Q: I work in a field in which there is a lot of creative project work. I love it, but after I complete a project, I can count on going into a kind of deep trough emotionally. How can I manage this aspect of my work life more effectively?
Nadine, 39, graphic designer
A: Since this aspect of change in your job is so predictable, it would be wise to put strategies and systems in place to prepare for the letdown.
First, think about the reasons that this may be so disruptive to you. Perhaps you feel a sense of loss when a task that was meaningful to you is complete. Or maybe you feel that you could have done more without the inevitable business constraints of time and budget. Or it may be a deeper feeling that your value comes from what you do, so if you are between tasks, you feel less secure.
Yet, for many people, the feeling of closure when a project is done brings a sense of satisfaction. I wonder if that’s there for you underlying the angst. And, whether it is or not, take the time to make a list — on paper, where you can see it — if what you have accomplished and why it matters. Then let yourself savor what you’ve achieved.
Find a way to reward yourself for your accomplishments, too.
If it was a group effort, build a tradition of celebration. It can be something small like a cookie day, or even a “high five moment.” Consider this for important milestones on a larger project, too.
Also give yourself time to honor your less comfortable feelings, recognizing that you may be experiencing some actual grief over being done with something. Feel it and let it go, rather than holding it inside.
You can also ease the stark transition between being on a project and off by staggering your work. Try to have projects in different stages so that you’re always engaged in more than one thing.
Perhaps your boss and co-workers can include you as a contributor, rather than lead, on other projects to help enrich your portfolio.
If that’s not feasible because your projects are too large or all consuming, design some other work streams or activities that give continuity between projects.
For example, you may be able to get involved with designing training for others in areas where you have special expertise.
Carry this over to your time outside of work, as well.
If too much of your life’s challenges come from work, this should be a red flag to you. Intentionally use the lulls between projects to engage in other social activities so that you are creating deeper dimensions of engagement in your life.
This could include seeing friends, volunteering in causes that are meaningful for you, or anything that is fun and makes you happy.
Make a priority of carrying over the enthusiasm you have for your projects to the overall work setting that makes your job possible, while adjusting for the parts that give you a challenge.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.