The Second Wave of Work

Mark just completed a huge project. The project was all-encompassing for Mark’s whole department and outside of many of the department members’ usual list of duties but it brought prestige to his group and was considered a huge success. At this point, Mark and his team members all want to take a deep breath or even take a day or two off before starting back in on things.

The problem is that work is rarely set up to allow a break at the end of a major project. In fact, more often than not, an all-consuming project results in people ignoring many of their ordinary duties which means that they are more busy than ever when it comes time to revert their attention back to day-to-day tasks.

One person I talked to made the analogy that after feeling like she had been underwater on a big project she just wanted to take a deep breath but instead of getting air she would just inhale more water.

In an ideal world, we would all be able to pace ourselves through projects so that nothing ever truly got relegated to the bottom of the priority list and there was nothing that ever really needed to be caught up on. However, in the real world it seems like this process of diverting attention to one project at the expense of another is inevitable so the real question is how to deal with it.

Below are some suggestions for dealing with the second wave of work when you finish a big project. Do you have any others? Is this an issue you face in your workplace?

  1. Don’t look at the end of your project as a finish line.
    1. This is probably the most important point. There is a certain expectation that the deadline of our major project marks the end of a lot of stress and work and while this is true to a certain extent, expecting one’s schedule to open up the moment the project is done will likely lead to a lot of anguish when it does not.
  2. Don’t tell others that the end of your project is the finish line
    1. Going along with the point above, when you are very busy with something, you might keep other requests at bay by saying “I’m really busy with Project X at the moment but I can help you with that after the 15th”.
    2. You should still let others know the reasons you have to defer their requests at the moment but try to avoid giving specific dates unless you want a full inbox on the 16th.
  3. Try to break your work down into manageable chunks
    1. One of the reasons this second wave of work is so overwhelming is that it often seems to come from many places at once. While a major project is a lot of work it often offers a singular focus point and is in many ways easier to manage than day-to-day tasks that seem to come from every direction at once.
    2. Try to break these tasks down by writing them in a list and prioritizing what needs to happen first. It may still be overwhelming but you will at least feel like you have some control.
  4. Do something nice for yourself.
    1. Acknowledge that the few days after a big project are going to be hard and be nice to yourself to make up for it. Even just treating yourself to a latte from your favorite coffee shop before work or sleeping in an extra half-hour can go a long way toward making you feel happy.

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