Knowing when to say when

Stress 39/365

Better late than never, that's what they always say, right?

I've had a project on my plate for a while that started out as one thing and then morphed in to something totally different. The problem is, I didn't notice the fact that it was morphing until I had already done a shit ton of work on it. More than I probably should have before noticing a huge underlying issue. It's at this point that I made the first vital mistake.

At this point what I should have done was to stop working, contact the client and let him know the issue I found and reevaluate the project, the direction and the solution. But instead, I soldiered on throwing more hours in to the project.

The next thing to happen is what always happens when a project starts to run long, other commitments start getting in the way and the available time to work on the previous project seems to disappear. Eventually enough time passed and the client starts asking about the project. It's at this time that we finally have that talk that should have happened weeks ago. The project is off-track and the direction needs shifting.

After the talk with the client, new goals were set in place. But once again, I misjudged the amount of work the project was going to take. I dug in, got some pieces of it done and before I knew it, I had once again put in far too many hours. My problem this time; guilt. I felt terrible about how long the project had drug on. I felt terrible about the lack of focused attention. I pretty much just felt terrible all around.

Two words: Vicious Cycle
By no means is this an excuse, but, the month of august has royally sucked. We've had more than our fair share of crap hit us and it's all added up to a huge pile of stress. One thing I've learned is that when enough stress piles up, my ability to focus has a tendency to fly out the window. So in the case of this project, it was causing me stress by taking so long, which would in turn cause me to lose focus… which would then cause more stress. I felt like I was riding the stress-go-round and I needed off. Now!

I wrote the email I was dreading. I let the client know I needed out. This wasn't about money. This wasn't about hours. This was me realizing I had screwed up long ago and every minute I continued on this path was wasting everybody's time. I felt sick writing that email. But the second I hit send and couldn't take it back, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I could literally FEEL the stress leaving my body.

Sometimes I am my own worst enemy. By not paying attention to the writing on the wall I can sometimes get my self in to pretty crappy situations.

As with many of my blog posts, I write them as a reminder to myself. But, there is one take away that I think is universal; take a few minutes and reevaluate when the stress starts to build. You'll thank yourself for it later. I know I did.

[stress photo by Crashmaster007 on flickr]

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  1. John Lynn on August 26, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Great writeup. Now I want to hear the full story offline.

    It’s definitely a challenge for nice people to say no when something sucks. The biggest problem is that there are usually really conflicting emotions about the choice. It’s never as black and white as it might seem in retrospect. A lot of times it’s a hunch or some small warning sign that’s easy to misjudge when there’s possible money or relationships involved on the other side.

  2. George Moncrief on August 26, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    Oh man, I’ve been there… it’s the ultimate Catch-22. Either way, you’re the a-hole regardless of your good intentions and clearly articulated deviations from the agreed upon scope. Expectation management is always the toughest part especially when the client internalizes tangent what-if conversations as some kind verbal contract. “But we talked about that on the phone!” grrr! I agree… cutting the cord can be such a stress reliever.

    Ah, consulting is fun, isn’t it? I’d love to trade war stories over a beer sometime.

  3. Wes Chyrchel on August 26, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    John, thank you for this. A lot of us deal with this kinda stuff and it’s nice to hear from a colleague that we’re all in this boat together. I’ve had to do the same. We all have. Many times. It’s funny, because after years and years of doing this, still a job like this will slip by. You did the right thing. You owned up to it. You dealt with it and you can move on. That’s it. Don’t get hung up on the details, just learn from it. We’re always learning. Thanks again!

    • John on August 27, 2012 at 8:01 am

      Thanks, Wes. This definitely wasn’t my normal conclusion for a project. Only the second time in about 3 years this has happened. But, realizing that it was zapping my energy to work in general was where I needed to get to, apparently.

    • Jon Brown on August 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm

      Wes it’s nice to see you comment here. You & John are both in a very small group of WordPress focused project managers that I really respect, listen to and learn from.

      It’s nice to hear John be so honest and transparent about this. We all have these stories, I know I’ve gone through this exact cycle way too many times myself.

      The fascinating thing is each time when I finally thrown up my hands deep into this downward spiral and said enough is enough the client has responded with “Oh gosh, I had no idea… let me get you paid for that extra time you’ve already put in and get this restarted in a reasonable manner”. From that I’ve realized that I have awesome clients and do a good job of vetting them. If they weren’t awesome, I wouldn’t be working for them.

      In fact if upon throwing my hands up and saying “whoa… this had gotten totally out of hand I either need to walk away or we need to reset this thing” they responded with something negative then I wouldn’t feel bad about it, I shouldn’t have been working for them in the first place. Knock on wood, that hasn’t happened yet.

  4. Jeff Clark on August 27, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Great article John, I will keep in mind that sometimes its just part of the industry, like it or not.

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