for that.)

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