Project Recovery Premise

In conversation with an ex-Olympic athlete who was building out a performance recovery range of clothing, I remember him very clearly explaining that at the top level of athletic performance and competition, all things being equal, it’s the athlete who can recover faster and better who is able to perform at a higher level.

This was a nuance of athletic competition that was new and interesting to me, and so it has stuck. There’s research that backs it up too.

Research shows “athletes with the biggest drops in resting norepinephrine levels tended to show the best improvements in performance. At the end of their recovery periods, they were simply in less stressed-out states.”

The article goes on to remind us that “norepinephrine and its sister, epinephrine, are considered to be two of the body’s principal ‘stress’ – or ‘flight-or-fight’ – hormones.”

Most people are reasonably familiar with the fight or flight response that’s triggered when we feel stress.

What I discovered listening to a Brené Brown interview with Doctors Emily and Amelia Nagoski, is that we’re not supposed to spend the amount of time that we do in elevated stress or “in fight or flight response”.

It’s designed to work for about 10-15 minutes, but if you’ve ever spent time in project delivery, you know that the stress build-up is measured in bigger increments than minutes.

So, what can we do to manage our own stressed-out states to recover faster and improve performance? 

The good news is that you don’t have to wait for the whole project to ‘be done’ to improve your state of stress.

Doctors Emily and Amelia Nagoski wrote the book ‘Burnout‘, and they are firm advocates of creating permission to take a break from whatever is causing you stress. They offer some practical advice and tactical strategies that we can all try to improve the ‘completion’ of the stress in our bodies.

The basic premise is that emotions are physical cycles that happen in your body.

Emotions that are not ‘complete’ remain in our bodies and can manifest as illness or physical pain. The anecdotes of people coming to the end of a big project or milestone only to fall in a heap once it’s done are many.

My own growing up experience was that every time we went on holidays, my dad would spend the first week with a cold. Have you ever had that experience? Getting to the end of something that took a big effort and then getting sick?

It’s because your body doesn’t know you’re done with being stressed. It needs a physiological expression of the completeness of the emotion.

Recovery Tips to complete the Stress response

Below is a summary of 7 concrete, specific, evidence-based strategies (from the experts) to close the stress cycle:

  1. Physical activity: moving your body in whatever way makes you feel good; dance, walk, climb.
  2. Breathing: the yogis have it and always have. Slow your breath, refocus on it.
  3. Positive social interaction: even at a fairly surface level, this can help.
  4. Laughter: the big belly laugh – even the recollection of a time where you laughed until you couldn’t stop is a positive.
  5. Affection: the 20-second hug switches the chemistry in your body to a point where you can feel the release.
  6. Cry it out: it won’t solve the situation that causes stress, but it can help your body complete the stress cycle.
  7. Creative self-expression: cook, create, knit or something that can take some of the emotion. Imagination can complete a stress response cycle, imagine trampling the things. Even reading a book or following a story in a movie.

Approach for Project Recovery

An approach that we’ve used before is from Nikki Fogden-Moore (the Vitality Coach).

She has an exercise she calls the “Energy Bank Review“. The things that build your energy and contribute to your positivity go on the left-hand side of the page and the things that deplete you go on the right-hand side of the page.

Often towards the end of a project, there’s a build-up of the things that are on the right-hand side of the page, and you need to be able to reset that and restore your own energy levels by doing the things on the left-hand side of the page and reducing your exposure to those on the right.

This is also a great exercise for creating clarity for yourself on what it is that builds your energy up.

I also find for me when I am under pressure, having people around who build me up is one of the best ways to stay sane and found that Julia Baird suggests the same in her latest book Phosphorescence with these wise words:

“Avoid people who would control, criticise or diminish you in any way or are jealous of you or make you feel small or are drawn to your strength but then suck it dry. Stay with those who bring you comfort, understand you, and allow you to flower.”

What do we do as part of our 6R Project Recovery process?

The first time I got to the end of a project, I remember the feeling of flatness – of looking around and thinking ‘OK, that’s done, what now?’ and feeling a bit lost.

Since then, I’ve learned that we need to relish this time of reflection and use it as an opportunity to take stock, look around and remind ourselves what worked and what we’d aspire to do better next time.

To this end the 6R team usually do the following:

  • We conduct a post-implementation review and look for things that we did well and things that we can improve on for the future.
  • As part of acknowledging the things that we did well, we may summarise this for a broader business audience or make recommendations for next time.
  • We will also thank the project team; in the most personal and considered way, we know how to do.
  • We will do our own internal review and see what we can improve in our processes to better meet the needs of our clients and get better ourselves.
  • We encourage the client to act on the things that they’ve identified that they want to improve and ensure that there’s some check mechanism in place to follow that through.

Some of this helps us close out the project stress cycle.

Humans are not built to do big things on our own; we are social and cooperative animals. We’re designed to do big things together. If there’s anything that people are designed to do together, a project is definitely it. Projects require team alignment, clarity of focus and energy to bring the whole team together and bring the project and people to finish in a good place.

Recently in conversation, someone posed the question ‘How do you measure project success?’, and the way we measure success has a lot to do with getting everyone to the end of the project in a mentally good place and achieving the business goals we set out for.

If you are in the midst of a project or the brink of burnout, I hope sharing these strategies has been helpful. While we specialise in project delivery, in every project we work on we understand/recognise it is the people that are a businesses greatest asset and something that sets 6R Retail apart.