Sisyphus was a king in Greek Mythology who, because of his trickery, was compelled to roll an enormous boulder up a hill. That may not sound so bad in and of itself, but the second half of the punishment was that once he reached the top of the hill, the boulder would roll down to the bottom again and he would have to roll it up the hill again and again and again. As a matter of fact, he would have to do this for eternity!
Every day he would start at the bottom of the hill with a massive boulder to roll to the top. At the end of the day, he would be at the top of the hill, only to watch the boulder roll down to the bottom again!
Sounds pretty sad, doesn’t it? Do you know what’s even sadder? I have a colleague who, in their email signature, includes the line “Sisyphus reporting for duty.” Think about what that says. Every single day he comes in expecting to do the same thing he did the day before, only to see it roll back down the mountain and leave him in no better place than he was when he started.
Now, I know he includes this line in his email as a bit of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm for the purpose of getting a grin, but it got me to wondering. There are a lot of people, and project managers, that feel they’re doing the same thing ‘day in and day out’ without making any progress. As a matter of fact, one definition of insanity is that someone does the same thing over and over again but expects different results.
Let’s discuss this a bit further and see how you can apply a non-Sisyphus project management system in your environment to ensure you get some traction.
How This Attitude Creeps into your Project Management Position
When you started at your company you were ready to go and change the world. You put in place a new project management system and made sure everyone was trained and ready to go. You were oozing with energy and positivity and nothing was going to bring you down. But, some time passes and you now find yourself feeling a bit like Sisyphus…doing the same thing over and over again, every single day, and not making any progress. How does this happen? The following are 3 indicators you should look for to see if you have succumbed to this mentality:
#1. You Find Yourself in a Routine and Comfort Zone
There’s nothing wrong with a routine as a project manager. As a matter of fact, we all kind of like routines, don’t we. We like our days to go as planned; we don’t like too many surprises, and it’s good to have things “just so”. But, if you’re not careful you could find yourself ‘buried alive’ in this routine and comfort zone.
Circumstances and times change. Technology changes. Your environment changes. If your routine doesn’t change and you don’t force yourself to stretch outside of your comfort zone every now and then you’ll soon find yourself doing the same thing over and over with very little progress being made. Your old way of doing things doesn’t work on the new way that things need to be done.
#2. You Give Up The Fight
If you saw something that wasn’t exactly right when you first started, you were all over it. It may have been an obstacle that was in the way of your team moving forward, or maybe there was an easier way to do something. The only thing was… you had to ruffle a couple of feathers in order to implement this easier process. You used to attack those with great zeal.
Now you ask yourself: “Why bother? What difference is it going to make? Why would I want to go through all the pain and aggravation to make this change?” This could range from something as simple as using a new form, to something much more complex like implementing a new project management system. Regardless, you give up almost immediately without putting forth any effort.
#3. You Have a Short-Timer Attitude
We’ve all seen the short-timer attitude…it’s when someone puts in their two-week notice and almost instantly their performance begins to deteriorate. The first day or so it may not be wildly noticeable, but by the time the beginning of that second-week rolls around you are ready for them to go! They just don’t care. They know that they’re just there to put in their time before they move on to what they expect to be a better place.
The problem is… that this short-timer attitude can sneak up on you…and you’re not planning on going anywhere. You’ll quickly find yourself going through the motions of rolling the rock up the hill… only to watch it tumble to the bottom, day in and day out.
How to Get out of the Sisyphus Project Management System
Immediately stop and reflect on some of the changes you’d need to make if you have any of the symptoms above. Below are three suggestions that may help:
#1. Rekindle the Fire You Had at First
Reflect back on how you were when you started. Reflect on how you are now. Then reflect on what caused you to change.
Was there someone that sucked the life out of you or pulled the rug out from you time and again? Are they still with the company? Do you still work with them?
There are a lot of reasons why people give up along the way and just go through the motions, but you need to assess if those reasons are still valid. If not, you can start to change and do things differently. If they are still valid, there are undoubtedly some things that you can still change to rekindle the excitement and energy you had when you first started.
#2. Collaborate with Others
If you feel like you’re doing the same thing ‘day in and day out’, make sure to spend some time with others who do what you do. Go outside of your office. Network at project management events. Take some of your colleagues from other companies out to lunch and see how they’ve handled some of the obstacles you’ve encountered.
They may have implemented a project management system that does exactly what you needed to accomplish. Find out what they did and what lessons they learned from the experience. In no time at all, you’ll be able to push the boulder over the top of the hill and watch it go down the other side.
#3. Don’t Succumb to Negativity
There’s one thing in place that will always pull you down as a project manager… and that is negativity.
Negativity sounds like this: “We can’t do it this way, we don’t have enough time, we’ve never done it like that before, we’ve always done it this way, that won’t work…etc, etc, etc.” This will cause the boulder to slip out of your hands faster than anything else… and roll back down the hill, only to start over again.
Rise above this negativity and introduce realistic hope and optimism into your environment. Even if you only make it 80% toward your goal, it’s way better than slipping back down to ZERO every day.
Don’t be like Sisyphus! Take it upon yourself to make the changes necessary to make progress (as slight as it may be) every single day. You and your project teammates will be glad you made it to the top!