The Soul of a Project #23: Watch out for Overtime

by Gary Monti on August 28, 2012

Do you want to succeed? Do you feel a personal responsibility for the project? If you just push hard enough can the project get done? These questions are probably part of your everyday life. Answering them affirmatively is often the hallmark of a successful project manager and can open doors to career success. Taken too far, though, damage can occur. One way this damage shows up is with overtime.

In my travels, most PMs start with a 50-hour week and go from there. Periodically, that is insufficient and overtime is required. It’s part of the normal ups-and-downs of a project. There are limits, and that is what needs to be watched for. What does this mean?

In my own experience where it causes trouble is when it shows up as the dark side of “spontaneous overtime.” Let me explain. Spontaneous overtime is when “the hands fall off the clock.” There is a falling into the task and being totally absorbed by it. A sense of time disappears. The light side of spontaneous overtime is when things are clicking into place and the ability to build or fix just grows and grows. It is very rewarding. Think of how rocket scientists feel when a rover has successfully landed on Mars. Even this form of overtime does have to have some limit if one has a life. However, this occurs so infrequently that pushing all else aside for a period probably won’t cause too much trouble in other areas of life.

The focus here is on the dark side of spontaneous overtime. This is when awareness of the reality of the situation has disappeared, e.g., refusing to see a powerful sponsor has pulled their support merely by neglect and the belief the project can be successful continues. This is a formula for disaster. The subconscious denial that the project has no support leads to pushing harder and harder. Without thinking, more and more overtime is put in. More meetings, more picking up others work, more “If I just push hard enough.”

There is a loss of humility and a sense of limits disappears. The PM is consumed by stubbornness yet feels realistic at the same time.

So what to do? The simplest solution is have someone to talk to who will tell you whether or not you’re nuts. If you don’t have that, think back to when this has occurred before and ask yourself, “How did my behavior shift when I was deaf, dumb, and blind?” It will show in little things. For example, do you lose your car keys? Are you grumpy, angry, or anxious in a general way with nothing you can put your finger on? Are others more annoying for no apparent reason? Experience loss of sleep or want to sleep excessively? Over- or under eating? Don’t want the weekend to end? Maybe you can brainstorm you own list with someone close to you who knows your behaviors.

The payoff is big. You are giving yourself a chance to get back within your personal boundaries and start looking honestly at the situation and confront what you see. You can restart the process of gaining control of your life.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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